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Laguna Beach


Council holds special workshops to deal with complex issues

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council took action at the April 23 meeting to appease critics who complained that workshops on complex issues held at 3 p.m. were unfair to folks who work and cannot attend.

A special meeting on 5G telecommunications installations, originally scheduled for 3 p.m., prior to the May 7 meeting, was moved to the end of the interviews of applicants for city committees and appointments to be held that night. The afternoon meetings had been scheduled to avoid late night hearings of special interest to large segments of the residents at a time when the council might not be at its best, after a 5 p.m. start with the closed session.

For all those who missed the meetings in which they had an interest, here is a recap. 

Financial Assessment Workshop

A five-year financial assessment workshop was held prior to the April 16 meeting. The one-hour-and-40-minute workshop included an assessment of the city’s revenues and expenditures for the next five years and recommended strategies to deal with budget gaps, rising pension costs and unforeseen glitches, while maintaining the city’s current service levels.

The council unanimously approved six policies, adding one** to the five which were recommended in the presentation by Gavin Curran, director of Administrative Services.

Approved policies to help guide the city manager and staff in preparing and managing future budgets:

--Review and consider increasing Community Development fees every two years to keep pace with inflation and account for changes in service

--Review and consider increasing other city fees every four years to keep pace with inflation and account for changes in service

--Consider establishing an Information Technology reserve for the replacement and repair of critical IT infrastructure

--Review existing cash reserves for possible internal refinancing of pension liabilities

--Incorporate items in future five-year financial assessment presentations based on feedback from the council

--Recirculate revenue alternatives that were discussed by the subcommittee

“It is important to stress that the financial assessment is a forecast, not a budget; and projected budget gaps or shortfalls are not the same things as a budget deficit,” said Curran.

The regular meeting was adjourned at 11:35 p.m. 

Significant Development Projects Review Process

Five major commercial projects and one residential project are in the pipeline and city staff wanted to ensure as much as possible that no unnecessary clogs would impede the development and entitlement process. 

Staff recommendations were presented at a 3 p.m. workshop prior to the April 23 council meeting. All of the projects are being developed by Mo Honarkar.

The projects include hotels, the Hive in Laguna Canyon, development of the Central Bluffs from the Hotel Laguna to Legion Street and a vacant parcel at the entrance to Canyon Acres.

Based on the city’s previous experience with the major development of the Montage and Treasure Island Park, the council appointed Mayor Bob Whalen and Councilwoman Sue Kempf as a subcommittee to work with staff and the applicant on a Memorandum of Understanding and a Development Agreement for Honarkar’s projects. 

The council also approved the staff recommendations to hire consultants to provide legal expertise and prepare the agreements with Honarkar, evaluate project impacts, identify potential public benefits and assist in the review of project economics. 

Consultants included Elisa Stipkovich, a 45-year resident of Laguna with 40 plus years of experience working on development agreements and MOUs; La Quinta City Attorney Bill Ihrke, a partner in Rutan & Tucker, LLP, City Attorney Phil Kohn’s firm; and Keyser Marston Associates, Inc., a company that has been advising cities on real estate, economics and finances related to development projects for more than 40 years.

The council also approved negotiations and implementation agreements to recover 100 percent of the costs of the experts and legal fees from Honarkar and to establish a system to recover all city development-related costs to process the proposed projects.

In March, the council directed staff to include a new position of senior principal planner in the upcoming two-year budget. Recruitment is underway.

Among the benefits staff feels can be derived from the proposed projects are the preservation of Hotel Laguna and bed taxes from the renovated icon as well as from the proposed Cleo Hotel and possibly what is called the Heisler Project. Not to mention property taxes. 

Councilwoman Toni Iseman said the Canyon Acres project should be reviewed and processed separately because it is the only residential component of Honarkar’s proposed projects.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:02 p.m.

Up Next

The third of the three special presentations will be held May 7, but at the end of the meeting, not the beginning.

Fire Chief Mike Garcia will make a presentation on small wireless installations referred to as 5G sites and other new technologies. The presentation will include a discussion on the impacts and opportunities of the deployment of 5G small cell sites in town.

Under duress by federal laws, the City Council adopted at the April 16 meeting a resolution to update the Guidelines for Site Selection, Visual Impact and Screening of Telecommunications to create a comprehensive set of design criteria for small wireless facilities.

