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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: 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: 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 ( 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

Let’s do our part, Laguna – let’s sort our trash, recyclables, and green waste correctly

Today is trash day in my part of Laguna. Just within a short block I saw some things that made me wonder – do people read the lids to the blue, gray, and green bins? Each bin serves to pre-sort our ever-growing mound of trash in the landfills, oceans, and streets. There were items obviously in the wrong bin, some people just stuck stuff anywhere hoping that someone else will know better, I saw one bin where the person put whole cartons, not folded down, into the green bin (where green waste should go) with a note saying “recycle.”  Do the drivers really have time to read these personal notes/requests? I don’t think so – they drive up and down our streets, some are very narrow with curves, some people park their cars without concern about traffic, sometimes the drivers even have to drive down a street backwards as there is no place to turn around as they have to on my street. Talk about dangerous.

Back to the bins – the tops are very specific about what one can put in them. One of the most logical and I think important – do not put your trash in plastic bags and then put into the bin. Aren’t we putting enough plastic into the world from which right now there is no escape? These bags are not cheap and how well do they recycle their things when putting them in the plastic bag? I don’t know. But putting plastic, glass, and paper in them – that means that someone on the assembly line will have to tear them open to find out and sort them. Some folks are very conscientious and take the time to screw the lids back on the plastic bottles. Did you know that the lids are made of a different plastic and they are processed differently? So that means the lids have to come off. I learned this when I sometimes take my plastic and aluminum cans to the Orange Coast College Recycling Center. I do that so that those young people who “work” there sorting the trash are earning scholarships. Young people from different countries are working there to help with rent, books, etc. I like to help those who help themselves to achieve goals. I don’t drive there specifically to recycle there – I save them items for several weeks and when it is part of my “route of errands” I drop them off.

Back to trash day – did you know that the waste industry is one of the most dangerous of all occupations? (I understand that someone is hurt every day and last year, I read that 33 people were killed while on the job.) They don’t get paid that well for the risks they take and of course it is not a very clean job. They have to work fast as there is a lot of trash generated in our country and there are fewer and fewer ways of disposing them. Also there are fewer and fewer people who want to work in this industry – who will do this work? (Certainly not any of the children growing up in Laguna Beach, it would seem – parents are even paying thousands of dollars for them to attend prestigious schools even though they may not “qualify.”)

As we know the oceans are being inundated with trash – recently one whale had 88 pounds of trash in its stomach. Little fish, big fish, our coral reefs, lobsters, and other crustaceans are all victims of our carelessness and lack of concern. We depend on them for food especially as land animals are becoming less sustainable with loss of land to floods, droughts, use of chemicals, and other insane ravages of mankind. Never mind the wildlife.

So please take a moment, involve your children as well, sort things before you dump, see if it can be recycled by donating things such as clothing, furniture, and books to agencies that can re-use them to help the planet and help those who are not as fortunate as you are. I wonder why people are not concerned about what we are doing to this place called Earth. I saw a bumper stick that said, “There is no Planet B”.

In closing, I recently saw an article about a man who is collecting old and abandoned fishing nets and recycling the materials used to make them – to make new nets, clothing, etc. 

Ganka Brown
Laguna Beach

Another school shooting

“Lock her up” was heard many times during the 2016 presidential campaign. It’s time to revise that refrain. With Tuesday’s school shooting near Denver, I suggest “lock them up.” 

Like I did during President Obama’s tenure, I urge President Trump to convene a Camp David-style summit on gun safety, similar to what President Carter did when he invited old warriors Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel to Maryland in 1978. In case anyone needs reminding, the peace agreement that was reached after nearly two weeks of negotiations still is in effect today.

The president needs to take a page out of the Carter playbook and sequester all the critical players (i.e. NRA, 2nd Amendment proponents, ACLU, parents of shooting victims and more) until they agree on common ground (AKA federal legislation). This crazy, unprovoked violence must stop now.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

Residents want a level playing field

While the Chamber of Commerce is a vital part of our community, it is not representative of the majority of Laguna’s residents. In fact, in my opinion, the Chamber represents a small share of our total resident population.

Why is it then that the “State of the City” address is given as part of a fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce? It sounds as if Chamber members and their guests are more important than the rest of Laguna’s residents. Unfortunately, doing a State of the City presentation at a Chamber of Commerce event gives the impression to some that the Chamber has an outsized influence on Council’s decisions for our community – perhaps even dictates those decisions. For example, the City has prioritized new development projects at the top of its Strategic Projects as the City with the support of the Chamber. I don’t believe that the majority of residents would share fast tracking development as the most important strategic goal of City Council. 

A large number of residents feel that local government isn’t responsive to their needs. We heard from residents at past Council meetings of how they’ve become frustrated by their experiences with Design Review. We have also heard complaints that special interests, like some developers, seem to get special treatment, such as accelerated design and planning review for large projects – for a price. There’s a perception that the City removes large development projects out of the normal planning and design review process, such as the Coast Inn project being reviewed by the City Council instead of the Planning Commission or Mo Honarkar’s development projects being removed out of the normal review process, it seems.

