Laguna Beach


Darren Edward Esslinger 

Darren Esslinger closeup

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Darren Edward Esslinger, a longtime resident of Laguna Beach, passed away peacefully on December 13, 2018, at Hoag Hospital after a battle with cancer that began only 18 months earlier. Darren was 53. 

Raised in Newport Beach, Darren excelled in football at Newport Harbor High, class of 1983, then coached high school football. He earned his BA at University of California in History and went on to achieve a Degree of Law at Western State University College of Law in 2003, where he was graduated with honors. 

A life rooted in Laguna history, his grandparents, Dr. Paul (Doc) and Marie Esslinger, developed land they purchased in 1943 in South Laguna across from the Montage Resort. Darren served as Trustee over their estate for different periods over his lifetime and was dedicated to the preservation of their efforts, a task made complicated by litigation, but one to which he remained devoted. He enjoyed sports, travel, NYNY, organic gardening, playing guitar, and was known for his soft heart towards animals. He was loved by many and will be dearly missed. 

Darren is survived by his parents, Paul R. and Beverly Esslinger, his three sisters, Cheryl, Linda, and Jenifer, and his brother (Paul) Marty, as well as six nieces, two nephews, one great niece, and one great nephew. He was preceded in death by his brother Stephen in 2012. 

A celebration of Darren’s life for friends and loved ones will take place on Saturday, June 29 at 2 p.m. at Church by the Sea in Laguna Beach, located at 468 Legion St.


Ralph Tarzian 

Ralph Tarzian close up

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Ralph Tarzian

Ralph Tarzian was a sculptor. He died on June 12, 2019, peacefully, at the age of 95. His family revered him as a kind and loving war hero, artist, and scholar. He and his wife, Nancy, who died in 2011, leave behind three children, six grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. A resident of Laguna Beach since 1966, he was the patriarch of a family who relied on him as not only their moral compass, but as a source of artistic inspiration and unconditional love. He generously molded them, as well as countless students and colleagues, into the people they are today.

Ralph was born in 1923 in Fresno, Calif., to Leo and Sona (Boyajian) Tarzian. His younger brother, Bob, was born shortly thereafter, once the family had moved to Long Beach. His parents were both the children of Armenian immigrants; Ralph was a proud child of the Armenian diaspora. He was prone to slip into his grandparents’ native tongue with a grin and a twinkle in his eye that embodied William Saroyan’s observation: “For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” 

Ralph was born an artist, painting, drawing, and sculpting since before he could remember. Some of his earliest memories were of building sculptures from wood and paper. The walls and shelves of his Laguna Canyon studio, where he worked nearly every day until 2011, were adorned with 90 years of his artistic works. 

Ralph was industrious as a child and sold chickens and eggs, delivered papers, and worked in the post office, generally to fund his motorcycle or hot rod habit. He attended Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, where he was a middling student but accomplished what would be the most important feat of his life: meeting Nancy. 

Ralph Tarzian sculpture

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One of Ralph Tarzian’s sculptures, outside of [seven-degrees]

As she recalled, besides art, Ralph’s life revolved around petroleum: getting it and using it. Internal combustion engines almost killed him at least twice: once in a motorcycle accident that delayed his high school graduation until February of 1942, and the second time on the other side of the globe, during WWII. Indeed most of Ralph’s teen years seem to have involved near-death road trips, automobile-induced peril, and light larceny aimed at securing his next tank of gas. 

Ralph was inducted into the Army in January 1943, and by the end of the year, he was serving as a corporal in the Air Corps glider division in New Guinea.  In 1944, while building a landing strip, he was operating an earthmover when he was caught between two pieces of machinery and nearly “ground up,” as he later recalled. His war was over and he spent the next year in hospitals, first in Australia, then in California, where he finally got out of a body cast. He finished up his service in Texas, where he taught skeet during the day and ran liquor at night. Upon his return to Long Beach, he and Nancy rekindled their romance and were married in 1947.

