Laguna Beach

Laguna bashing

Along with the decline of civility in civic discourse, there has been, in my opinion, a rise in what I term “Laguna Bashing” – portraying Laguna as in decline – this rhetoric often comes from business owners or property developers. This appears to be a misguided attempt to muster sympathy for a private agenda.

The latest example is from an article in a local news publication in which an investor with a number of ambitious projects in the pipeline in Laguna describes the downtown as “flagging.”

And in what may have been an attempt at humor, said (quote) “It’s becoming a ghost town.”

Seriously? A ghost town? When I’m stuck in traffic on Coast Highway, it doesn’t feel like a ghost town.

And why in the world would millions of people travel all this way just to see a downtown that is flagging?

Then there was a recent letter in the paper from a local business owner a couple of weeks ago complaining about declining traffic to her shops and blaming decrepit buildings, vacant lots, streets strewn with trash, and “dead zones.” 

That sounds pretty grim.

And it makes me wonder if those people paying over $1,000 per night to stay at the Montage realize what a mistake they have made to have come here.

We hear this type of Laguna bashing from time to time, and I’m puzzled by how things can be so bad and yet 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 people a year visit.

I’m a businessman. I’m all for business. But I’m for businesses that are in the best interest of the people who live here, the people with the biggest stake in the community. The investor talks about a $1 billion investment, which is a lot of money, but he ought to appreciate that the 23,000 residents have a much bigger stake in the community collectively.

I’m for businesses that will stand on their own two feet. I’m not for businesses that spend their time at the public trough asking for special treatment or handouts.

My entire career has been working with developers. I’ve seen this show before. Over the years I’ve seen the smarter and more successful developers come up with projects that have widespread community support rather than projects that reach for the moon and fight opposition for eons. This also makes the job of those with approval authority easier.

I hear the frustration, but if a business is having problems, take a look at the business. Does it make sense? Is it well run? It’s too easy to blame others for our problems.

We hear complaints about businesses turning over. Then we hear people wanting change. They need to talk to each other, but they are often the same people saying both things. Change requires turnover. No turnover, no change.

If the stores are vacant, could it be that the rents are too high? Or the building owners aren’t very motivated? Some of Laguna’s commercial buildings have been owned by the same absentee owners for years, who pay little tax, have little or no debt, and simply may not care very much about the community.

I don’t see why the residents of Laguna are supposed to somehow make up for that. And listening to people bash Laguna doesn’t do much to get me to to change my mind.

If you have a business idea or an idea for a project and you want support, an idea that is a “win-win” will have support. An approach that is “I win, you lose” will have a rougher path.

Here are three simple guidelines:

--Put the interests of the residents first

--Minimize negative impacts

--Fully mitigate all impacts

And then ask the question: Will the residents be better off with the project or without it?

John Thomas

Laguna Beach

A look at risk

It is clear that the Laguna Beach City Council considers aboveground utilities the most significant risk facing our city. This is extraordinary given not only the number of other risks the City faces but also the voters’ expressed disagreement with this position. The Council’s position borders on obsession.

Despite clear voter rejection of undergrounding utilities, the City recently voted to commit funding in the amount of 168 percent of its budget to wildfire mitigation, the overwhelming amount of which was allocated to undergrounding utilities. It’s almost as if we are living in a Father Knows Best world.

But does he? The City does not live in a vacuum and it doesn’t have unlimited resources. With respect to just natural disasters, Laguna is at risk not only from wildfires, but also from earthquakes, floods, mudslides, and if North San Diego is any indication, collapsing bluffs.

And there are other risks. What about the impact of current business practices and/or a financial crisis on the City’s increasingly underfunded pension obligation? How about the City’s aging sewer system? What about the risks associated with managing the City’s various capital projects? Or heaven forbid, the risk of a financial mishap resulting from the significant deficiency in internal controls reported by the City’s auditors the last two years?

Yet the City has gone all in on one aspect of one natural risk. “It’s not a matter of if but when,” the City says. Not mentioning that the same could also be said about things like earthquakes and underfunded pensions. Where will all the money come from? Money to fund not only the Council’s apparent obsession, but also any other unwanted surprises the City may face?

Funding generally can come from budget reductions, additional taxes, or saddling current and future residents with debt. Practically, the City never discusses reductions in its budget, so it likely would be looking to residents to pony up funds in the form of increased taxes or debt to fund any future problems.  Is it really financially prudent to commit – even “conceptually” – 168 percent of the City’s budget to a single risk expecting that residents will fund other future shortfalls not currently provided for either through increased taxes or debt?

