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Laguna Beach


The president won’t work with Democrats?

If the reports are true that President Donald Trump told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer he can’t (or won’t) work with Democrats until their investigations are over, then we really are headed toward a constitutional crisis.

If the President of the United States refuses to work with the loyal opposition, then he truly is unfit for office. No matter how uncomfortable things are for Mr. Trump right now, my hope is Republican lawmakers in Washington will remind him that America was built on a foundation of compromise not tyranny. That said, it’s time to get back to work, even with people you don’t like.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach


Laguna Beach should stop using deadly rodent poisons

The Laguna Canyon Conservancy (LCC) is a volunteer environmental group dedicated to save Laguna Canyon and preserve it as natural.

The LCC Board of Directors would like to urge our city to join other communities around the state, nation, and world to stop the use of deadly rodent poisons.

It is our mission to help preserve and protect the 22,000 acres of open space that surrounds Laguna Beach, including its diverse and abundant wildlife. The use of toxic rodenticides – by residents and businesses adjacent to this open space – is sickening and killing individual creatures as well as harming the natural balance of life in these settings.

As background, residents and businesses (mainly food-related) use traps baited with deadly poisons to control rodents. However, most traps don’t capture or contain the dying rodents, which wander away where other birds and animals eat them. Those animals – everything from hawks and owls to coyotes and bobcats – eat the dying rodents and are sickened themselves and often die from poisoning. (An estimated 80-90 percent of living natural predators have been found with poison in them.)

Also, domestic pets and even children often consume these poisons, and grow sick, and sometimes die. (Poison centers report 10,000 children are exposed to rat or mice poison each year.)

There are less toxic alternatives to controlling unwanted rodents. In fact, the very predators that are being decimated by secondary poisoning are our best natural defense against unwanted rodents.

It’s time we stop poisoning our land, our animals, and ourselves. Because we are surrounded by our treasured Greenbelt of open space, we have a unique responsibility to protect the wildlife that lives there. As a forward-thinking city with a long history of environmental activism, Laguna Beach should be a leader in the push to rid our communities of all poisons.

We would like to encourage the City of Laguna Beach to take a stand to get poisons out of our city particularly our municipal parks. Many other communities have banned these toxic chemicals, including Irvine, Malibu, San Francisco, Ojai, Thousand Oaks, Davis, Marin County, Napa, etc., which banned city-use of pesticides, including on its public school grounds. Please consider passing a resolution (in the form of a non-binding ordinance) that would:

A. Urge businesses in the city, especially restaurants and other eateries, to no longer use or sell anticoagulant rodenticides.

B. Urge all property owners to cease purchasing or using anticoagulant rodenticides on their properties in Laguna Beach.

C. Commit the City of Laguna Beach to not use anticoagulant rodenticides as part of its maintenance program for city-owned parks and facilities.

We would be happy to work with the city on this resolution and help get out the word on this issue and alternative solutions. It’s our opinion that most residents and business owners in town would support this resolution once they learn about and understand the harm these poisons are doing to our surrounding wildlife and residents.

Please let us know if we can provide any additional information about this issue.

Thanks for considering this resolution. If you would like to discuss this matter with me, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (949) 939-7257.

Gene Felder
President of Laguna Canyon Conservancy

Laguna Beach


Tale of Two Superintendents

Dr. Joanne Culverhouse remains the most successful educational leader in local public school history. She was principal at El Morro Elementary School, Thurston Middle School, and Laguna Beach High School. A whole generation learned under her mentorship K though 12. She not only knew most students by name, but knew their siblings and parents, each family’s strengths and challenges.

“Dr. C” was singularly competent, confident, a natural leader, and skilled academic affairs manager with a strategic vision for even better schools in the future. A master communicator with a strong community service track record, it didn’t go unnoticed by students she’s a competitive triathlete and outdoor adventurer. 

Culverhouse was comfortable talking about both weaknesses and strengths of schools, her own as well. Not afraid of accountability, her record on objective achievement metrics trended up. She set the gold standard for blending commitment to excellence and compassion, so teachers, parents, but most of all students feel both valued and loved. 

As LBHS principal Culverhouse was so admired it seemed over time to create personal, professional, and even political jealously by the School Board majority and a Superintendent with no PhD or depth of experience that seemed comparable to Culverhouse.