Always industrious, Ralph soon had three children to feed: Patrick, Pamela, and Stephen. Ralph was studying art and working at the post office. The young family used $5,000 that Ralph had saved from bootlegging in Texas to buy a cottage in Paramount, to which Ralph added rooms as the family grew. The family grew and it grew, and Ralph’s career grew along with it. He became an “artist’s artist” in Orange County, treasuring and seeking out the work of his colleagues, yet always staying humble as they too sought out and treasured his increasingly masterful work in bronze and stone. In 1966, Ralph and Nancy moved to Laguna Beach and Ralph established the sculpture department at Orange Coast College, where he was a professor of fine arts until he retired from teaching in 1984. 

Ralph Tarzian black and white

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Ralph Tarzian was a regular exhibitor at the Festival of the Arts

As Ralph grew as an artist, as a carver of marble, travertine, and alabaster, and as a master of lost-wax bronze works that increasingly became sought after among collectors, Ralph and Nancy made annual pilgrimages to Pietrasanta, Italy, to work with Italian stone carvers who would become lifelong friends. He would return with more stone for his work. Ralph saw the rock from this area, first popularized by Michelangelo, as fundamental to his medium. These trips and his Italian colleagues inspired Ralph and expanded his approach to sculpture. He increasingly began to show work in galleries throughout the Southland and beyond. He was a regular exhibitor at the Festival of the Arts, and served on the boards of the Laguna Art Museum and Long Beach Art Association, garnering awards for his work, public installations, and more recently, lifetime achievement recognition, including the 2010 Laguna Beach Art Alliance Art Star Lifetime Achievement award. 

After retiring from teaching in 1984, Ralph began working solely out of his Laguna Canyon studio. He worked almost every day and loved the community of artists who sought him out as a mentor. His studio was a hub for grandchildren, artisans, and old friends. And if he wasn’t poring over a piece of rock, trying to unwrap the hidden figure within, or building wax figures for his next bronze, he was operating some type of heavy equipment. The board and batten walls shook when he ran his air hammer. At quitting time, the Coors from his studio refrigerator just tasted colder, better. Ralph worked from his studio until 2011, when Nancy died. With the loss of Nancy, and a broken heart, Ralph retired from public life at 88. He still reveled in friends, the art community, and his great-grandchildren. But without Nancy, after their marriage of 65 years, Ralph had lost part of himself. 

Ralph’s family, colleagues, and friends are better for having been formed by the kind and giving leader of their clan. He lives on wherever two of them meet and remember his mischievous grin, his generous spirit, and his taste for hard work and adventure. He and Nancy are on the long viaggio together; may it never end. 

Ralph was an ardent supporter of the arts. Family and friends will be making contributions in his honor to the Artists Fund at the Festival of Arts, a nonprofit organization assisting artists who have suffered an unforeseen hardship:

The Grand Puppeteer or More Gold Coins, Please

The Grand Puppet Play was masterfully performed by the Grand Puppeteer, the City Manager, on Tuesday at City Council.

Once upon a time, a tale of ordinary feats was told that any hard-working city manager would perform. But in Lagunaland, ordinary feats were magically transformed into exceptional dragon slaying feats by a majority of the council puppets, who shouted “King Pietig!” and then gave gold coins to the King to curry favor. One council puppet spilled his magic dust and all could see the black magic, so he, the Mayor puppet and puppet attorney quickly devised another tale, Plan B. “As no dragons were really slain,” they said, “instead we grant the King not one but two rounds of gold coins, in the hopes that a dragon may be slain, someday.” The pockets of Lagunalanders were then fleeced to pay the King.

The dragons were fierce: homeless dragons, big developer dragons, vacant storefront dragons, traffic, parking and visitor problems dragons, no bid dragons, dysfunctional/low morale city employee dragons, the feared undergrounding dragon who lost his fire but swallowed whole thousands of taxpayer gold coins, and the three-headed DRB, PC, and historicity dragon which has plagued Lagunalanders, seizing years off their lives and pocketbooks.