The Council has its cheerleaders. But has it convinced the voters? Time will tell.

Jud Robert

Larry Gorum

Dick Swintek

Laguna Beach

What’s wrong with this place?

What’s wrong with Laguna? As with anything, it depends on whom you ask. If you ask a surfer they might say that we need more consistent waves. If you ask an artist they may tell you that we need more art collectors. If you ask a developer they will likely say that downtown needs more development.

Our developers are becoming more ambitions about major whole-block redevelopments of our downtown. The prospect of taller, denser, higher rent-yielding development has the effect of bidding up land prices and thus rents for the existing buildings downtown. That’s bad news for Laguna’s traditional merchants, low-income renters, including some seniors. They are being driven out as property values and rents are being driven up.

In fact, the developer who is now calling Laguna Beach a “ghost town” is the one who has bought several entire blocks here, and has displaced or is in the process of displacing both traditional merchants and our traditional lower-income renters. Sure, there is a proposal to rebuild some of the loss by subsidizing new, what seem to be “Irvine-style” apartment projects in the canyon, but that is not the same as the Laguna they currently enjoy. Yes in the new hotels they are building there will be a gallery and a little news and convenience nook, but that is not the same as the galleries and stores that we have enjoyed in Laguna Beach throughout its history. 

We have been asking ourselves if a gallery or our other stores make it in Laguna Beach anymore. The answer depends almost entirely on the rent. If we permit developers’ ambitions to bid up land and rent prices then we will be reaping the inevitable, which will be to drive out what we have and replace it with slick, tourist-facing businesses. I don’t believe that’s what the voters here want. A great number of us want each property owner to be able to make improvements and innovations, but we do not want a wholesale remake of Laguna Beach. We like its organic roots and organic richness.

Let’s, each of us, make a point to tell our City Council to instruct their staff to bring them a resident-serving version of the aggressive redevelopment plans, as they appear to many of us, that they are considering. Residents-first is what each of them promised us. Now is their chance to deliver on that. That is what we are expecting on the development issues that are facing the community today.

David Raber

Laguna Beach

Camp David gun summit

A special Camp David gun summit may be a good idea, as a recent letter writer suggested, but why didn’t former president Obama do it?

These shootings haven’t just started with our current POTUS, but he seems to be being blamed for them along with everything else going bad in our country. The summit if held in say 2009, 2010, and beyond may have prevented today’s tragedies.

The mainstream media seems to be intent on placing the blame, demanding stricter gun control laws, instead of helping victims and their families mourn their loss. These shootings should not be political by either party. AOC and Cory Booker spouting POTUS is responsible for these shootings? Was Obama the blame for the ones prior to president Trump?

William Kail

Laguna Beach

50 years later, Woodstock still defines my generation

Some 50th anniversaries are somber and some are joyful. A few of the most memorable in my lifetime include Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic in 1977, Japan’s 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1991, Russia’s 1957 launch of Sputnik in 2007, President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in 2013, and last month’s celebration of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon in 1969.

According to many historians, that summer of ‘69 also helped to forever define my baby boomer generation. Utter the word “Woodstock” and most people older than 60 can tell you where they were when that historic rock concert was happening in upstate New York.

I was taking a summer school class between my junior and senior years at USC. At night, I watched the evening news from my apartment in Los Angeles. At one point, I remember asking myself, “How is it possible hundreds of thousands of people are at Woodstock?”

Letter Denny

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Craig Kincaid

Denny Freidenrich, 1969

It’s funny how music, politics, and war intersect every decade or so. What was true for those born before 1946, certainly is true for my childhood friends and college fraternity brothers. Vietnam, the Beatles, Richard Nixon, Watergate, and Woodstock represent life-altering people and events for my baby boomer generation.

To this day, I’m not sure America has fully recovered from the deep, psychological shock of losing the war in Southeast Asia. For greying rockers, Liverpool Hope University now offers a 12-week masters degree on the Fab Four. The Berlin Wall (once a real-life symbol of the struggle between good and evil) no longer exists, and movies, books, and plays about the only commander-in-chief to resign the presidency continue to receive critical acclaim.

And then there was Woodstock, that quintessential event and gathering place in Bethel, New York.