Seemingly without justification the Superintendent repeatedly passed over Culverhouse for promotion to Assistant Superintendent, in effect if not purposefully forcing Culverhouse to leave the District for equal opportunity in career development. She became Assistant Superintendent in Palos Verdes, our loss.

The School Board did nothing, hiding behind the falsehood that personnel matters were a prerogative of the Superintendent, contrary to state education code Section 35161, which states the Board retains all residual powers and remains responsible for all actions under powers delegated to the Superintendent. 

When that Superintendent made what many felt was a long overdue decision to resign, Dr. Culverhouse applied for the job in which many felt she was a perfect fit. To the stunned shock of thousands who supported her, our School Board denied her advancement to the second interview stage with far less qualified candidates, in the view of many confirming the Board majority had been unsupportive of her based on personal and political not professional criteria.

Laguna Beach schools were Culverhouse’s first choice, but she was not the Board’s, so with typical professional enthusiasm she embraced the opportunity to be Superintendent of La Habra schools. She’s now credited for a strong and successful bottom-to-top strategic program reform and transformational enhancement of classroom learning in that district.

In January of 2018, the hands-on hardworking Culverhouse was named one of the 100 most influential people in the county by the OC Register. Now she has just been named “Superintendent of the Year” in our region by the Association of California Administrators.

In contrast, our current Superintendent hired instead of Dr. C seemingly projects what many perceive as a sense of entitlement and privilege, at the same time becoming mired in School Board governance legal and political turmoil. For example, he has not denied questions on the public record as to whether he failed to inform the Board that it arguably was violating state law by meeting to discuss matters not on a publicly noticed agenda on November 17,  2017.

Nor did he inform the Board at that meeting if it should amend its bylaws on rotation of all members willing to serve as presiding Board officers for a year, rather than what many feel was to violate a binding bylaw to that effect only to then repeal it after the fact.

As a result now we have a de facto Board President who many feel was not properly installed serving her third term. The Superintendent has acquiesced, it seems, in that and other unresolved legal disputes over civic order, rule of law, and due process in school governance.

For example, a state court judge has ruled that our Superintendent exceeded his authority by ordering permanent entries in student records related to discipline incidents never fully investigated. In the opinion of many who learned the truth, including an impartial judge, that matter important to the community was handled improperly by the Superintendent.

This Superintendent then refused to obey the court’s order to remove the entries, and only when the judge threatened to hold him in contempt of court did he comply. But then after complying with the court’s order the Superintendent initiated a costly appeal.

Since the lawsuit was over whether the entries should remain in the student transcripts, and the Superintendent removed the legally unjustified notations from the records, what public interest is served by appealing the case?

It seems to many the answer is tax dollars were spent to seek expungement of a ruling our Superintendent exceeded his authority. Is this in part because the Superintendent does not want the ruling to cloud his future employment options as his problems here mount, as many of us predicted?

This Superintendent seemingly has been more focused on school governance conflict and controversy about the legal nature of his authority, responsibility, as well as that of the Board than he has in being an excellent academic leader of the education mission.

Even as teachers, students, and parents are achieving new highs in academics, the school governance process of the School Board has reached new lows. An obsession with secrecy and avoidance of open transparent proceedings and deliberations is the hallmark of the Superintendent and School Board, it seems.

For example, the Board has appropriated over $120,000 in this year alone on investigations of school district employees over unresolved and highly politicized legal and policy disputes. The Board has spent tens of thousands on “governance training” workshops that too often are scripted seemingly to take sides in pending disputes aimed at silencing minority voices in the community.

As a result, instead of institutional capacity building to sustain higher governance standards, many feel we lack the leadership on the Board to end adversarial, stressful, and in my view borderline paranoid school governance practices by the current Board majority. 

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach


Thank you, Laguna, for your support of the Charm House Tour

Thank you, Laguna, for supporting Village Laguna and the Charm House Tour last Sunday. In the 1915 Settlement Cottage (restored with the assistance of Laguna architect Todd Skenderian) tour-goers were transported to the early days of Laguna Beach, when many families built their own summer cottages. Two houses from the 1920s, one a Dutch Colonial Revival and the other an English cottage, and a Mid-Century Modern home designed by Knowlton Fernald Jr., were resplendent in their colorful gardens. Completing the “century of Laguna charm” was a recently rebuilt contemporary home designed by architect Paul McClean, whose signature use of glass to meld outside and inside made the division between house and vistas almost indistinguishable. 