Had the council chosen not to adopt the guidelines, the city would have defaulted to the government regulations pertaining to the facilities, certain portions of which are related to design criteria and took effect April 15. City staff expects worldwide deployment of 5th Generation wireless infrastructure to begin in 2020, with 5G phones currently on the market. 

Asked how much discretion the city has, City Attorney Phil Kohn said, “The short answer is very little.”

There will be even more 5G installations than the current number, according to Associate City Planner Anthony Viera. Neighborhoods that have undergrounded their utilities might see new poles installed, he said.

“I hope we well be hypervigilant about this,” said Councilwoman Toni Iseman.


City Manager’s Updates

Village Entrance – Parking Lot 10, located adjacent to the Art-A-Fair, will be closed for bridge reconstruction beginning Monday, April 29. Parking spaces along Laguna Canyon Road will become available for free public use. Lot 11, located at the intersection of Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue, is scheduled to open for public use by May 6. 

For more information, visit the Village Entrance website and newsletter at www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/pw/village_entrance_project/default.htm

Update: SB 584 Heads to Senate Appropriations Committee – State Senate Bill 584, Wildfire Mitigation Through Undergrounding of Power Lines, has passed the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration in late May. If the bill is passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, it would expedite the process for local jurisdictions like Laguna Beach located in Tier 3 fire-threat areas to underground current overhead electrical utilities for wildfire mitigation. 

The bill will also establish a Wildfire Mitigation Oversight Board to develop and implement policies that reduce the looming threat of more wildfires. Overhead utility lines and equipment have caused many devastating blazes, with the equipment of California’s three largest utilities being responsible for igniting over 2,000 fires between 2014 and 2017. Currently, there are methods to aid municipalities in undergrounding their electrical lines. However, the criteria have remained mostly the same over the years and have not adapted to the changing utility dynamics that may necessitate undergrounding for a wider range of reasons, including wildfire mitigation and environmental protection. Click www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjWrnq2CJIs to hear Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen and Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Garcia speak more about the issue as it pertains to our City.

City Managers poles

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

SB 584 heads to Senate Appropriations Committee 

The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day – On Saturday, April 27, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Laguna Beach Police Department will be partnering with the DEA to host the DEA’s 17th annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day drop spot will be in front of the Laguna Beach Police Department. Several members of our Police Department will be there to greet each community member and assist in the disposal of their prescription drugs. 

The Police Department will also have a sharps container to assist in the disposal of unwanted hypodermic needles. 

As a reminder, the usual methods of disposing of unused medications, flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash, both pose potential safety and health hazards. 

For further information, contact Public Information Officer Sergeant Jim Cota at (949) 464-6671 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

Heritage Month – Come celebrate Heritage Month this May and enjoy the many scheduled activities and events. Opening festivities commence on Thursday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. on the patio of Ocean at Main, located at 222 Ocean Ave. A new event featured this year includes a trolley tour of past artists’ homes within the city. This free tour will be held on Saturday, May 4, from 1 - 3 p.m. and will begin on Loma Place, adjacent to City Hall. 

Tour space is limited so RSVP by emailing Clark Collins at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

A calendar of all the events are posted on the city website at www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/cd/preserve/heritage_commitee.htm.

SCE Pole Replacement – On Monday, April 29, between 1 and 4 p.m., Southern California Edison (SCE) will be replacing a utility pole located at the intersection of Bluebird Canyon Drive and Keller Way. The westbound lane at Bluebird Canyon Drive will be blocked in the vicinity of the work and personnel will be directing traffic.

For questions or concerns, contact Mark Collins with Pro Energy Services, Inc. at (714) 451-5896.

Pearl Street Beach Access Improvements – On Monday, May 6, construction work to rebuild the closed beach access at the end of Pearl Street will begin. The project includes replacing the stairways, creating seating and overlook opportunities, and adding landscaping. Construction is scheduled to be complete in October 2019. 

For additional information, contact Tom Sandefur, P.E., Associate Civil Engineer at (949) 497-0792 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Police Department Citizen Academy Graduation – On April 18, 19 people graduated from the 26th class of the Laguna Beach Police Department’s 13-week Citizen’s Academy. They will join the ranks of almost 484 alumni members. The Citizen Academy is a one-night-a-week event designed to provide community members with a better understanding of the Police Department leading to a stronger partnership between the police department and the community. The next class date is expected to start sometime in January 2020. 

Interested candidates should contact Ross Fallah at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.for more information. 

