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Laguna Beach

Tuesday’s Council meeting (4/16/19)

I was completely appalled, though not surprised, when Toni “VL” Iseman hijacked the meeting to ramble on about herself and make the police car decal issue all about her. She spoke of how brave she was, that the police chief warned her not to attend a rally, she received threats – me, me, me. I nearly fell out of my seat when she said she almost didn’t come to the meeting. When has she ever missed an opportunity to step in front of a camera? The final straw was her lying, I believe, about the VL connection to this completely nonsensical issue when confronted by Councilmember Peter Blake, who said he and the council had a stack of emails tying her and this issue to Village Laguna. I don’t trust her and I don’t feel she’s worthy of trust. It’s time for Iseman to do the right thing and resign her seat. 

Skip Houston

Laguna Beach

Parents empower students to resist college admissions madness

In 1998 one of my college professors was teaching French language graduate courses in psychology to doctoral candidates at the University of Quebec. We drove from Washington DC to Montreal so our families could celebrate Thanksgiving together.

On a snowy walk between dinner and desert, I proudly announced my daughter’s admission to Stanford. He congratulated me with reserve, finally confessing, “I’ve done work there, and, well, it’s just so big…students and even professors get lost…what we all need most to succeed is to be valued members of a more intimate learning community.” Forewarned by my lifelong mentor, we supported our daughter in finding community at Stanford, valuing her success in human relationships first, academics secondarily, and as a result she thrived in both.

My beloved professor’s advice was affirmed in this week’s Wall Street Journal (“The Right Way to Choose a College” – WSJ, April 22). The article has links to an earlier WSJ article on colleges ranking highest in “student engagement.” There’s another link to an interview with college admissions consultant Allen Koh, about how Rick Singer exploited the “desperation” of parents and students in Laguna Beach and other affluent communities, cheating more deserving but less privileged students out of admission to schools with high value brand names. 

As a senior at LBHS in 1969, my own choice was a rural, small college where I spent time with my professors and their families, lived on farms with other students growing our own fruits and vegetables, bartering with neighbors for milk and eggs. We hosted teachers for dinner, went to the city for Shakespeare plays, all unrelated to courses they taught.

Then at our youngest daughter’s LBHS college orientation, despite disclaimers about student stress, not just Ivy League schools but UC and assorted powerhouse colleges remained coveted like fashion brands to accessorize the lives of parents even more entitled than their kids.

No wonder as token lawyer at Thurston Career Day students wanted to know about college and law school admissions more than being a lawyer! I just said, “Read 

‘Colleges That Change Lives’ with your parents.” One mother called to thank me, because her daughter turned down a full ride scholarship at UC Berkeley to go to a smaller private school, from which she graduated summa cum laude and went on to Georgetown School of Law.

Parents empower children to follow a true path of self-discovery finding their unique gifts, without being rushed. Our younger daughter went to Saddleback for three years, worked in town to save some money, had a lot of fun, and discovered the life of the mind in church missions and bible study, coupled with two wonderful years earning her BA at Azusa Pacific.

I went to a third-tier law school, and became General Counsel of a U.S. State Department agency. My staff lawyers were mostly Harvard, Princeton, and Yale graduates, brilliant men and women a lot smarter than me, just not great decision makers or problem solvers.

Parents and students might also read “The Hidden Ivies” and “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.” One example of true value instead of high value schools is Agnes Scott College for Women.  Each new student signs an honor pledge with classmates. Mounted in the commons, the pledge signed by every student rotates from freshman wall to senior wall. Not only do students uphold academic honesty, the student mailboxes do not have locks. 

Imagine that. When you can get as good or better an education at a school that makes you feel wanted, why not?

That’s why tonight’s School Board meeting matters, because grading policies biased toward the UC system feed the “desperation” mentality, disempowering student and parent choice, and limiting admission and scholarship opportunities. 

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach

Let’s show Village Laguna that we support our town by attending the Charm House Tour in record numbers

Because of my aversion to meetings, I am not a member of Village Laguna, but I have long been a grateful fan of that organization. Thus I was horrified to see the ad attacking VL in your recent issue.