Puppet Sir Steve intoned: “Dragons still abound, the King’s work is good but ordinary, but he is already handsomely paid and doesn’t merit more gold coins.” But the Grand Puppeteer had played many puppets, many years. Pulling hard on the puppet strings, Plan B would pay those gold coins, and the agendas of the questioning council puppets would be sent to the End Of The Line Dungeon, where transparency, fiscal responsibility, and good governance die. 

The audience gasped, “Tis not right!,” but, alas, they knew how the tale would end. The King will get the gold coins without slaying a single dragon. The Grand Puppeteer holds the strings of agendas and staff reports, replacing principles with politics. You must pay the King to play. 

Meanwhile dragons lurk, and the gold coin stuffed mattress grows bigger in the castle bought by Lagunalanders. Many more gold coins will be paid, in eternity, for the good but non-dragon slaying King. 

On a 3:2 vote (Dicterow, Iseman voting no), the City Manager got automatic pay raises for 2019 and 2020, plus 7.25% COLA over three years, with no requirement to slay a single dragon. Sadly, the end.

Jennifer Zeiter

Laguna Beach

City Manager doesn’t deserve a merit raise, in my opinion

Thank you Steve Dicterow and Toni Iseman for voting against a merit raise for the City Manager. He is already getting a 2.25 percent cost of living raise. What a shame the rest of the Council rewarded what many feel is an ordinary performance at best with an additional 2.5 percent merit raise. This is on top of the 2 percent taxpayers contribute to his 427 plan, which is in addition to normal pension contributions. 

There are no metrics or benchmarks the council majority could cite justifying this. When pressed they say there are goals but I have yet to hear any. They quoted his interface with other agencies, he was President of an Organization of City Managers, he works nights, weekends and even, yes even, on the Fridays that he managed to get the council to give city staff off. They said he’s built a strong staff. Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t all those things requirements of his job? We expect that for the $352,147 including benefits that we pay him annually. That is three quarters of what the Santa Ana City Manager gets handling a population 13 times Laguna’s.

What’s he done in the past two years? Spent $500K supporting the failed Undergrounding ballot measure, does not put contracts out to bid – Waste Management and the ASL are two examples – and seems happy with that status quo. His Finance Department is in shambles – they haven’t had a head since November and can’t seem to find a replacement. The Auditor’s report found serious problems – ending and beginning balances don’t jive, questionable or non-existent controls for the handling of cash among other issues. The books were also not closed until months after year-end.

He has created what some feel is such a toxic work environment, that it seems no one wants to work for Laguna Beach. I also hear employee morale is very low – people leaving as soon as they can it seems. In my opinion, he hires high-priced consultants for work that staff should be able to do, and he allows what I feel is lazy staff work – the Bluebird slide debacle is but one example. He still has two Undergrounding Managers at over $200K each despite the measure failing in November.

The council voted against the wishes of many taxpayers on this, including the vast majority of those I know. In two recent Nextdoor posts, of the near 100 responses in regards to a possible raise, all but one were against it.

If the Council wants to reward him for exceptional performance, which is what this raise was originally for, then they ought to set goals or benchmarks. Hold him accountable.

Michèle Monda

Laguna Beach

Trump wants to deport millions

On the same day President Trump kicked off his re-election campaign with a rally in Orlando, he tweeted the need to deport millions of migrants living in America. That struck me as cruel and unusual. It also doesn’t seem possible. Here’s why:

First, no matter how many law enforcement officers there are in this country today, there aren’t enough to meet the president’s goal. We currently deport about 250,000 people a year. Second, even if you could put 1,000 people a day in handcuffs, it would take nearly three years to deport a million illegals. Imagine if the goal was to deport 5 million people. At 3,000 people per day, it would take almost 5 years. Third, assume for a moment 10,000 people a week could be deported, this would require hundreds of buses and/or planes every day. Lastly, who is going to coordinate all this activity? I can’t imagine it being someone at the White House. This is why I say Mr. Trump’s idea is unrealistic.

Words matter. So does simple arithmetic. The president’s words and the math involved simply do not add up.

