Update – Laguna – Quaint, Charming and Uncivil?

Civility Policy Update – “Blake reprimanded for online comments but not apologetic” – Stu News – Click here

Much like the rest of the country, quaint and charming Laguna Beach is faced with the growing concern over respect and civility among city leaders and constituents.
Recently, the City adopted a Civility and Decorum Policy to address the issue, the first in its history.

Laguna Beach’s newly adopted Rules of Decorum and Civility Policy, click here

The media has covered the issue of Laguna’s need for a civility policy.
Local Media’s Comments on City’s Civility issues:

Stu News: Council passes a resolution to reset the button on decorum and civility at public meetings – Click here
Laguna Beach Independent: Council Considers Tighter Code of Conduct – Click here
Orange County Register: Laguna Beach adopts rules of civility applying to leaders and community members at city meetings after months of discord – Click here
Voice of OC: One City Councilman and His Critics Have Laguna Beach in Uproar – Click here

Residents Comments on City’s Civility issues:

Howard Hill comments on Citywide Civility issues – Click here
Mike Morris comments on Peter Blake’s in-office behavior – Click here

Please tell us what you think: leave a comments below!

LB Visitor Economic Impact Report

As the City of Laguna Beach struggles with issues related to escalating tourism and related costs and impacts, local residents are working to be part of a smarter visitor management approach. The following information and public document report is offered for our readers.

Laguna Beach Visitor Economic Impact Report

On May 23, 2017 the City Council formed a subcommittee of Councilmembers Bob Whalen and Rob ZurSchmiede to look into “more effective ways of having visitors pay for the costs generated (by visitors)”.  This is also described as the “imbalance between revenue the city receives from visitors and what it costs the city to provide the extra services attributable to so many visitors.”

On July 6, 2017, UCI Economics Professor, former Chair of the USC Department of Economics, and former dean of the Graduate School of Management, University of California Irvine Dennis Aigner; UCI Political Science Professor, former UCI Dean of Undergraduate Education, and former Chair of the UCI Department of Political Science  Jim Danziger; Harvard educated Laguna Beach Planning Commissioner Roger McErlane; and University of Michigan MBA John Thomas presented the attached information to the subcommittee in a two hour public hearing.  The Sub-committee was presented with a written report and a PowerPoint. The information was based on information available at the time including the city’s fiscal year 2016-2017 and fiscal year 2017-2018 city budgets. The report was never presented to the full City Council.

The essence of the report was that an allocation of revenue and costs attributable to visitors based on the fiscal year 2017-2018 city budget resulted in the difference or “gap” being $23,116,000 – meaning revenue collected by the City attributable to visitors was over $23,000,000 less than the additional costs the City incurs due to the visitors.  Allocation of revenue attributable to visitors was based on a detailed line-by-line review of the City budget estimating revenue the City receives due to visitors and revenue the City would receive if there were no visitors.  Allocation of costs attributable to visitors was largely based on a comparison of operating costs for the City of Laguna Beach compared to other California cities with similar population but with little tourist impact on their operations.  The difference was stark.  Operating costs for Laguna Beach were 256% the operating costs of the other similar population cities in the comparison.  While visitors were credited with being responsible for 35% of City revenue, visitors were estimated to be responsible for 60% of the costs of operating the city.  The shortage was approximately 25% of the total city budget. The report also stated that the cost of operating the City of Laguna Beach is increasing faster than revenue to the City, implying that if no action were taken to correct the imbalance, in dollar terms the shortage would be likely to increase in the future.

The sub-committee agreed with the premise that revenue from visitors is not covering costs attributable to visitors.

In an effort to stimulate a discussion of possible solutions, the report offered eighteen possible ways to reduce the shortage, and the sub-committee was encouraged to solicit other solutions from experts and the public.

There were subsequent sub-committee meetings and the sub-committee members reported talking to an attorney and a consultant outside the sub-committee meetings.

It is likely that the shortage is greater today than at the time of the report.

The report is available here. Balancing the Costs and Revenues From Visitors To Laguna July 6 2017.pdf

Guest Article – Coastal Short-Term Rental Supporters Ignore Historic Nuisance Laws

Coastal city Short-Term Rental proponents ignore legally-binding land use
concepts, typically using meritless, fatally flawed arguments at hearings.
They’re good for business? Unfortunately, coastal trends since 2000
are “Commerce first, residents second.” By residents I mean those NOT
owning potential STR parcels.

Favoring commerce over 40+% of the population who rent year-round plus
percentages of full-time owners not wishing to acquire permits, that constitute
an incontestable majority, the commerce tail is wagging the communal quality
of life dog.