We’re grateful to all the people who helped make the tour a success: the homeowners who graciously opened their doors to us, the businesses who assisted by selling tickets for the event, the hundred-or-so volunteers who made things run so smoothly, and the many Lagunans and guests from elsewhere – more this year than last – who, through their support, demonstrated that what the early settlers called the “Laguna spirit” is still alive and well.   

Johanna Felder

President of Village Laguna

Laguna Beach


Discovering Brown’s Park

I found this unique little park by accident while out on a walk. Having moved to Laguna Beach recently, I was still in the phase of exploration, which paired well with my goal to get more exercise – and what an amazing place to do it in!

On this particular morning I decided to explore a different area of downtown. From Main Beach I headed south on Coast Hwy passing restaurants, shops, and galleries. I’m not sure what caught my eye but I happened to look to the right and saw a narrow open space. Had I been glancing across the highway I would have missed it. I paused, noticing a brick wall and what looked like a metal sculpture of two chairs and a table with a stack of books on top. I hesitated, not sure if it was ok to sit in the chairs, then went ahead and sat. It was comfortable and I decided it must have been created for both art and function.

After sitting for a while I continued on down the narrow way noticing the interesting brick design on the wall. Midway down was a plaque with a poem expressing a love for living in a house by the sea. I continued on to the fence at the end that overlooks the shore, then stepped back to read the words built into its metal work. Leaning on the rail I took in the beauty before me and relaxed into the rhythmic sound of the waves breaking on the shore.

Later when I was home I looked online to see if I could find some information on this park. I learned this was the site of a home that was destroyed in a storm. It had been in the same family for three generations. They decided to give this oceanfront property to the city to become a small public park, rather than sell it for personal profit.

Knowing this made Brown’s Park all the more beautiful to me. What a gift! Now when on a walk, many times I’ll include a stop there. As I soak up the beauty of the oceanfront view, I also soak up the beauty of the selfless gift this family gave, and thank them. Each time I leave with a grateful heart.

Suzanne Haugen Lopez

Laguna Beach


Troops to Iran

Again, our frequent letter writer has it wrong, it seems. NYT printed an article saying “Sources at the Pentagon claim as many as 120,000 troops might have to be deployed to the Middle East.” POTUS said it was “fake news,” that there is no plan and that if we did, it would be a helluva lot more than that. If Iran attacked U S forces, maybe. C’mon...

William Kail

Laguna Beach


All nonprofits should disclose public documents

The debate over PACs in Laguna Beach has seen both sides accusing the other of misleading the public. There is a simple solution. All nonprofits in Laguna should post on their websites tax returns, FPCC filings, state incorporation filings, financial statements, etc. They typically have a link on their sites to donate money digitally. I don’t donate unless the site provides easy access to public filings. I simply want to know what is your legal standing, who is running it, and how is my money being spent? 

If the organization is a PAC they must file a 990 tax return or declare an exemption. These can be found at: https://forms.irs.gov/app/pod/basicSearch/search?execution=e1s2. A preliminary search for Laguna Beach PACs shows the following have filed statements: LB Firefighters Public Awareness Group, LB Police Employees PAC, LB Republicans PAC ,and Village Laguna, Inc. Village Laguna filed tax returns. Although complicated, the Village Laguna returns state they are a PAC and that most of their revenues are spent on “political activities.”

Non-political 501(c)(4)’s, such as the many “community associations” we have in Laguna, must file tax returns. The IRS site can be used to find those returns. 

FPPC form 460 must be filed by campaign committees and PACs that support candidates and ballot initiatives. These are posted on the City website at: www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/citygov/cityclerk/electioninfo/disclosurestatements.htmContributors must be disclosed along with how the money is spent. There are PACs that have donated to candidates but have not filed tax returns, maybe because the amounts are so small. 

I have a modest charitable trust I use to donate to my favorite charities. It’s managed by a reputable financial institution. When I ask them to donate to “Village Laguna, Inc” they decline since it would not be a tax-deductible charitable donation. 

The charges being exchanged between Village Laguna and Liberate Laguna could be fact-checked if all nonprofits posted all their regulatory filings on their websites. To be truly transparent, they should also post their financial statements, board members, corporate by-laws, etc. Everyone is free to donate to whatever cause they believe in. I don’t give if they are not open about who is running the organization and how my money is being spent. When invited to put my homes on the Charm House Tour, I told them I support historical preservation but won’t participate unless the money goes to philanthropic 501(c)(3) charities and not to political candidates.