New City Hall Exhibitions – The Artist Fund at Festival of Arts currently has artwork from three exhibitions, including Tie-One-On Retrospective, Board of Directors Show, and Red-Hot Series on display in City Hall’s first floor gallery in recognition of their 20-year anniversary. There will be a free reception for the exhibitioners on Thursday, June 5, from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.

Red Telephone Booth Installation Rescheduled – The installation of Super Hero Changing Station by local artist Robert Holton in the Red Telephone Booth on Forest Avenue has been rescheduled to Monday, May 6. The installation will be on display for 24 months as part of the Arts Commission’s temporary sculpture program. The lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach have funded this program.

Changes Made as Result of Public Questionnaire Feedback – If you recently interacted with City of Laguna Beach Community Development Department, you are invited to take a new customer service questionnaire about your experience. The city is already using your survey feedback to make service enhancements: a customer suggested the city make the Building Permit application easier to fill out electronically. As a result, the city has changed the format from a static PDF to a dynamic PDF – now customers can enter their information on their home computers, print it out, and save time at the counter. See the new Building Permit here

You can take the survey at www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/cd/customer_service_questionnaire.htm. This questionnaire is a tool to help us enhance customer service, streamline development approval procedures, and improve project turnaround time as part of a new Community Development Department Action Plan.

Main Beach Basketball Court Resurfacing – Routine maintenance and resurfacing work at Main Beach Basketball will begin on Monday, April 29. The work is slated to be complete by Friday, May 3. The basketball courts will be closed for play during this time. 

If you have any questions, call Alexis Braun, Recreation Supervisor, at (949) 497-0762.


Council divided on short-term lodging regulations

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to submit to the Coastal Commission proposed modifications to the city’s Short-Term Lodging Ordinance.

Community Development Director Greg Pfost has been dueling with the commission staff for about 16 months to try to reach a compromise on regulations for short-term lodging – defined as less than 30 days. The city’s position is that any new STLs should not be permitted in residential neighborhoods – new being the operative word. The commission in 2017 faulted the city ordinance for excluding up to 5,200 residential units as possible STLs, thus reducing visitor-serving opportunities and negatively affecting the visitor-serving uses in residential districts on the ocean side of North and South Coast Hwy.

“Since the Commission’s decision, the [city] staff and the Coastal Commission staff have met numerous times to discuss potential alternatives for a revised ordinance that would be acceptable to the commission and yet meet the city’s goal of restricting new STLs in residential zones,” Pfost reported at the meeting. 

The staffs have reached a consensus as a result of the meetings, Pfost said. 

Six key changes have been incorporated into the revised ordinance that will be submitted to the commission staff, in about two weeks after the required second reading of the proposed ordinance at the May 21 council meeting.   

“I am hoping for a commission hearing before the end of the year,” said Pfost. 

Pfost informed the council that he believes the revised ordinance is a balanced solution that will be consistent with the California Coastal Act, the city’s General Plan and Local Coastal Plan, while recognizing the city’s special character.

“A previous council’s 5-0 vote [instructed] staff to go to coastal and see if they could reach a compromise and that is what Greg did,” said Mayor Bob Whalen, who voted with Council members Sue Kempf and Toni Iseman to approve the revisions to be submitted to commission staff.

Whalen also tried to allay concerns about terminating existing permits for STLs in residential zones.

“Anyone who has it, gets to keep it,” said Whalen.    

Currently the city reportedly has 734 STLs.

Councilman Peter Blake, who voted with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow against the revised ordinance, opined that short-term lodgers were preferable to six meth addicts moving next door, over which the city has no control, by state law.

Dicterow suggested that permits be granted in the residential zones if the city imposes strict regulations on the number of days the unit could be rented and if the owner is on the premises.

“Non-owner occupied [sites] leads to problems,” said Dicterow, addressing concerns about loud, unruly renters.

Michele Monda said she rented an STL for 12 years before she moved to Laguna.

“I couldn’t afford a hotel,” said Monda. ”No one likes party houses.” 

She also said the city is losing money (bed taxes) by restricting STLs.

Sixteen members of the audience spoke about STLs: some reported confusion about their status, others were upset with the permit process and some favored the restrictions on locations.

South Laguna resident John Thomas supported the staff recommendation.

“The plan is fair and presents positive opportunities to address emerging problems,” said Thomas. 

“In a climate where online retail has created an oversupply of brick and mortar retail, and at the same time where there is a housing shortage, using excess commercial space for residential purposes could help both situations.” 

However, he added a caveat: If the commission will not accept the city compromise – litigate.