I would ask anyone who pays attention to that ad to ask two questions: 1) Why is Laguna Beach so much more beautiful than all the other coastal cities in SoCal? (Think about Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Corona del Mar, and San Clemente, all of which were once charming seaside villages but are now hideously overdeveloped.) The answer is that Village Laguna has fought for decades to establish and protect the magnificent belt of green open space that surrounds our city and to preserve the village character by fighting against those who would build huge hotels and turn charming historical cottages into “McMansions” a la CdM.

2) Why would someone place such an ad? Answer: Perhaps because they want to put an end to Village Laguna’s influence and, similar to Liberate Laguna, are waging a war against the very people who have fought for decades to preserve the unique character of Laguna Beach, it seems.

I encourage all residents to show their support for Village Laguna’s work by attending the Charm House Tour, VL’s primary fundraiser. It is clear to me that the big money developers hope to bankrupt Village Laguna; let’s show them that we support our town by attending the tour in record numbers. Tickets can be purchased online at Village Laguna’s website or locally at a number of businesses in town.

Kris Evans

Laguna Beach

Tuesday’s Council meeting was simplistic and jingoistic, not patriotic

I care deeply about my flag and my country. I am the wife, sister, daughter, and niece of Veterans. I am deeply disturbed by the controversy and display of jingoistic “patriotism” displayed at City Hall chambers. In my America, we do not boo and shout down people whose ideas differ from ours.

Some context: My husband, Bob, and brother Boris were both Air Force pilots who served active duty in the first Iraq conflict. My mother, Pauline, was a WWII Marine, supporting troops at El Toro. I have an Uncle, Branko, who was an advance signal corpsman in the European theater, so far in the front that at the end of the war Nazi officers surrendered to him as he was the first G.I. they saw. Another Uncle, Bogdon, who survived Pearl Harbor, later served in the battle of the Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, and the “slot” between the Solomon Islands. In July 1943 his ship was sunk in a night action in the Kula Gulf and he was among the survivors (half the crew) rescued the following morning. 

By luck and the grace of God all my relatives came home from conflicts whole and healthy. Many, many Veterans did not. They died for freedom and the flag. The flag belongs to all Americans and deserves our utmost respect: it is not a decoration or a political symbol. This is why there are protocols for displaying the flag, why we remove our hats, salute or hold our hands over our hearts when we acknowledge it. It is a near sacred symbol, our country in material form.

I also take Laguna Beach and its relationship to the flag seriously, and have taken action as a citizen to support the proper display of the flag. For example I hate to see the flag used as a prop for advertising, so I have stopped in at a local surf apparel store to complain to employees about the US Flag being used as a background for a clothing display, as this is disrespectful, the flag should never to be used as a prop. It also must be displayed properly. Two summers ago, I stopped and informed the manager of a local restaurant that, while well meaning, their method of display of a Fourth of July flag was inappropriate. Just this past summer I walked into another local store to inform them that a blow up beach raft of the American Flag was deeply offensive. We shouldn’t put our half naked bottoms on our flag!

The City of Laguna is not immune to my interventions: two years ago while on a walk at Main Beach, I looked up to see the flag on display by the lifeguard tower. To my horror it was both faded and tattered. I did not continue on my walk to Heisler Park, instead I walked immediately over to City Hall, spoke to the City Manager’s assistant and asked that the flag be replaced. This was done the next day.

So I think I have a right to voice my opinion on the Police “Flag” dispute. Not only as a lover of the flag but as an artist and emeritus design teacher at Saddleback College. I know something about visual communication. The change from white patrol cars with blue lettering (symbolizing the sea) to black and white cars with a bold, slanted block font with the flag superimposed upon so that the word ICE is highlighted in red is a radical visual change.

Moreover it has become common practice for people affiliated with right-wing politics to decorate their cars with flags and flag stickers, insist that politicians wear flag pins, and to co-opt the flag as clothing, implying that people who disfavor overt displays are not patriots, a position taken by news outlets such as Fox News (when in truth some of us prefer to wear our patriotism in our hearts and minds and not on our sleeves).

In this context a reasonable person might be expected to infer that the placement of a bunting display on a police car supports this right-wing view. This surely was not the intent, but it is a legitimate response that deserved a fair hearing.

I understand the Police department wanted to convert to black and white cars to conform to county standards, which I think is reasonable. Revising the design so that the word POLICE was printed in white and a small intact American flag next to it would have been a nice compromise, it would have honored our flag and our community. 