Some have suggested the City should require all nonprofits domiciled in Laguna to register and disclose key documents. I would support that, but why not make it easy, be totally transparent by posting the information on their websites? That would increase the community’s confidence in these organizations and hopefully lessen the uncivilized mudslinging. 

Doug Cortez

Laguna Beach


New Village Entrance is a big disappointment to me

After decades of meetings, reviewing, and rejecting proposed plans for the long awaited Village Entrance – much disappointment for me. I stopped by on Saturday morning to go to Farmers’ Market and check the parking/walking area. My first concern was the area just past the electric vehicle recharging as there is some garden/concrete jutting out forcing the driver to swing a bit to the left – problem is that if a large truck parked in one of the first few spots to the left (which there was) it makes it virtually impossible to navigate unless you are in a golf cart. The other part is that if a truck is parked where it narrows and there is a smaller car parked next to it, it would be difficult for the driver in the parked car to pull out safely until they get past the tail end of the larger vehicle. But by then the driver of the car looking for a spot may not see the car pulling out of the parking space. Seriously, it is very narrow, especially if the moving vehicle is in a large car. (I was in a 4-door sedan but luckily haven driven a Porsche for 40 years, I was able to maneuver by the truck could be stuck.) The curves continue and depending on how considerate the person who parked their car is – it would be like driving Le Mans.  Next – it was difficult to see the stripes delineating each parking spot, especially the front end as the stripes are painted a dark maroon. I wonder how visible it would be at night especially when it appears that only two or three large poles provide lighting? What surprised me is that the driving space leaving the parking walking area was wider than the area for entering. This was a flaw, in my opinion, with the original parking area and I had met with staff several years ago suggesting that the parking/driving area should be distributed better for incoming as well as outgoing cars. I was assured that it would be.

I had hoped that there would be public toilets and there weren’t. I can understand that planners did not want people sleeping or sitting all day long in that area – but if people are taking trolleys or walking from the Canyon – the only place to stop is by the Bus Station or the beach. Would you find that convenient if you have a child or are elderly and need to use facilities? I mentioned earlier lighting – still have concerns about that in general especially with people with poor eyesight.

What brought these points up? After I parked my car another driver was pulling up next to me and clearly did not want her front end hit by a car pulling in opposite her. However, that left the rear of her car vulnerable (it was not a large car) as there was a widening of the “garden/cement curbing.” Just as she was thanking me for helping her, a truck did pull up to park opposite her and he made a comment about how bad this was planned. He had come during the week and found that his SUV was not easy to navigate this new area. He uses the truck to buy produce from the Farmers’ Market and was trying it out. He decided that he would not be able to drive either vehicle there in the future. I made a comment about parking at the orange stand where I buy oranges and several people came over to where I was getting input from others and gave me a similar story – it was not easy to navigate (several elderly people made this comment), others said that they were concerned about the striping and lighting, and what was the point of all the plants. The stone benches and sidewalk took up a lot of space and people figured that on hot days few would sit there but homeless individuals, who may find it more entertaining and easier to solicit handouts.

I had wondered why so few cars (including this morning where it was still “free parking”) were not using the new parking area. Perhaps those are some of the reasons.

At one of the city council meetings that I attended when the finalization inputs were being given, I recall a council member suggesting that several of the green areas be made bigger since people were going to be driving smaller cars. Not exactly – SUVs and large trucks and Jeeps are hot selling cars and have been for several years. People do not necessarily check how they are parked once they are parked – that is to see if they are within the lines (will they be able to see them at night?) or if they are sticking out into the driving area. I suspect that there might be more parking accidents, short tempers…and maybe that is the reason that the parking lot has not been as full as hoped. This morning more people were parking by City Hall and paying than going to the new area and not paying.

Let’s hope we give more thought to form and function than pretty and think that everyone is out walking around that part of town – still far from the business area and with the loss of so many parking spaces even that “close” that is less potential for business. Let’s give more effort to help our business and visitors by giving future projects more thought. 

I have suggested at that the City’s Maintenance Yard, which is where the recycling events are held, we build a multi-story building by digging down and creating several levels of public parking leaving the top floor to office space for staff and perhaps putting a helipad on the roof. With the number of accidents and our limited access both two-way traffic in the Canyon, having a helipad might save some lives. But we also need to go underground there – PG&E was deemed negligent on several catastrophic fires and they are seeking bankruptcy protection. 