Beyond permit fees, there’s no proof that more STR would appreciably increase
general municipal revenue via boarders spending significant taxable amounts
at businesses. Often tenants are extended families and friends. They’ll be
saving money by cooking and drinking at the rental, not out.

They increase or assist public access to our beaches? A classic straw man
argument. Yes, a few hundred more people will be ensconced, but the Cal
Coastal Commission is dead wrong on this one. Otherwise, why allow more and
more parking meters, increasing rates plus climbing violation fees? Aren’t
limited time meters a form of infringement, inhibition or visitation disincentive?
Coastals increasingly allow increased intensification of use for restaurants and
bars without demanding increased onsite parking. Why doesn’t the CCC object
to that, these sites eat up yet more public parking, thus decreasing access,
don’t they?

STR’s homes are their castle, limitations constitute a de facto taking? That
ignores the basics of common civility, public and private nuisance laws traced
back to King Henry III:

“Private nuisance: An unreasonable, unwarranted invasion, where actions of
the defendant cause a substantial interference with another’s use/enjoyment
of their property. Public nuisance: The defendant’s actions materially affect
the reasonable comfort and convenience of life of the community.”

No one has the inalienable right to use their property to the diminishment of
their neighbor(s). Yes, some operators are vigilant and do not abuse the terms
and conditions. The nightmares abound, absentee owners are trying to
maximize income to offset, mitigate their taxes and maintenance. They bought
the parcel without STR rights: Enhancing private revenue models is NOT the
community’s problem.

The sales industry knows this, the Real Estate Disclosure Act of 1987 is explicit:
Seller MUST disclose any adverse condition that COULD affect the value. Listed
housing is theoretically forced to reveal the obtrusive potential if in proximity.
STR actually diminish property values, now THERE’S a fiscal infringement,
irregular taking including tort (litigation) exposure.

*Roger E. Bütow is a professional land use consultant and 46-year
resident of Laguna Beach

Resident Concerns Ignored~ Undergrounding, May 24, 2018

Unanimous vote by City Council to underground Edison utility lines on “Key Evacuation Routes” by Ballot Measure, without first addressing the overwhelming concerns expressed by majority of residents aptly delivered during Public Comment. The opposition was well represented by a factual reasonable presentation delivered by the newly formed resident advocacy group STOP. Many concerned speakers brought forth substantive facts and valid concerns that should be reasonably considered and addressed by elected officials, prior to putting this measure to vote.

City has spent nearly half a million dollars and counting to advocate support of an under ground initiative but has ignored continued plea to consult with technological advancements by qualified energy professionals to deliver a comprehensive renewable sustainable energy plan to develop LB Solar City. To ignore available alternative energy sources is offensive toward the sustainable values of an environmentally sensitive aware community.

The city has been utilizing taxpayer money to advertise and promote their Under Grounding initiative using a cleverly designed emotional response delivered by a FIRE & FEAR Safety Campaign cleverly designed to corral sheep to favorable vote to increase Sales Tax to pay for Bonding the massive construction cost. A known business owner expressed his immediate concern.

The THIRD STREET construction debacle created a major disturbance, wait until Edison begins to trench the proposed “Key routes”. Edison has cleverly, with the assistance of the City, graciously agreed to allow taxpayers to be saddled with 100% of construction improvement cost for the aging infrastructure of EDISON, a multi billion privately owned company. Above ground utility poles don’t last forever. I find it particularly objectionable that a depreciating asset cost has not being factored into replacing archaic EDISON infrastructure. Where was the Fire & Fear campaign to underground the newly replaced poles, on LCR, 3 years ago?

Voter ignorance may win 2/3 vote, without STOP to advance an educational campaign regarding the financial risk of over spending that a debt liability of this magnitude will create for our village and the many other potential follies of cost over runs that are not being adequately addressed. I have suggested the city scale back the scope of the project to a reasonable level and include only MAIN Evacuation Routes of LCR and PCH. In this manner, city could pay as we go, using Measure LL Tax and Rule 20A credits to underground MAIN EVACUATION ROUTES.

It is reasonable to assume the intention of creating ‘Key ER’ is to gain voter favor, at the expense of those residents who have already “paid their fair share” to under ground their own neighborhoods. A misguided approach, but a clever effort to place the burden, on all taxpayers, to pay the share of key neighborhoods. Yes, this will benefit some, even specific City Council member, Toni Eisman had to recuse herself after the specific benefit was brought to attention of the city, by another resident.

One matter of particular concern is that the City must STOP (pun intended) the continued spending of the city taxpayer war chest to advocate and promote their advertising campaign designed to support the personal objective of City Council. California Government Code §54964(a) prohibits local governmental agencies from expending public funds to advocate for or against a ballot measure or other voting initiative, with some exceptions for educational/ informative materials.