The compromise reached by the staffs of the city and the commission includes six key issues that have been incorporated into the revised ordinance that will be submitted to the commission staff: 

--Continue to exclude STLs in residential zones and permit them only in the same commercial-mixed use district as previously proposed by the city

--Allow existing STLs in the commercial-mixed use districts to be converted to STLs, regardless of non-conformance to density, parking or other development standards

--Prohibit existing residential units that are restricted by covenant for affordable, senior or disabled housing to be used as an STL

--Place new responsibility, including collection of bed taxes and code enforcement, on STL hosting platforms that advertise and serve as facilitators to those who rent out STLs, encouraged by Santa Monica’s successful court challenge against the provisions

--Increase penalties for violations, eliminating the scaled penalties of $100, $200 and $500, and instead impose a flat penalty of $1,000 per violation 

--Applications for permits to be heard by the Planning Commission, rather than the Community Development Director


City and Coastal Commission staffs working toward reconciliation

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The most recent attempt by City and California Coastal Commission staffs to address conflicts between the two agencies may have been more fruitful than previous tries to reconcile their differences.

Inconsistency between the city’s Municipal Code and the General Plan plus different interpretations by the two staffs have led to appeals to the commission about development projects. The City Council on Tuesday directed the Planning Commission to initiate amendments to sections of the General Plan, the Municipal Code and the certified Local Coastal Plan related to defining major remodels and the oceanfront bluff tops, clarifying coastal development procedures and streamlining the discretionary review process.

“I have worked on this for years,” said council watchdog, Sharon Fudge.

Fudge and her husband, Mark, frequently challenge council decisions on development issues, appealing them to the commission. 

“You say we should comply with the city’s Local Coastal Plan,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steven Dicterow. “We think we are complying.”

The problem has been that the commission doesn’t always agree.

In 2011, the council approved an ordinance that modified the precious definition of “Major Remodel” and “Non-conforming structures.” It was submitted to the commission for certification but was withdrawn in 2012 to allow the staff more time to reach mutually acceptable definitions. The staffs recommenced discussion in 2018.

Newly proposed amendments are intended to address the unresolved issues.

Staff is recommending a new definition of “major remodel” to include the statement that greater specificity shall be provided in the Municipal Code. Moreover, the sections of the code and land use planning pertaining to major development should be consistent.

Another bone of contention has been the definition of oceanfront bluffs. The city currently has two versions in its Certified Local Coastal Plan. The city and the commission have been using different definitions, leading to confusion on the part of the staffs and the property owners.

Staff is recommending sections of the Land Use and Open Space/Conservation elements be amended to clarify the bluffs and the setbacks from the bluffs. Staff also recommends adding a new section to the Zoning Code related to oceanfront development standards and requirements to be submitted on oceanfront lots.

Recommended amendments to the elements are expected to rectify the different interpretations of the Municipal Code by city and commission staffs. The council also directed to streamline the discretionary review process, which staff has undertaken.

“This should be moved along,” said Laguna Beach architect Marshall Ininns.

Development Director Greg Pfost posited bringing the results of the city planners review back to the council within four months. Staff will continue to meet with commission staff in the interim, Pfost said.


Tree policy vote delayed for Santa Monica official’s presentation

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council delayed at the April 16 meeting a decision on proposed changes to Laguna’s tree removal and replacement policy.

Councilman Peter Blake was the lone vote opposing the delay until after Santa Monica’s Public Landscape Manager and former Director of Tree Preservation for New York City Parks gives a presentation on May 1 in Laguna Beach. The presentation is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

“We are lucky to have our City Council and Public Works [Department] be supportive of having Mathew Wells come to address our community with respect to maintaining a sustainable urban forest,” Barbara MacGillivray stated in an email.

The presentation is independently sponsored by the Laguna Beach Urban Tree Foundation, funded by MacGillivray and her husband, Greg. 

Early notification of the presentation has been sent to folks in Laguna who, the Foundation explains, have expressed concern and interest in maintaining and maximizing the extent of the community’s arboreal cover, according to the email. 

Tree policy ocean

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Trees are often a source of controversy in Laguna: a view of Ocean Ave

Laguna Beach resident Adam Schwerner, who is in charge of Disneyland’s “treescape” and formerly in charge of Chicago’s, asked Wells to make the presentation in Laguna.

Wells has worked in Santa Monica for five years. Before that he worked in New York and in London. He has a Master’s degree in urban forestry and arboriculture, and is a Chartered Forester. He presents programs at international tree conferences. 