Now that 50 summers have come and gone, it seems like a good time to reflect on Woodstock’s meaning and lasting impact. In basic terms, Woodstock exemplified the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. 32 of the best known musicians of the day performed during that rainy, mid-August weekend in front of peaceful, stoned and, yes, sometimes naked concertgoers.

Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell captured it all when she wrote, “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong.”

One of the bands that played the fateful weekend was Santana. I grew up with Gregg Rolie, the group’s keyboard player (we went to elementary, junior high, and high school together in Palo Alto). To Gregg’s everlasting credit, he always will be remembered for singing Santana’s mega-hit “Black Magic Woman.” Today, years after helping to create Journey, Gregg often can be found touring with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band.

Despite attempts to replicate what happened half a century ago on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm, the original extravaganza has proven to be unique and legendary – dare I say mythological? So much so, millions of people worldwide believe it was one of the greatest events of the last hundred years.

Whether it was or wasn’t, that is for the historians to decide. All I know is Woodstock was one of those rare combinations of words and feats that truly helped define my generation.

To me, Woodstock was more about the times than it was about the music. Because I was nearly 21 then, most of my friends and I were constantly trying to figure out ways to avoid going to Vietnam. (Interestingly, so was one Donald J. Trump.)

Unlike our fathers and grandfathers who fought in two world wars and Korea, my baby boomer generation lived a life of divided loyalties. By the late 1960s, the America those old soldiers were willing to die for had morphed into a nation of non-believers. At the same time people were trekking off to Woodstock, millions more were making a conscious decision to publicly oppose the war in Vietnam.

If the divide between war and peace wasn’t enough, there was another divide pushing its way to the forefront of the American psyche. It was the civil rights movement and its principled stand on what was law and what was order. It was a time when my generation purposefully asked if the values of justice and freedom actually existed in this country. Clearly, one of the best ways to answer those questions was through music. Thus, I submit, it was no accident Woodstock happened when it did.

Woodstock wasn’t a beginning or an end. It was a living, breathing transition between two Americas, two ideals, and two ways of thinking about the world. In some ways, it felt like the net result of my formal schooling and upbringing. If that is true, then it’s no wonder why Woodstock – the name and the event – has left such a defining imprint on my generation.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

Trolleys from Hell Part Two

After my recent discoveries and all the feedback about Laguna’s Trolley and app, I’ve found its only function, it seems, is visual “beautification.” Don’t expect the Trolley app to open like the apps of Uber and Lyft to get your ETA. The schedule page almost never opens or has the correct times shown. But trolleys are cute to have in Laguna, and when you are lucky and catch one, you can have this nice touristy experience. If this is enough value for the price Laguna pays is a topic for another day. Clearly, trolleys are of no use for those who have to arrive at a certain time. The only plausible solution for someone who does not own a car or want to relive Laguna’s traffic would be to take a rideshare choice of Uber or Lyft. I quickly found that even those companies’ drivers hate to drive in Laguna as well, because the traffic is too strenuous and the average route is too short and therefore not profitable enough. To avoid riding in Laguna, Uber riders sometimes trick customers by quickly cancelling even scheduled rides (three in two days). Most other businesses would not dare reject harder earned income, but technology makes this possible. 

The single greatest cause of all this trouble, it seems, is an appeasing of the public that still wants to use cars. I don’t know any city that welcomed alternative transportation at first. Thus, Laguna suffers from an ever-increasing difficulty of navigating from one place to the other within its current traffic infrastructure that is not too bike or pedestrian-friendly (we don’t have enough benches to rest because we don’t want homeless, it seems), and a public transportation system that doesn’t work well. This is especially hard for those that have been 10 hours on their feet in stores or the elderly. I recently visited Vienna (2 million people) and I could be in 30 minutes at my destination similar to from Laguna to Anaheim with one change of a trolley, within 30 minutes. I took that route at least eight times and the duration of the trip was the same, unaffected by traffic conditions or weather. Will Laguna stay one of the last non-public transportation towns in the world? Why don’t we want to use our trolley as a functional public transportation and recondition citizens to use it because it is more reliable than your car and you don’t need to worry about parking or having a drink? In my opinion, just to say we have public transportation in Laguna is a weak excuse to appease the masses and is actually worse than having no public transportation at all.

Michaell Magrutsche

Laguna Beach

Yes, it could happen in Laguna

Don’t panic, but those mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas this past weekend could happen here during any of Laguna’s summer art festivals.