Denny Freidenrich
Laguna Beach

The crisis of homelessness

I read with interest Barbara Diamond’s account of the meeting about homelessness held on Saturday, June 8 in a Wells Fargo meeting room. I attended most of the meeting and was impressed both by our Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris and her many policy ideas, and by the compassion evidenced by audience members. In general, people were thinking outside of the box in trying to come up with solutions to a situation that is both a statewide crisis and a local one. I missed hearing Councilmember Peter Blake’s statements as quoted by Ms. Diamond, however. How appalling to read a local leader characterizing much of our homeless population as “criminal transients” and identifying himself as an “unapologetic NIMBY.” Such attitudes are a stain on our beloved community.

Glenna Matthews

Laguna Beach

Bad decision by the Laguna Beach School Board

Tuesday evening (6/11) I attended the first LB School Board meeting since perhaps the closing of Aliso School. It’s been awhile. But I’ve been quite concerned with the stories in the local papers and online about the targeting of Dee Perry for various “infringements” of Board rules and I wanted to see for myself what this was all about. There seems to be so little transparency about what is actually going on with the school board, that it makes it difficult to understand the problems. What I do know is that one of the school board members is being singled out, not allowed the normal transition to lead the Board as president, criticized for all sorts of things I haven’t been able to figure out and now, basically censured in that they have formed a special committee excluding only her. I can’t follow the accusations or timeline because it seems like you had to actually be at each of the meetings to grasp what it’s all about and I’m not quite sure if that is even enough. It all feels like a secret society rather than a school board supported by our tax dollars. And as a taxpayer who happened to vote for Dee Perry, I resent that her voice has been removed from the policy making, at any level. This is an awful way to run any board and a terrible example to the students in the Laguna Beach Unified School District as to how to handle challenging issues when all are not in lockstep. Come on Board Members, you certainly can do better than this and set a much better example of how to play fair. This decision is not acceptable. 

Trudy Josephson

Laguna Beach

State law protects both secrecy and right to oppose its abuse

Based on the record of a tense June 11 meeting of the School Board, I anticipate we eventually will see the April 17 email sent to School Board member Dee Perry by a taxpayer-funded contract lawyer supervised by the Superintendent and Board President.

Until we see the document all that follows is my opinion about what the Board President and the district’s lawyer said at the June 11 meeting. In my own view Perry compellingly justified her decision forwarding to an advisor what she viewed as a personally threatening email from the district’s lawyer.

Contrary to seemingly conspiratorial insinuations, openly and without concealment Perry used her official LBUSD email account rather than her personal email to forward what she believed was a public record to a single addressee. She acted on a well-informed good faith belief that the email was not confidential or attorney-client privileged, as the district’s taxpayer-funded contract lawyer claimed.

Instead of enduring the ordeal in isolation and silence as those in opposition seemed to prefer, Perry consulted a constitutional lawyer specializing in school governance at a public interest nonprofit foundation in Sacramento. That was followed by a meeting with a former attorney in the Office of the Orange County District Attorney who she had gone to for guidance on public governance integrity standards over the past few years.

Although the DA’s office attorney had since gone into private law practice according to Perry, she got impartial professional legal guidance. As Perry reported at the June 11 meeting, both legal experts she consulted advised Perry the April 17 email contents were unorthodox and strayed far outside the rules for confidentiality and privilege.

Once she seemingly had a good faith belief the closed meeting confidentiality rules did not apply, Perry’s exercise of her legal rights appeared precisely what both state law and the Board’s legally binding local rules not only allow but protect.

Two state laws seemingly are most relevant. The Brown Act requires meetings to be open and meeting records to be accessible. The California Public Records Act (CPRA) requires public access to all government records.

Of course, both these laws also allow state and local government bodies to deny access to meetings and information that meets the legal criteria for classification as confidential and privileged public secrets.

Open and accessible is normal, closed and secret is the exception to the rule, allowed only if justified under specific criteria. 

Whatever is not protected by privacy, confidentiality, legal privilege, or narrow administrative discretion is a public record under CPRA. Only information and communications that have no source outside a meeting lawfully closed under the Brown Act are secret, and once public information can’t be made confidential.