There’s also a concern about too much money spent without fiscal caution. There’s the painful fact that the City spent millions of dollars as a result of mistakes on projects like the Llewellyn property, which is likely to be mirrored with the future liability from building permit approvals of the Katz project. A level field is made askew when those who formerly worked for the City or served on City Boards or Commissions, use their connections for the benefit of their clients and themselves by acting as consultants.

Here’s a suggestion. We have all heard about “Town Hall” meetings. These are held by elected officials to share ideas, answer questions, and solicit the views of residents during hours when voters can attend – at similar times as City Council meetings. These meetings can be held at the Artist Theater or other venues at low cost.

City Council might be surprised to learn that residents of diverse political views want the same thing from Council: direct communication with residents, greater transparency, and accountability.

We can do better than this. It has to start with setting a level playing field, which takes residents’ views into account instead of marginalizing them. Let’s work to keep all residents involved and informed. It is all of our community. 

George Weiss

Laguna Beach

When local politics go national

Local political factions in our town often seek favorable major media coverage on local issues. If a local controversy makes national news, one local political faction may come off in a bad light while another basks in the limelight. 

Of course, the political faction bruised in the battle often accuses the opposing faction that won the public relations contest of self-promotion damaging the image of the entire community. That was true after the recent cop car graphics story went more viral than many locals realize. 

However, instead of taking sides with local factions my liberal and conservative friends around the country and overseas mostly found it endearing that Laguna once again was wrestling with its local version of left-right political dichotomies.

Seems the old adage may be right, as long as our town’s name is spelled right it’s all good.

For example, in 2017 an Antifa/Altright showdown was staged downtown. Mayor Iseman stepped up with competence and courage no other recent mayor has displayed. Her leadership keeping order despite violent and vile behavior of some was the real story that day.

Similarly, attempts to shame Councilman Blake for masterful television interviews on multiple national networks about the cop car debate were sour grapes. Political professionals from LA to Washington across the partisan spectrum praised Blake for clearly articulating the merits of his positions with both passion and reason.        

Agree with them or not, the reality is that both Iseman and Blake are keeping promises to voters. And both were top vote getters in the 2018 mid-term despite being outspoken on controversial local issues.

We should be able to step back from our personal political biases just enough and take some civic pride that our local political issues sometimes become part of the national political and moral narrative. Understanding the interplay of local and national politics is an important civics lesson, especially in presidential election years.

As 2020 looms over the horizon, local political factions suddenly are all abuzz about making national party affiliation and platforms the litmus test for nonpartisan candidates seeking nonpartisan local offices.

We get it, but there’s a reason city council and school board seats aren’t contested in political party primaries. It’s because our constitutional process for consent of the governed is bottom up not top down. Before 2020 fever strikes, we need a dialogue about preserving the integrity of nonpartisan local elections.

If interested, stay tuned.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach


Michael Smithers 

Michael Smithers in chair

Click on photo for a larger image

Michael Smithers died peacefully on April 30th at the age of 58, from cancer. He was at home, surrounded by his family and close friends.

Mike’s greatest joy in life was to be with his family. He was a devoted husband of 28 years to Joseph Delaney, and a loving father to Claire Delaney Smithers and Ryan Delaney Smithers. 

People who knew Mike would recognize his presence from afar whenever they heard his contagious and bellowing laughter. He was a man who found the greatest pleasure in helping others and being of service. He always wanted to do the right thing and strived to make the world a better place. 

Mike was born in Encino, California, and was raised in Newbury Park. He graduated from Newbury Park High School and attended San Diego State University.  He was the son of Mary Woodlief and Ronald Smithers. His mother Mary raised him to be very independent, instilling in her son a strong sense of ethics. She taught all her children to cook at an early age, and she expected Michael to be able to complete his share of the chores at the end of each week. He always said he learned his strong work ethic from his hard-working mother. His first job was washing dishes at 6 a.m. on weekends at Du-Par’s Restaurant in Thousand Oaks, California. From an early age, he showed his desire to be of service through his work as an altar boy in the local church. 

To support himself while getting his bachelor’s degree at San Diego State University, he worked full-time driving school buses for the college band, handicapped, and local school children. Immediately after college, Mike became a successful commercial insurance broker, showing his acumen for business. His goal was always to be an entrepreneur and to choose an industry that aligned with his philosophical beliefs of doing the right thing. This goal led him to build, own, and run the Goddard School in Ladera Ranch, California. For the past 17 years, his passion for always doing what was best for the Goddard kids guided every decision he made. This type of leadership and zest for life allowed the Ladera Ranch school to achieve the Circle of Excellence Honor within the National Goddard franchise. 

Mike loved spending time out on his boat or floating in the warm water of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead. He was an amazing water skier and a very patient instructor with a hearty loving laugh. 

Mike is survived by his spouse Joseph and his children Claire and Ryan. He is also survived by his mother Mary Woodlief and his stepfather Steve Woodlief. He will be greatly missed by his siblings Dan Smithers, Carol Childers, Patti Ringo, and Peter Lavaty. He has many loving brothers- and sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces, and nephews who live throughout the country. 

He will be deeply missed and remembered as someone larger than life…with his big smile and saying, “It is what it is.”

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