Today, places of worship, movie theatres, schools, and shopping malls have become shooting galleries where the demented randomly injure or kill people nearly every day. In just the last two years alone, thousands of innocents from Gilroy to Chicago to Parkland, Fla. have been shot or killed. And in some cases, it has happened to people twice, first in Las Vegas and then again in Gilroy.

Seemingly the easiest thing for President Trump to say is these acts of extreme violence are matters for local law enforcement. The hardest thing for the president to do is solve the problem. Clearly, thoughts and prayers aren’t helping to curb these shootings everywhere in this great nation of ours.

So what is the Rx for solving this carnage? I believe the answer lies somewhere at Camp David. That is where President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin forged a peace treaty more than 40 years ago. Despite all the turmoil in the Middle East since, their historic handshake for peace still is firm between Egypt and Israel. So why not a Camp David 2.0?

I urge President Trump to convene a gun summit at Camp David with the likes of the National Rifle Assn., 2nd Amendment proponents, parents of children gunned down at school, and the ACLU in attendance. Make them bunk up and eat together for however long it takes to find common ground around three or four basic, yet meaningful, changes in federal law. If old warriors Sadat and Begin could find a path peace at Camp David in 1978, then surely today’s firearm antagonists can find ways to curb gun violence now. 

How many more innocent Americans need to be shot or killed before the president and lawmakers finally admit their approach to curbing gun violence isn’t working? Don’t wait another day Mr. President. People coast to coast have become walking targets for the deranged. It’s time to convene a gun summit at Camp David.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach


Dr. Aileen Goodson 

October 20, 1921 – July 21, 2019

Aileen Goodson

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Dr. Aileen Goodson – psychotherapist, gerontologist, sexologist, and author – passed away peacefully in her sleep in Laguna Hills on July 21, 2019 at the age of 97. She was born on October 20, 1921 in Los Angeles and was a graduate of L.A. High. A political activist from her teenage years, she was a leader of the Young Democrats of America, and during the Depression worked on breadlines serving the unemployed and hungry. 

In the 1940s she was a union organizer, first for the CIO, then for the AFL. During the war she worked for Lockheed wiring P-38 cockpits, but due to her pre-war political activities, was fired for being “prematurely anti-fascist and potentially subversive.” She won a lawsuit against the company, returned to her job, and became a supervisor of the cockpit electricians. 

Already active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s, she became a real estate agent for the sole purpose of breaking the color barrier against black home ownership in the Hollywood Hills, and achieved that goal. Dr. Goodson was married three times: first to Joe Young, a classical bass/baritone; then to Arthur Moore, a Disney animator, artist, and novelist, with whom she helped run a private animation studio that produced the TV series Spunky and Tadpole; then to Daniel Goodson, a clinical psychologist and the father of her two sons, David and Alan. Daniel suffered a severe stroke when the boys were infants, leaving her as the sole support of her family. 

She began working as an editor and journalist for Elysium Growth Press, which was at the vanguard of the family naturist movement. She co-founded the Elysium Institute in Topanga Canyon in 1967, a center for humanistic psychology and nudist resort, and was active in the anti-war movement and other progressive causes throughout the 1960s. 

Moving the family to Laguna Beach in 1970, she worked at art festivals making large pasha pillows, while her sons made hand-dipped candles and wax sculptures. When the children were grown, she received a Master’s Degree in Gerontology and Psychotherapy from Goddard College and began teaching nutrition and physical fitness to senior citizens, giving end-of-life counseling, and providing sensitivity training to nurses studying to work with seniors. 

She later received her Doctorate in Human Sexuality from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, and completed her successful book about the therapeutic use of nudity throughout the ages, Therapy, Nudity, and Joy, and worked in the field of sexology as a therapist for many years. In her later years, she lived in Laguna Woods with artist and musician Larry Epston, who died in 2007 after 20 years together. She is survived by her sons, David Goodson and Alan Goodson, her daughters-in-law, Betsy Martin and Zsuzsanna Aradi, and her sister, Maxine Margolin. 

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, August 4 at 1 p.m. at the UU Fellowship of Laguna Beach, 429 Cypress Dr.

Bob’s backdoor summer heist?

While Laguna vacationed, Mayor Bob Whalen pulled, by all appearances, a backdoor end run around Laguna voters. Weeks after Measure P’s defeat, Whalen and sidekick Sue Kempf formed a subcommittee, spending seven months, without public scrutiny, collecting the facts supporting what appears to be their pre-determined agenda, and disregarding the rest it seems.