However, once this became an issue covered by the right-wing media, rational compromise was out the window. The issue became simplistic and jingoistic. It made me very sad. The City Hall chambers should be a place of civil discourse. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Thought are vital American rights, and I hate to see them shouted down by flag wearing and waving “Patriots.”

Veterans served, and too, too many died to protect our Nation, our Bill of Rights, and our Freedoms for this type of behavior to be ignored.

We are all Americans; we deserve each other’s respect.

“One Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for ALL.”

Just saying.

Hedy Buzan Williamson

Laguna Beach

Whatever happened to the Rules of Civility, including “Do not lie”?

I too was at the infamous Tuesday City Council meeting and it brought back memories of the behavior of many Village Laguna members – at one point while in line to speak, a woman who had been sitting with the other VL members at the back of the room and apparently knew me, grabbed the lapels on my sweater and started to shake me – I looked her in the eyes and told her to back off. Via an email, I reported the incident to the then City Council – someone in City Council must have known who accosted me and forwarded the email to them. She replied to the email – her nails must have glanced off my sweater and caught it. I have attended other earlier meetings and these VL members really ranted and let it all out – they even had public demonstrations when trees were being removed for valid reasons. So it is only fair that those with all points of views should be able to express them – however, whatever happened to the Rules of Civility, which were first written in 1595 and translated into French in 1640? There are 110 rules – some may seem a bit superfluous but the basic concept should apply. However can we continue as a nation or lead the world ahead if we don’t apply them.

One rule is tantamount to me – Do not lie. I recently spotted two high school students parking in clearly marked areas in the parking lot of the community pool. The spots are restricted to people using the pool with a two-hour limit. This has been an ugly issue for many years, as students like to assume that they are entitled to the whole parking lot. I watched as the two students got out of their car, locked the car, and proceeded to walk to the high school. Before they crossed the street I quietly asked them if they had read the sign, especially since it was in English. The female student replied, “You must have misidentified us.” First, I am not familiar with that word and second of all, I replied, “I know what I saw.” I then asked them if they were late to their class, “Lying 101.” They did not seem to find it amusing or even understood what I just said. They continued to cross the street and entered a building. 

For many years I have requested that whoever reads the daily news/events during homeroom include a statement to remind students about not parking in restricted areas at the community parking lot. Apparently it is not effective and they are not listening or maybe the school is not even trying to make the point to the students.

At the infamous Council Meeting, I repeated the above story and asked if perhaps the School Board would like to add a class or two – one called “Truth Telling 101” and another “Integrity 101”? With the recent enrollment scandal at USC and UCLA (at least two parents from Laguna were identified) and the preponderance of lies, denials, scandals, etc. in our government, I hope we are not too late to teach these young people the value of truth telling, accepting responsibility for their decisions, and showing integrity. What do you think? 

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

Good questions?

Here is the company Village Laguna keeps: The Laguna Greenbelt, the Bluebelt Coalition, CANDO, South Laguna Civic Association, Laguna Canyon Conservancy, Laguna Canyon Foundation, South Laguna Garden Park, Temple Hills Community Association and others. Village Laguna, as a nonprofit, mutual benefit corporation under 527 organization, shares its designation with such organizations as both the Republican and Democratic Governors’ Associations, Emily’s List, NEA, League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club. What company does Liberate Laguna keep?

Village Laguna raises most of its money through the Charm House Tour and individual dues. Our dues are $40 for one person. CHT earnings vary from year to year, but at $50/ticket and having to cover hefty costs like hiring tour buses and insurance, etc., you figure out how much this could possibly be! Is this even close to the $150,000 in one year by Liberate Laguna?

Most of Village Laguna’s money comes from Laguna Beach residents in amounts of less than $100 (maybe this what Liberate Laguna is calling our “dark money?”), unlike the large donations to Liberate Laguna (Cindy Shopoff, Shopoff Reality/Enterprises, $68,500; Michael and Leslie Ray, Sanderson J. Ray Development, $27,000; Mohammad Honarkar, 4G Wireless, $20,000; Samuel Goldstein, Radford Ventures, $20,000; Chris Dornin, Dornin Investment Group, $10,000, etc.) Which donations say “community support”?