We have many issues to face and being practical and cost conscience is the only way we can achieve this. What do you think? 

Ganka Brown
Laguna Beach


Is the U.S. going to war in Iran?

I was 15 when President Johnson announced that U.S. naval forces had been attacked by North Vietnamese PT boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The immediate aftermath was the deployment of tens of thousands of American troops to Vietnam. A year later, when asked about the incident, Johnson replied, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

Today, more than half a century later, I am wondering if President Trump isn’t launching a revised Gulf of Tonkin strategy. Sources at the Pentagon claim as many as 120,000 U.S. troops might have to be deployed to the Middle East. As a longtime Laguna resident and 70-something father of three, I have to ask: What has changed in Iran? Why the rush to war? What if it is whales again?

Denny Freidenrich
Laguna Beach


A weed with a secret identity

The other day I went down on the hillside below my home with a small plastic container containing three tins’ worth of California poppy seeds, sold locally as souvenirs of California. The wet winter here had famously sprayed the wild lands with color as far as the eye could see, but the majority of it in our area was an invasive mustard, whose solid patches of bright yellow may prove a short-lived entertainment at the cost of a long-lived fire hazard. Amongst the color visible from our home, sadly, was a notable lack of the circus orange of the state flower, the California poppy. It was for this reason I struggled on uneven, sloping terrain dotted with gopher mounds and blanketed with dried grasses, the seeds of which cleverly inserted themselves into my socks (which created a 10-minute chore later to remove them, requiring turning the socks inside-out to pull the little barbed things through from the inside). In relatively clear areas I tossed little pinches of poppy seeds willy-nilly, doing my best impression of Johnny Appleseed (too bad my name isn’t Peter, as in Peter Poppy Seed). This section of hillside is soon to be visited by a large herd of goats, for fire suppression, and they will be eating more mustard than a stadium full of Dodger fans. I am hopeful that they also will be distributing, disturbing, embedding, and fertilizing poppy seeds, inviting a mini-super bloom next spring. 

On the way back toward the house, I encountered an unfamiliar small flowering plant, with lovely albeit minuscule orange buds. What was this? A wildflower? After all, this was a wildflower season for the record books. Perhaps this was a hidden gem, an unsung participant, due to its pea-sized blossoms. I carefully dug out a small ball of earth containing the plant and brought it to the house, where I did what everyone does for everything, I began an Internet search to identify it. Unfortunately, the super bloom this year in California meant that any search with both of the words “orange” and “flower” triggered an avalanche of images and links about the California poppy, seemingly ignoring every synonym for “tiny” I could think of. 

I visited wildflower databases. I scrolled through page after page of images of flowers. I entered descriptive terms as search criteria (leaf broader at base than middle, one blossom per stem, etc., etc.). All to naught. However, I could not accept that the identity of this plant was going to continue to evade me. I then took the step that occurs after every failed Google search: I slept on it. Refreshed, this morning, I sat down, and typed in the following inspired phrase: “trailing weed with tiny orange flowers.” And there it was, on the third line of images, at the link (lawnscience.co.uk). Unmistakable. I had tracked down the mysterious interloper. It was not what it pretended to be. It was not a wildflower, at all. It was a lowly weed. Charlatan! 

My disappointment, however, was short-lived when I saw the name: Anagallis arvensis; common name, scarlet pimpernel. As in, The Scarlet Pimpernel! Secret identity? Hard to identify? Pretending to be something it isn’t? Yes, yes, and yes. The Scarlet Pimpernel predated Zorro, Superman, and a host of other fictitious do-gooders who maintain a secret identity (but, admittedly, does trail Robin Hood by 600 years). The 1905 novel, the first in a series, recounts the tale of an apparently feckless aristocrat who, in fact, is the expert swordsman and clever escape artist who helps French aristocrats avoid the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. He is known only as “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” because the humble weed is his symbol. Life is such an entertainment. And I suppose it makes sense for the Scarlet Pimpernel to have a weed as his symbol – you can’t stop them, no matter how hard you try; they will escape you, and pop up somewhere else, including, in this case, a Southern California hillside, blending in with the crowd and going (largely) unnoticed.

Gary Stewart

Laguna Beach

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