With just three full days public notice, they ambushed residents with a 123-page agendized “report” proposing $168 Million for fire mitigation measures, conveniently omitting any facts or analysis not supporting their plan, like the many ways Laguna is unlike Paradise, with no community aid, vastly different socioeconomic and communication factors, and human actions that cannot be prevention planned or modeled. In my opinion, this report was not about fact-finding, it wasn’t objective; it was about subjectively supporting “backdoor Bob’s” agenda.

Rehearsed city employees, led by “Shakedown 10 Percent Pay Increase” Shohreh Dupuis, paraded in lockstep. Requests by residents and two councilmembers for more time to analyze the report and massive spending proposals were denied. Without one question, Councilmember Blake insisted no other voices need be heard, elevated the city employees to “experts” and disregarded resident voices as immaterial. With three votes locked, Dicterow and Iseman conceded. The heist took just hours, completely ignoring the will of the voters, it seems, while raiding the City’s coffers.

$23M phase 1 was like shopping at Fires R Us with no consideration of cost, necessity, efficiency, or redundancy, it seems, including $200,000 for more consultants and citywide loudspeakers for $1.2 million with $50,000 annually. Some items were reasonable – increasing fuel modification and defensible space, getting landscape and buildings to fire safe standards. But “free” undergrounding for Bluebird Canyon and Glenneyre, at $4 Million taxpayer expense? Over $100,000 in freebies for Councilmembers Kempf’s and Iseman’s view improvements and increased home values, a private, not public, benefit? Why not spread those purchased Rule 20A credits to multiple areas, split the costs 50/50, to incentivize self-undergrounding in more assessment districts? Remember “highest risk – must underground or we shall perish” Laguna Canyon Road from Measure P? Not until phase 3, and 15 years minimum before a single pole will be underground. Mayor Bob couldn’t figure out how to pay for that since voters rejected Measure P. Look for bonds and higher taxes coming our way soon. To say $23 Million is already “partially funded” is a joke – I firmly believe it’s all taxpayer dollars.

We now have four new full-time city employees at $800,000 annually – an Emergency Coordinator, two Undergrounding Managers, and newly approved soon to be hired “Defensible Space Inspector.” Government jobs program anyone? That $800,000 never goes away. The City should have been inspecting defensible space for years, but staff has been too busy making PR videos and PowerPoint presentations.

Meanwhile, long awaited resident serving projects remain unfunded, pension debt paydown derailed. Fire safety, yes. Blank checkbooks, no. We get the government we deserve. Good luck Laguna, we’ve been heisted.

Jennifer Zeiter

Laguna Beach

Abusing race card?

To my knowledge, our President has not called anyone racist names nor singled out anyone based on the color of their skin. He’s done plenty for the black, Hispanic, and Asian communities, in my opinion, and has operated global businesses for years employing people of all races. He’s also donated to various charities supporting women and minorities over many years. He has appointed many women and minorities to key staff positions in the White House and on his Cabinet. If a politician happens to be black, brown, or purple and that person is criticized for what they’ve done or haven’t done for a ruined city, state, or district, especially when the statistics support the criticism, I see that as simply calling attention to a major problem and expecting the politicians responsible to clean up their own area before criticizing others. 

If our President wants stronger immigration enforcement and a border wall to prevent people from coming here illegally, I see that as simply supporting our sovereignty, our Constitution, and our laws, which he is bound to do by his oath of office and being Commander-in-Chief. I don’t believe it matters to him what color the people are who are coming here illegally. As far as I can see, it only matters that they’re doing so, evading authorities and our judicial system and putting our country at risk of increased crime rates, disease, and terrorism. 

Being a multi-billionaire businessman with a lot more successes than failures, he does run our country like a business, in my opinion, and he’s doing a very good job at it. Our economy, jobs, and unemployment rates are some of the best that they’ve been in decades and our stock market is especially high. Businesses and shareholders (citizens) look at results, and workers, investors, and retirees are better off because of them. I think most would rather have a President who takes action and does what he says he will do rather than just another politician who continues to not answer direct questions, is overly diplomatic, and afraid to ruffle any feathers and says one thing but continues to do the opposite with few results to show for it. 

In my opinion, the opposition is using the race card to try to pull out when they can’t argue with a good economy. It seems it’s easier for some to call someone a racist in an attempt to shut any further arguments down rather than attempting to argue against facts and logic. President Trump has done more to improve the economic position of all Americans, including minorities, than any other President in decades, in my opinion.

Gary Zaremba

Mission Viejo

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