Laguna Beach

School Board hypocrisy gone wild?

At the March 26 School Board meeting, I spoke out on reports by many parents and students of seemingly discriminatory actions by some School District officials. Other speakers joined me in expressing our opinion that there’s real fear of retaliation for challenging School Board policy.

A Board member apparently asked, “Who is this guy Christopher Kling?” Answer: Resident, taxpayer, voter.

That is apparently not good enough for Board member Vickers. At the January 15 meeting Vickers officiously “quizzed” Board member Perry on the pedigree of constituents disturbed by what many see as a suspicious total blackout of the Board meeting December 11, 2018. That was when the Board did not enforce its own bylaw tradition on rotation of members to serve as President, denying Perry’s turn. 

Next meeting on January 15, 2019, Perry reported constituents questioning the Superintendent’s claim of December’s blackout of both video and audio recording was due to “technical problem.” That’s when Vickers demanded Perry disclose demographic/social data on constituents, as if some constituents matter more or less than others. (, Board, Meetings, January 15, Website Locator - 2:08:28 through 2:13:40).

The Superintendent and Board members joined Vickers criticizing Perry’s inquiry into the blackout as an alleged violation of so-called “protocols” that in fact were never adopted as binding Board rules. But skepticism among many increased when Vickers and the Superintendent posted the January 22 meeting announcing, “This is a Board Governance meeting and will not be live streamed or recorded.”

All Board meetings are “governance” but the posted agenda included Item 12 on enforcement of “protocols” Perry was accused of disobeying at the January 15 meeting. Perry and members of the public objected believing this blackout confirmed a motive to deny public access to live and archived video and even audio recording of Board actions.

Seemingly realizing blackout was indefensible, a revised agenda was posted the next day stating “Open Session Board meetings will be video recorded.” (, Board-Documents-Agenda-January 22, 2019). 

For those of us paying attention that flip-flopping was understood as confirmation of a policy of secrecy regarding agenda Item 12 on protocols of governance, the validity of which Perry was questioning. Our opinion was further confirmed at the January 22 meeting, when the Board chose not to allow an open recorded debate on Item 12.

Instead the Board removed Item 12 from the Agenda seeimingly because the meeting was being recorded, and re-scheduled the Item 12 protocol enforcement matter to a future “special meeting” that would not be recorded! That extraordinary action was taken by a 4-1 vote opposed by Perry! (, Board, Meetings, January 22, Website Locator - 00:30 through 09:07). 

As seeming disarray and lack of good order in Board governance has ensued since then, Vickers refers to criticism of what many view as bizarre escalating secrecy tactics as “attacks” on the Board. Since when is disagreement an “attack” instead of democracy in action?

After seemingly selective blackouts of all video and audio recording backfired, the Board ended live podcasting in favor of posting day after video archives. The pretext is lack of closed captioning for disabled viewers, while foot dragging on an easy fix for that.

In contrast, our city council even displays agenda item numbers on live podcasts so busy constituents can monitor meetings and even decide whether to come participate.

In my opinion and that of a growing consensus among citizens now “awoke” to the need for a School Board that governs far more competently, our public schools deserve not just good academic administration, but honest and fair governance conducted openly not in secrecy. 

Christopher Kling

Laguna Beach

No tax dollars for School Board “remedial instruction”

Despite whatever teachers, students, and families achieve in our well-funded public schools, many of us believe that in school governance a low-performing School Board and Superintendent have been obstinate defending administrative policies and practices that are indefensible.

Worse yet, as what we believe are confrontational political tactics and bizarre secrecy measures by the Superintendent and Board escalate, the School District seemingly has become unduly dependent on what we regard as bad legal advice from a rogue lawyer.

In my experience and opinion, the Board’s provocative and prickly contract attorney and his law firm are laughing all the way to the bank. Not surprisingly, since the Board follows seemingly bad advice and then pays out even more legal fees to deal with political and legal fall out from seemingly ill-advised actions.

Now, after what many regard as brazenly declaring themselves right and anyone questioning them wrong for two years, suddenly the Board wants to learn how a School Board is supposed to operate. Once again the Board is overeager to spend more taxpayer education dollars on what we regard as yet another education industry consulting scam promising to enhance governance through “expert” advice and training.

We once thought it might help and accordingly supported the first few training sessions. But after sitting through several of these “governance workshops” costing tens of thousands of dollars, we watched the Board and staff seemingly descend deeper into chronic institutional disarray.

The only truisms about these workshops, it seems, are that consultants mostly regurgitate off-the-shelf pabulum already available from the California School Board Association and Sacramento lobbying/consulting industry. There doesn’t seem to be anything new presented, and the consultants ultimately tell the Board majority what it wants to hear, it seems.

Currently the Aspen Consulting Group is seeking an LBUSD contract to provide remedial instruction to Board and staff on governance and community relations. In a recent seven-hour demonstration workshop, Aspen meekly noted a few deficiencies, but in the view of many Board observers was too timid and careful to support the Board’s conspicuous bias defending the status quo.     