MacGillivray has a support paper for the Wells presentation. She has requested that those with a passionate appreciation for the value that trees offer read the paper and formulate questions that might be asked at the presentation, 

“Hopefully all of you will be able to attend,” she wrote, and asked to be made aware of anyone who should be contacted about the presentation.

“City Council members and Public Works staff have all agreed to be part of this and are as concerned as we are about the future of our urban forest,” MacGillivray’s email concluded.

The City Council approved modifications to the Interim Public Tree Removal Policy in 2017. The modifications included deleting the requirement for an on-site meeting with two City-retained arborists regarding the removal of dead trees. An exemption to allow the removal of trees with a six-inch or less diameter when damaged, or in serious decline and/or dying, without the need for the on-site meeting and an arborist’s report was also approved.

Laguna’s current tree removal policy requires significant staff time to administer, and the cost of arborists’ services to inspect trees, prepare reports, and attend on-site and City Council meetings exceeds several thousand dollars per tree, according to a report submitted by Shohreh Dupuis, director of Public Works.

The estimated cost of removing a tree is $5,400 per tree under the current policy. Staff time is estimated at 40 to 60 hours.

Landscape architect Ann Christoph and nursery owner Ruben Flores questioned the cost at the April 16 hearing.

Proposed changes to the policy would allow tree removal determinations to be made by Dupuis, based on urban forestry standard criteria for tree removals.

Additionally, the proposed revisions would add requirements for replacement of the removed trees and identify a process for replanting.


City to celebrate its history in May, Heritage Month

By BARBARA DIAMOND

May is Heritage Month in Laguna Beach.

Festivities will begin with a trolley tour of artists’ homes from 1 to 3 p.m., May 4. The tour is co-sponsored by the City’s Heritage Committee and the Laguna Beach Historical Society. Eric Jessen will lead the tour, which will begin at City Hall. Seating is limited to 32. For reservations, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The annual Laguna Charm House Tour is not an official city celebration, but is always held on the Sunday after Mother’s Day in the middle of Heritage Month. The 2019 tour will include five North Laguna homes, ranging in style from a 1918 cottage to mid-century modern. Pre-tour tickets are $50, $60 on the day of the tour. The proceeds fund scholarships for Laguna Beach High School graduating seniors and provide financial support for political candidates of a like mind to the Village Laguna members. For more information, contact (949) 472-7503.

Heritage Month will be highlighted by a panel discussion and slideshow by the publisher and creators of the book, The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism, set for 7:30 p.m., April 25 at the Third Street Community Center. 

city to tell

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Photo by Damon Nicholson

Years ago, Jerry Burchfield & Mark Chamberlain at Nix Interpretive Center, backed by an image from The Tell mural leading to the trails

A quintet of panelists consisting of the editor and contributors to the book will include Ron Chilcote, UC Riverside professor emeritus and founder of Laguna Wilderness Press; award-winning journalist Liz Goldner, contributor to and editor of the book; former Mayor Paul Freeman, who was hired by both the Irvine Company and the City as an intermediary during the negotiations to buy land in the canyon from the developer, and a contributor to the book; Mike Philips, former executive director of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy and also a contributor to the book; and photographer Tom Lamb, Festival of Arts Board member, who worked with the late Jerry Burchfield and the late Mark Chamberlain photographically documenting Laguna Canyon Road when it was under the threat of major development. 

city to refining

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Submitted photo

Inside “The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism,” a book replete with photos of the fight to prevent development in the canyon

Mark Chamberlain wrote the main essay in The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism.

The maverick environmentalist Chamberlain and photographer Burchfield, co-founders BC Space Gallery, began the “Laguna Canyon Project: The Continuous Document.” When they began photographing the road, Chamberlain believed the click of his camera was documenting the death knell for the canyon. Instead their work was an integral part in preserving the land. 

Published in 2018, The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism documents the environmental art project created between 1980 and 2010 that preserved the history of Laguna Canyon Road. “The Tell” was its beating heart.

A tell is an archeological term for an artificial mound created from refuse from an earlier civilization. “The Tell” in Laguna Canyon was a 636-foot photomural created from thousands of donated photographs and erected in 1989. It is credited with inspiring “The Walk to Save the Canyon,” and inspired residents to tax themselves to prevent the Irvine Company-approved development of Laguna Canyon.

The preservation of the open space is Laguna’s legacy to Orange County, worthy of celebration.