Board Members of Village Laguna get no recompense or any other advantage from being on the front lines except the satisfaction of promoting good causes in Laguna Beach. What do the big developers and other contributors to Liberate Laguna expect to get from their affiliation?

Members of Village Laguna, many of whom are also members of the organizations mentioned above, join in order to help promote their group’s long-term efforts: establishing the building height limit, protecting and restoring historic properties and the ocean and coastal habitats, contributing financially and participating in other community organizations, and fostering a responsible cultural and social environment – including holding the Charm House Tour for 47 years. What has Liberate Laguna done for you – ever? 

Rosemary Boyd

Laguna Beach

4/16/19 Council Meeting

I attended the City Council meeting on Tuesday, 4/16/19, and I have to say, I was appalled by the environment inside the Council Chambers. Mayor Whalen did not have any control in the chambers. He allowed clapping, hooting, and hollering that intimidated the opposition. I intended to speak about the poor execution of the graphic on the police cars. I wanted to say that it had nothing to do with loving or respecting the flag, but everything to do with a bad design that could be seen as confusing our city with federal level vehicles, that the design decision was hijacked away from council, that Chief Farinella went against city protocol by making design changes that were not authorized. But I didn’t. I felt too unsafe. The intimidation felt within the chambers that Mayor Whalen allowed, by either being unwilling or unable to control, worked. Our City Council meeting was more like a MAGA rally of bused-in nationalists, rather than locals voicing opinions about the actual issue, and Council members weighing on a decision that best reflects our city.

But ultimately, it is clear to me that there were two reasons why the Council meeting turned into a chaotic circus last night. By Peter Blake and Steve Dicterow appearing on Fox News shows, using divisive language about the very people they represent, they sent out a clear message for out-of-towners to turn out in large numbers, it would seem. The flag waving and patriotism they claimed was about freedom and equality, while they chided people who weren’t in favor of the design to “love it or leave it,” is blatant hypocrisy, I believe. Is that their new brand of freedom? Because it’s not the freedom that true American values are based on.

This needs to be a lesson as we move forward as a community. Our Council members represent our city and all of us who reside here. Using divisive language on national, or even global, TV is not in the best interest of our community as a whole. The us vs. them mentality is never a winning strategy for leadership. My hope is that Mayor Whalen and all other mayors who follow keep control of their chambers so this ugly display of alienating those who have differing opinions doesn’t become established in our town.

Carey Strombotne

Laguna Beach


Why should Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) take away a students’ right to present themselves in the best possible way for their college applications?

We all know there is a lot of stress around college. Why would LBUSD take away the right of the student to have the best GPA possible? LBUSD has changed their GPA policy effective with this year’s junior class (Class of 2020) and after. Some 2019 seniors were required to sit in class with students that were eligible for the Honors Algebra 2 grade bump but they were not. Same class, same curriculum, same teacher, same testing.

The prior administration under Superintendent Sherine Smith made several poor decisions. Math pathways was another one. The public cried out and after a lot of effort, the math pathway has been fixed. Thank you to all that were involved on both sides. Were students hurt and disadvantaged in the interim? Yes.

The school board policy implemented under Sherine Smith also removed the Honors GPA grade weighting (bump) starting with the Class of 2020. This takes away the students’ right to the grade bump which results in a higher weighted GPA. This impacts college acceptance, merit money awards (free money), scholarships, and adds more stress to our students. All colleges recalculate GPA, so why not let the college figure out how they want the GPA calculated? Colleges accept kids with higher GPAs because it makes their statistics look better.

Do neighboring school districts provide an honors grade bump? Yes they do. 

Have other districts in CA removed grade bumps? Yes some have, but some have now reinstated the grade bump policy. Newport Mesa, Saddleback, Capistrano, Irvine, Orange, and others give students a grade bump for honors courses. 

We are appealing to current superintendent, Jason Villoria, to fix the problem the prior administration created. Give the students back their right. We are all counting on you. 

Sign our petition to promote this topic at Change-dot-org, search LBHS. #GPAmatters.