Our community is generous and more than willing to pay property tax to give our students the very best. But supporting the governance process is one of the duties of the senior staff costing millions annually and we should not have to pay twice for basic competence. We believe Aspen will not add value and only waste resources that should go to teachers and students.

Instead of spending $50,000 now and inevitably more later for Aspen to enable more of the same, the Board should show its commitment to transparency and community relations by spending $16,000 to restore what we regard as disingenuously suspended live steam podcasting of its meetings for parents and citizens who can’t sit through four-hour meetings.

Ultimately, we want and need a School Board with diversity of experience, ideas, and knowledge. Instead of mindless “unity” and blind “consensus,” we need critical thinking and the civic maturity to discuss and debate on the merits.

We need Board members who are not seemingly so insecure and unknowledgeable that openness and transparency are intolerable, and who seemingly have been brainwashed that the Board represents the School District rather than representing the community.

We need Board members who do not avoid responsibility by abdicating their duties to the staff, or becoming enmeshed in politicized codependence with senior administrators.

Rather, our state education and government codes contemplate Board members who take responsibility by supporting the staff based on accountability that is both honest and fair. That enables public schools to put academic success of students first, but also govern according to the highest standards of good civic order, due process, and equal protection of law.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach

High rents are biggest obstacle for local businesses, in my opinion

Here’s what I don’t understand: Laguna Beach businesses are complaining about all the obstacles the City puts in the way of their success. Yet, the biggest enemy of Laguna Beach business, in my opinion? Laguna Beach business! In particular, it’s the real estate industry. Rents are exorbitant in this town, as we all know, and you have to sell a hell of a lot of T-shirts or cookies to make your monthly rent of $10,000 (or whatever it is today). So, instead of blaming the City, why don’t retail businesses fight against the real estate companies that are gouging them in rents? Just wondering. And while we’re talking about blaming the wrong folks, let’s stop complaining about the day-trippers who arrive here from Irvine or Riverside with wagons and coolers. They have the same right to the beach as someone paying $1,000 a night at The Montage.

David Peck

Laguna Beach

Trolleys from hell!

Boat Canyon to Art-A-Fair in one hour fifteen minutes. 1.2 miles or a 27-minute walk that ends up to be one hour fifteen. Is this all we should expect from public transportation?

I took the Trolley from Boat Canyon at 4:08 p.m. At Whole Foods the driver, passengers, and I walk to the bus depot to catch the Canyon route (a weird/ counter-intuitive solution), which left right before our noses. Another Trolley driver too just ended his shift and wanted to hit the freeway ASAP. Driving or not, drivers are on the clock till 5:30 p.m. During the whole time, the Trolley app opened but did not show any arrival times. When I looked at the app there were no Trolleys on the street, even though they passed me in the other directions. We tried other phones too. This page is the only page that continuously rarely opens or indicates arrival times. After waiting for 30 minutes, one Trolley driver called the depot, which confirms that our Trolley just left. Tired of waiting, two older passengers took and paid for the OCTA bus. Since there was almost no traffic into town, we were confident our ride would arrive within 5 to 10 minutes. Now we are more than 10 people waiting. Finally, after 25 minutes the Canyon Trolley arrives but we were informed we had to pick up a wheelchair from Main Beach first. By this time, the crowd revolted and got the driver to make another Trolley do the pick up. Arrival was 5:20 p.m. at Art-A-Fair.

Drivers told me that the critical time, which creates most delays, is between 4 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. because of the shift change. It is totally disrespectful, in my opinion, to passengers who are robbed of making their decision to take an Uber or walk without an app or schedule, which many drivers confirmed. I try to ride the Trolley every day and it has been a nightmare since the beginning and the app only works 10 percent of the time for me. (No wonder this app has a 2 of 5 star rating.) 

For some reason our Trolley service seems to think for so few people they are better off running the service over a dispatch that can change directions on the fly. A trolley that is not run by a reliable schedule or a functioning app is unreliable and inconvenient and thus more people avoid this service. I now do 75 percent of my rides with Uber or Lyft. If it was not for the friendly and courteousness of drivers, there would be even less riders. Four years and no improvement, why?

Michaell Magrutsche

Laguna Beach

From Moon rocks to rock bottom?

What a difference half a century makes. Fifty years ago this week, people all over the world watched astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon. Despite how people coast to coast felt about the Vietnam War back then, we came together as a nation to celebrate what only American ingenuity could produce at the time.

Today, as I watch the spectacle unfolding between President Trump and four congresswomen of color, I am reminded how much work there still is yet to be done here at home. Ours is not a perfect union, but it is far better than most nations on earth. Isn’t the search for a better life why Donald Trump’s grandfather and the parents of the four lawmakers under attack came to this country? Asking these duly elected members of the House of Representatives to return to their countries of origin not only is wrong-headed, it is un-American, in my opinion.

Neither Mr. Trump nor I will be here 50 years from now, but the four congresswomen in question very well could be. Too bad the president won’t be around in 2069 to celebrate what I’m sure will be their many American accomplishments.