Council adopts federal 5G site guidelines

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on Tuesday adopted a resolution to update the Guidelines for Site Selection, Visual Impact and Screening of Telecommunications, to create a comprehensive set of design criteria for small wireless facilities.

They had little choice. Had they chosen not to adopt the guidelines, the City would default to the government regulations pertaining to the facilities, certain portions of which are related to design criteria, which took effect Monday. City staff expects worldwide deployment of fifth generation wireless infrastructure to begin in 2020, with 5G phones currently on the market.

“These are going to happen,” said Matt Lawson, chair of the Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Committee. “We don’t have that much control.”

Asked how much discretion the City has, City Attorney Philip Kohn said, “The short answer is very little.”

There will be even more 5G installations than the current number, according to Associate City Planner Anthony Viera, who made the presentation to the council. Neighborhoods that have undergrounded their utilities might see new poles installed, he said.

“A dim light at the end of the tunnel is based on the House of Representatives working on restoration of some local control,” said Mayor Bob Whalen.

He said the City’s best hope in legislation is based on a previous court challenge by the City some years ago regarding its control of telecommunications installations – but it hadn’t gone well for Laguna.

Six residents urged the council to take whatever steps possible to gain control of the sites.

Fabiola Kinder was especially concerned about locations near schools.

“I hope we will be hypervigilant about this,” said Councilwoman Toni Iseman.

The council will be further updated on the current state of 5G and other new technologies on May 7. The presentation will include a discussion on the impacts and opportunities of the deployment 5G small cell sites in town.


Council approves flag graphic for city police vehicles

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council Chamber was rocked Tuesday night with jeers, cheers, hisses, clapping, chants of “USA” and an impromptu rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” 

A majority of the standing-room-only crowd spoke with one voice: support for the graphic on Laguna Beach Police cars that they equated with honoring the American Flag, with the opposition seen by some as akin to treason. The City Council supported the majority, 4-1, with Councilwoman Toni Iseman opposing.

“This didn’t start out about the flag, but it became about the flag,” said Mayor Bob Whalen, whose frequent attempts throughout the raucous, two-hour hearing to quell the clamorous reaction to speakers and council comments were ignored.

The crowd, estimated at more than 200, quieted at the request of Jennifer Zeiter for 10 seconds of silence to honor those who have given their lives to protect America.

Zeiter was among the 47 members of the audience who spoke their minds about the graphic – some in costume, some carrying a flag.

“I felt sad when I heard there was a dispute,” said Wendy Baker Offield, whose family has lived in Laguna for four generations. 

Council approves crowd

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Submitted photo

The crowd was quite vocal in supporting the flag graphic

Mike Mitchell, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said taking the graphic off the cars would break his heart.

“I like the graphic; it is recognizable,” said Annamarie McIntosh, a Girl Scout for 12 years. 

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said the bottom line for him was the police preference for the graphic.

“I think it makes us look more together than anything we’ve ever done,” said Dicterow.

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said she voted for the graphic because it was important to the police. 

Fewer than 10 speakers opposed the version currently on the cars, most of them requesting only minor changes to the design, which has the letters POL backed by a blue ground with stars and ICE backed by red and white stripes. Some claimed the prominence of the ICE was intimidating to immigrants. 

Fabiola Kinder suggested extending the blue background to include the I. 

Three speakers opposed the graphic as it is.

“I disapprove of using the flag as a graphic,” said George Weiss, who served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps. “The federal government doesn’t approve of it either.”

Laguna Beach resident and businessman Chris Prelitz was soundly booed when he said he was speaking for 20 or 30 folks who were intimidated by the rhetoric related to the hearing.

“It is sad that it has come to this,” said Prelitz, who has subsequently received hate mail and critical phone calls. 

Iseman said she almost didn’t want to come to the meeting because of comments made to her about her loyalty to America.

“I live with a patriot; I come from a family of patriots,” Iseman said.

“The issue as I saw it was one of procedural. We felt that the police wanted black cars, unanimously, [we voted] black cars. We were shown a graphic, we agreed to it. And then all of a sudden something else happened. So, we needed to come back, because that’s what we do,” Iseman said.

“There’s not a person up here that doesn’t support the police,” Iseman continued. “We respect, honor and love the work that they do.”

“But to make a flag the question of honor. I actually believe that it’s more honorable to put a real decal on the car, a real flag, and forget the graphic that to me looks kind of like a paper plate on the Fourth of July. It doesn’t do the flag the honor that it deserves.”