Most important of all, both the Brown Act and the CPRA anticipate and provide procedures for the government body and public servants in that government body to disagree whether a meeting can be closed or access to documents can be denied under criteria in the law. 

If a closed meeting is legal, but information discussed  is available from other public sources, isn’t the publicly sourced information beyond the reach of closed meeting secrecy powers?

The answer in each case depends on the facts, but the confidentiality rule that applies is CA Gov. Code Sec 54963, and it gives the government and an official who challenges secrecy clear protocols to follow.

Thus, if the government agency alleges violation of confidentiality under Sec. 54963, that “may be addressed by the use of such remedies as are currently available by law, including, but not limited to…Injunctive relief to prevent the disclosure of confidential information…Referral of a member of a legislative body who has willfully disclosed confidential information…to the District Attorney and possible charges by a Grand Jury.”

However, the state legislature was smart enough to realize that any time “local agencies” including school boards and city councils wanted to silence any member who disagrees with the majority on any issue, all it would have to do is call a closed meeting and convert public issues into official secrets.

For that very reason, Sec. 54963 also provides that a “local agency may not take any action…against a person, nor shall it be deemed a violation of this section, for…expressing an opinion concerning the propriety or legality of actions taken by a legislative body of a local agency in closed session, including disclosure of the nature and extent of the illegal or potentially illegal action.”

It seems from the record of the June 11 meeting that Perry believed at least one Board meeting was not “lawfully closed” under applicable closed meeting provisions of the Brown Act. And seemingly the email to Perry from the district’s lawyer on April 17 indicated she could be sued for disclosing information from that meeting.

In my opinion we need to judge Perry and the School District by their actions not words. It is also my opinion Perry exercised her right to express her opinion that confidentiality had not been established under the law, which includes “disclosure of the nature and extent of…potentially illegal action.”

In contrast, the Board seemingly deviated from the protocols for legal action under Section 54963, by neither seeking an injunction nor referring the matter to the DA for prosecution. In my opinion it is obvious that was because those legal remedies would require persuasion of an impartial lawyer and judge that Perry had done something wrong.

So instead of seeking “legal remedies” under the law, the School Board seemingly chose a “political remedy” in which they could control the outcome without having to prove or justify anything at all under the applicable law. In my opinion that is Exhibit A proving this school governance regime prefers retaliation over due process.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach

Other bird doings in Laguna

Turns out a local store that has those automatic doors that open as the electronic eye is stimulated – well I was going to go in when I noticed the entrance door slightly ajar. Turns out that a pigeon was pacing back and forth in front of the door from the street side as well as from inside the store. Apparently fascinated with his machismo – he was practicing other tricks. 

When I spotted this I, using techniques I have seen on TV – the techniques the police use to get people barricaded in homes to come out – I gently told the bird that this was not a good place for him, more fun out here where I was, then I cooed a bit. Nothing happened. So I finally went into the store and spoke to one of the clerks. She laughed! Apparently this bird has been doing this for several weeks and is not the least bit discouraged or scared by people.

Yesterday that door was stuck so I went around and spoke to a manager about the pigeon and if he had caused the issue. The manager laughed and said that yesterday that bird finally decided to go shopping and they found him wandering the aisles. They did manage to get him out and tightened something on the door. Later in the day that very same pigeon now was at the entrance from the parking lot and practicing his magic. Probably trying to impress some female pigeons watching from the trees in the parking lot.

Maybe it is the air in Laguna – come down and see. 

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

New Town Entrance

I drive by the newly established entrance to town on Broadway and Forest twice a week, early in the morning.

I am always amazed that the parking lot is already full at 7:30ish a.m. each day I pass.

What was the purpose of re-doing the old parking lot if the new one:

--Cut the number of previously existing spaces?

--Is full of city workers’ cars each day, allowing no parking for visitors during the week?

While it is “pretty” (based on your definition of that word) it looks to me – a casual observer – that the old space served more parked cars and had more room for visitors to town, than does this expensive re-make for city workers auto parking. 

James Foster


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