Terri Meisberger
Laguna Beach

The community is invited to the Charm House Tour

May is Preservation Month in Laguna Beach, and every year for the last 46 years, Village Laguna has celebrated Laguna’s history with the Charm House Tour. This year the tour is on Sunday, May 19, and will feature five North Laguna homes, from one of the earliest cottages (1918) through a mid-century modern, to a spectacular contemporary. This year’s tour is aptly named “A Century of Laguna Charm.” Over 100 people volunteer their time on tour day, to greet participants who come from all over the state. There are some devotees who haven’t missed a tour in over 10 years. Others live out of town and each year plan their vacations around this tour. This event proudly presents an inside look at those homes whose owners have graciously agreed to share with the public. The Charm House Tour creates camaraderie and brings people together in appreciation, for one fun-filled day.

There are spoilers in town whose goal is to shut Village Laguna and the Charm House Tour down, with their insinuations that we are not transparent, so that their over development agenda can go forward and change the Laguna we know and love. They are demanding that folks do not sign up for the Charm House Tour. Please do come on the Tour, and see for yourself firsthand what will be lost if we allow the developers to take over our town. Charm House Tour is a day of wonderment and magic, where people can reflect on our charming town and its ambience. 

Tickets can be purchased online at Village Laguna’s website, or locally at Cottage Furnishings, Ego Salon, Fawn Memories, Laguna Beach Books or Copy and Print.

Bring your friends and family and enjoy a special and unique afternoon.

We hope to see you there!

Jahn Levitt

Board Member, Village Laguna

Reinstate all honors course grade weighting at LBHS

In February 2016, three out of five Laguna Beach Unified School Board Members chose to eliminate honors course grade bumps, with few courses remaining intact. The presentation given at that school board meeting as to why LBUSD should take away honors course grade weighting or “bumps” was summarized as a wish to align with UC grade weighting ideals. 

Parents, concerned for our children’s futures and opportunities for scholarship, admission, and motivation, are requesting that the school board reverse this policy, reinstate all honors course grade weighting, and apply this retroactively – regardless of what UC weights or does not weight. Fundamental items seem to have been overlooked in the board’s final decision making process.

Scholarship: The Academic Task Force did not take into account the relationship between weighted grades and merit scholarships. Many private colleges and out of state colleges seek to boost their own school’s overall GPA rating and offer merit scholarships based on incoming students’ higher GPAs.

Lack of community outreach: Taking away the incentive and reward from students who take honors courses should be well publicized and the research well executed. This was not the case. Many people didn’t even know it was happening. In fact, in that same meeting the board also took away the advanced math pathway classes that had been offered at the middle school. The advanced math program has since been reinstated, but only after a group of parents took the board to task for taking away opportunity from students to excel. 

Lack of sufficient data: Where are the facts about how this will affect overall GPA, or influence students’ risk assessment to take more challenging classes? The PowerPoint presentation delivered few facts or supporting evidence to illustrate how taking away the grade bump would reap positive results. 

Alignment with UC Policy: Many students from LBHS don’t go to UC schools, so why the push to align with these schools? UCs are some of the most difficult colleges to get into and students are finding options out of state and at private colleges in-state. 

Competition: Currently, the honors course grade weighting policy is fully intact for neighboring school districts such as Capistrano Valley, Saddleback, Irvine, and others, putting our students at a further competitive disadvantage. 

Parent pressure: The argument that parents force their kids to take weighted classes is weak at best. Most students choose to take these rigorous courses on their own, knowing that if they put in the extra effort they will be rewarded in their overall GPA. Why take away their pursuit for excellence? 

Lastly, there is a prevailing thought expressed by some school board member(s) and teachers that students are gaming the valedictorian spot by taking all honors and AP courses. Those students who attempt this challenge usually do so at their own risk for their own reasons. But, if we really want to worry about kids taking honors courses with the intent to grade-pad, and not realize their full potential by taking non-honors or AP courses, then do away with class ranking altogether. Instead of a number one, make it the 4.3-4.5 GPA-and-above achievers who receive recognition at graduation.

We all want to promote excellence in our district. The Class of 2020 is the first group that will graduate without the advantage of having all honors courses grade weighted. The board’s policy decision to take away grade advantage will no doubt be under scrutiny. 

Note: We have publicly asked that the school board add this item to the upcoming April 23 meeting agenda. Although not assured that this will occur, we ask that parents who are interested attend this meeting and speak at public comments or write to the school board with your comments prior to the meeting date. Interested parties can also sign a petition to retroactively reinstate all honors course grade weights online.

Amy Kramer

Laguna Beach

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