She also questioned Dicterow’s evaluation that the city looks more together than ever before. 

“This meeting was divisive,” she said. “A lot of people were not here because I warned them not to come.”

Artist Carrie Woodburn, who opposed the graphic on its artistic merit, was among those who opted to stay at home.

“For the first time in my life, I have been threatened unjustly; my place of business has been threatened,” she advised the council. 

Woodburn sent a copy to the council of one of the 250 emails she said she has received, one that included a threat. “Subject: To The Artist Fool Who Hates America, and the Sawdust Board, and Councilman Blake: Carrie, your hot wind bag mouth, protesting THE AMERICAN FLAG, will cause a lot of problems, as we’ll BOYCOTT Sawdust due to your Anti-American bullshit. If you don’t like the flag…LEAVE. Or, we’ll force you out, economically.”

Councilman Peter Blake spoke on Woodburn’s behalf at the hearing.

“I thought artists should be included,” Blake said. “I am not a big flag waver, [but] I love the car the way it is.”

Woodburn said she has been pilloried as a flag hater on television when in fact she stated she never mentioned the flag.

“I was questioning the process which you all know was sidestepped,” she wrote in an email to the council.

The council approved in February the police department’s long-standing desire to restore the black and white color scheme to police cars. They also approved Police Chief Laura Farinella’s choice of a graphic, a subtle coloration that City Manager John Pietig described as cloud-like. That version was deemed unacceptable after a trial painting and Farinella opted for the brightly colored graphic without consulting the council and bypassing a public hearing.

Residents asked the council to review Farinella’s choice because the council had not authorized it.

The announcement of the review resulted in a hullabaloo on social media, picked up across the country by whose authors felt compelled to participate in the discussion.

By the day of the hearing, City Hall had received 224 emails: nine of them which stated they came residents of Laguna Beach; 69 identified the writers as people living outside of Laguna Beach; 146 of the emails were from an unknown location.

Additional emails have been sent to City Hall, but had not been counted by the deadline for this article.

Whalen said the hearing was not a political rally, but a show of support for the police department.

“What’s on the doors will not change the demeanor of the police,” Whalen said. “Our police represent everyone. You may one day be in the minority and you will appreciate that.” 

In a related action, the council approved a revised police vehicles motto that reads “Serving Our Community with Pride and Integrity.”

To view the meeting in its entirety, visit the City’s website here.


City Manager’s Updates

National Public Safety Telecommunicators (Dispatchers) Appreciation Week – The week of April 14-21 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Appreciation Week, also known as Dispatcher Appreciation Week. Our Laguna Beach dispatchers are the “first” first responders and answer all incoming non-emergency, 911 calls, and relay important information to our first responders in the field. Dispatchers are the ones behind the scene, who are often not recognized for their work. They are a calm voice in that moment of need, and the ones who get the information to tell first responders where they are needed. Here in Laguna Beach our dispatch center is responsible for dispatching Police, Fire, and Marine Safety. Our Dispatchers are truly the best in the business, and we thank them for all they do. 

SB 584 - Wildfire Mitigation Through Undergrounding of Power Lines – State Senate Bill 584 would expedite opportunities for local jurisdictions like Laguna Beach located in Tier 3 fire-threat areas to underground current overhead electrical infrastructure for wildfire mitigation. The bill will also establish a Wildfire Mitigation Oversight Board to develop and implement policies that reduce the looming threat of more wildfires. Overhead utility lines and equipment have caused many devastating blazes, with the equipment of California’s three largest utilities being responsible for igniting over 2,000 fires between 2014 and 2017. 

Utility companies propose “hardening” the overhead systems as a means of fire mitigation, but Southern California Edison noted in its Grid Safety and Resilience Program that hardening overhead systems is only 60 percent as effective as putting overhead systems underground. Currently, there are methods to aide municipalities in undergrounding their electrical lines. However, the criteria have remained mostly the same over the years and have not adapted to the changing utility dynamics that may necessitate undergrounding for a wider range of reasons, including wildfire mitigation and environmental protection. 

Click on this video – www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjWrnq2CJIs – to hear Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen and Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Garcia speak more about the issue as it pertains to our City.

City Hall Temporary Sculpture Installation – On Monday, April 29, artist team Hybycozo will be installing three sculptures outside City Hall. Created of steel, the sculptures will be on exhibit for three months. The artists Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu are based in Oakland and have been featured artists at the Burning Man Festival. The lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach have funded this program.