Denny Freidenrich
Laguna Beach

Blake calling residents “liars” was not acceptable, in my opinion

The Laguna Beach Municipal Code on Ethics defines the responsibilities of those who hold public office as follows:

“2.14.020 Responsibilities of public office.

Public officials are elective officials of the city and the members of all official boards, commission and committees of the city.

Public officials and employees are bound to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of California and to carry out the laws of the nation, state and municipality. Public officials and employees are bound to observe in their official acts the highest standards of morality and to discharge faithfully the duties of their offices regardless of personal consideration, recognizing that conduct in both their official and private affairs should be above reproach. (Ord. 738 § 1, 1973)”

Councilman Blake’s deportment at the city council meeting, by shouting at them “liars!”, was a disgusting display of incivility, arrogance, and contempt for the citizens, in my opinion. Apparently self-reflection and civility are not high on his list of attributes. While some of us see a bully and will do whatever we can to change his behavior there are others who may be intimidated into silence. And where was the Mayor Whalen when Blake, who got less than 15 percent of the votes for city council, was calling citizens liars? We have seen what acquiescence to and enabling of abhorrent behavior does at the national level, in my opinion. I suggest Mayor Whalen does his job and demands that councilman Blake apologize to the good citizens who were there to exercise one of our most cherished rights. If no apology is given, how about a motion to censure councilman Blake for the specific incident? Or has Blake taken over the city government and can therefore do as he pleases? If bullies are not put in their place we all know what the results are.

Chris Catsimanes

Laguna Beach

Thank you Pageant of the Masters

Our big thanks go to Sharbie Higuchi and the Board of the Festival of Arts for providing a wonderful evening at the world-famous Pageant of the Masters for a hundred veterans and their support staff on Monday, July 8th. This year the Laguna Beach American Legion Post invited military veterans from the Long Beach, Loma Linda, and San Diego Veterans’ Hospitals and from the Barstow Veterans’ Home to attend the famous Pageant of the Masters. Our fellow veterans never fail to be amazed and appreciative of this special Laguna Beach hospitality. Thanks so much.

Richard Moore, Vice Commander American Legion Post 222

Laguna Beach

Who is Steve Dicterow?

Meeting after meeting, Steve Dicterow has spoken of kindness and has spoken out against bullies. He shows up for photo-ops featuring sad stories about children who have been bullied.

Now he seems to be the sidekick for the worst bully Laguna has ever seen, in my opinion.

At the last council meeting Peter Blake called the Temple Hill neighbors “liars.” Steve’s response appeared to be just to cozy up to Peter, whispering during public testimony.

What happened to “Mr. Kindness”? It seems he’s running for re-election next year. Will he do anything to get Peter’s personal endorsement? 

What about a developer-led PAC endorsement, and the money that comes with that? What will he do for that?

Who is Steve Dicterow?

Lorna Shaw

Laguna Beach

City Council transparency issues

I attended the City Council (CC) meeting that lasted until 1:10 a.m. on July 9. While I’m certain it was tiring for the CC members, who had been meeting since 5 p.m., imagine what it is like for those local residents who have out of town corporate jobs that start at 8 a.m.? Or, how about for residents who have children? Are CC meetings meant only for those who work in town at late starting jobs or are retired and can sleep in the next day?

There is a troubling pattern with City Council meeting agendas in which the topics of the most interest to residents are scheduled for the last two or three slots on the agenda. It makes one suspicious that the CC or City Manager want to discourage public comment. Why else would topics like the new design review board (DRB) rules, Temple Terrace public pathways, and Laguna Beach Company’s six new hotel and housing developments be regulated to items #16, #18, and #19 after such “high interest” topics as a temporary public art installment, weed abatement, recycling, and the replacement of a beach patrol vehicle? 

The scheduling shenanigans have been happening for years. I recall a CC meeting about skateboarding a few years ago when the school kids who were planning to speak had to wait until 10:30 p.m. before this agenda item was scheduled. It didn’t seem as if the City staff or CC cared much about the children’s school schedules.

There is a remedy to this scheduling issue – alternate high interest resident topics with the city housekeeping ones, and schedule them earlier on the agenda. Otherwise, it will continue to look as if the City Manager and CC are more interested in excluding resident participation, and keeping decisions that impact the local voters opaque, rather than transparent. Transparency and inclusiveness should be the objective of all city government.

Deborah Weiss

Laguna Beach

Design Review decisions are discretionary, not arbitrary

Let it be clear to all concerned that Design Review decisions are discretionary, not arbitrary. There is a difference. State law does not allow the DRB to make arbitrary or subjective decisions based on “whatever the Board wants to do.”

The public should be educated about the Design Review Board training manual, which should be made easily available for the public to read. DRB members read and are trained on the manual too.

I have one suggestion for improving the Design Review process. All applicants and their representatives should be required to sign a statement that they have reviewed the DRB criteria for approval and the (award-winning) Design Guidelines before beginning the design of their project. Architects should be required to go over both with their clients.

In my six years on the Board I found that a huge number of applicants were approved quickly and did not have to have numerous expensive redesigns and hearings when they designed to the criteria from the beginning.

Robin Zur Schmiede

Laguna Beach

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