Red Telephone Booth Sculpture Rotation – On Monday, April 22, the installation Nine Billion by artist Douglas Turner will be removed from the red telephone booth on Forest Avenue, concluding its 2-year exhibition. The telephone booth will be cleaned and repainted in preparation for a new temporary installation, Super Hero Changing Station by local artist Robert Holton, which will be put in on Friday, April 26. The lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach fund this program.

Diversity & The Creative Economy – On Monday, April 29 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., learn how nurturing inclusion can foster economic mobility and prosperity for Laguna Beach, Orange County, and beyond. The Laguna Beach LGBTQ Heritage & Culture Alliance, Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, and other sponsors will provide a platform for community members, as well as business, civic, and education leaders, to learn how to take the word “diversity” from being an elusive catchword to being a prosperous future with clear benefits to the economics, social vitality and well being for everyone. 

For more information, visit https://lagunabeachlgbtqalliance.org/. 

City Council Appointed Committees – The City Council is accepting applications for the following Committees, Commissions, and Boards: four positions on the Arts Commission; five positions on the Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee; six positions on the Housing and Human Services Committee; two positions on the Planning Commission; and four positions on the Personnel Board. All terms will be two-years beginning July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2021. Interviews and appointments will be conducted on Tuesday, May 7 at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave.

Laguna Beach residents who are interested in serving on one of these committees should obtain an application from the City Clerk’s office or online from the City’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.net and file in the City Clerk’s office no later than Thursday, April 25 at 5 p.m. Applications will not be accepted after the April 25, 5 p.m. deadline.


City Manager’s Updates

City Council Appointed Committees – The City Council is accepting applications for the following Committees, Commissions, and Boards: four positions on the Arts Commission; five positions on the Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee; six positions on the Housing and Human Services Committee; two positions on the Planning Commission; and four positions on the Personnel Board. 

All terms will be for two years beginning July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2021. Interviews and appointments will be conducted on Tuesday, May 7, at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave. 

Laguna Beach residents who are interested in serving on one of these committees should obtain an application from the City Clerk’s office or online from the City’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.netand file in the City Clerk’s office no later than Thursday, April 25 at 5 p.m.  Applications will not be accepted after the April 25, 5 p.m. deadline.

Caltrans Work at 7th Avenue – On Monday, April 15, Caltrans will begin work to upgrade traffic signals at the intersection of Coast Highway and Seventh Avenue. Minor traffic impacts can be anticipated during lane closures from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of May. 

For additional information, contact Oussama Issa at (949) 936-3593.

Free Compost Giveaway on Saturday, April 13 – The annual compost giveaway event will be held on Saturday, April 13, from 8 a.m. to noon, at the City Maintenance Facilities parking lot (Act V), located at 1900 Laguna Canyon Rd. Free compost will be available in appreciation of the recycling efforts by Laguna Beach residents. Supplies are limited and will be available on a first come, first served basis. This is a self-service event.

Visit www.lagunabeachcity.net/recycling for more information.

City Managers Compost

Submitted photo

Free compost will be available to residents this Saturday, April 13, from 8 a.m. to noon at the Act V parking lot

Summer Recreation Activities & Youth Camps Registration – Registration for Summer 2019 recreation activities and youth summer camps is now open. 

To register and see the list of programs available, visit https://secure.rec1.com/CA/city-of-laguna-beach/catalog/index

Bluebird Park Slide Update – City Staff has dedicated much research and consideration recently to the process of replacing a custom hillside slide in Bluebird Park deemed to be cracked and unusable. Given the customized nature of the original design, including concrete sculpting to accommodate the slide, custom entry and exit areas, and custom landing areas at the bottom of the slope, custom ramps, and sidewalks leading to and from the slide, and the fact that the original slide manufacturer is no longer making the same product, the options to replace the slide are limited and costly. 

The slide is so custom that the cost of the slide itself makes up less than 25 percent of the project; the significant installation costs like the modification of the slope to accommodate a new slide with different profile and pitch, replacement of rubberized surface areas at the top and bottom of the slide, and replacement of the lower seat wall to comply with current safety standards make up the bulk of the costs. A deeper dive into this matter led to the conclusion that the work is needed, and the project cost is justifiable when given the entire scope of the project vs. redesigning the hillside and pathways to provide another feature. Therefore, the City is moving forward with the installation of a new slide for residents to enjoy at Bluebird Park as soon as possible.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

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