In short, City Council is not adequately addressing resident concerns and are failing their constituents to reasonably explore advanced technological alternative energy sources and have refused to scale back the scope of the project to avoid assuming gross debt liability of cost over budget construction costs! We all know the government rarely comes in on budget for cost of construction.
CAUTION~BEWARE: City of Fresno went from 25M to 400M for bullet train under ground of utility lines!

Concerned Resident,
Lorene Laguna

Laguna Beach Spends $328,000+ to Harass Seniors for Seven Years

City Attorney Out of Control

Guest Article by David Pahnos

Pahnos and Stephens are a married gay couple who have lived in Laguna Beach for over 30 years. They live in an old cottage, situated on a water course, on a steep slope, in a high-risk landslide/mudslide area of South Laguna. The previous owners of the property and neighbors have stabilized the soil using trees and shrubs since the 1920s. Most of the trees are now well over 80 years old. They and their neighbors have had repeated mudslides, sink holes, and water spouts. Water spouts even occur on the city street.

New upslope neighbors (Mr. and Mrs. Phelps) demanded, from the day they moved in, (2004) that Pahnos & Stephens trim trees to enhance their ocean view, Pahnos & Stephens did so multiple times to accommodate them, until their demands threatened the health of the trees and thus the soil stability. Since 2004 Pahnos & Stephens have spent close to $30,000 on tree trimming.

The Administrative Process

  • The Phelpses filed a “hedge height claim,” in 2010 demanding a panoramic ocean view, although Pahnos & Stephens had no hedges in the Phelpses view.
  • A city hearing officer ordered Pahnos & Stephens to perform a little more modest trimming. Pahnos & Stephens complied. Their property was inspected and found to be in compliance.
  • The Phelpses appealed the decision to the Design Review Board.
    1. Design Review Boards have no jurisdiction, under state law, to hear ordinance enforcement cases. Pahnos & Stephens pointed this out to the city and pointed out that they did not have any hedges blocking the Phelpses view.
    2. While the claim was in process, Council amended the Hedge Height Ordinance to define all trees as hedges, since the city’s tree ordinance had no enforcement provisions. They also removed the Design Review Board from the process.
    3. Also, while the “claim” was in process, the Department of Community Development, as policy, declared that claimants do not have to address safety issues under the ordinance, and that the city would not take safety issues into account. Pahnos & Stephens asserted that their safety and that of their downslope neighbors was paramount and presented the Department with a soils safety engineering report done for their property by a nationally known expert. The Department said that, under its new policy, the report was irrelevant. Thus, the city amended the law and policy, tailoring them to the Phelpses claim against Pahnos & Stephens, while the claim was in process.
    4. The DRB held a hearing on the claim one week after the changes in the ordinance took effect, without acknowledging they had been removed from the process, but retroactively applying the new definition of “hedge” and new policy on safety to Pahnos & Stephens property, ordering the topping and removal of trees. [Topping is illegal under state law: Ca Gov Code Section 53067(a)(4)] None of the Pahnos/Stephens landslide/mudslide exhibits/photos or engineer report were deemed admissible under the new policy.
    5. At the DRB hearing (video recorded) the Phelpses presented a landscaping plan for the Pahnos & Stephens property. The DRB barred Pahnos & Stephens from speaking at the hearing, reasoning that the Phelpses were permit applicants, even though it was not their property. (The Phelpses were applying for a permit to landscape property that they did not own, to their specifications, and making Pahnos & Stephens pay for it.)
    6. Pahnos & Stephens complained to the City Manager that the DRB had acted improperly in several ways. The City Manager scheduled a de novo appeal to the City Council. He then issued a staff recommendation that the Council uphold the DRB decision, which obviated the hearing as de novo. The staff report made no mention of the legality or morality of the new policy and definition, or the extra-jurisdictional, post-removal reach of the DRB.
  •  The City Council held an appeal hearing, (video recorded) giving Pahnos five minutes to speak and Mr. and Mrs. Phelps each five minutes to speak.  Council refused to address the safety issue, the topping issue, or that the Phelpses were not asking for view restoration, but view creation, and voted 3 to 2 to uphold the DRB decision.
    1. Pahnos & Stephens subsequently received a “Final Determination” letter from the Zoning Administrator, detailing the original hearing officers decision. They were visited twice by ordinance enforcement officers who declared the property to be in compliance with the ordinance both times.
    2. A month later, Pahnos & Stephens received a second “Final Determination” letter that stated they must comply with the DRB decision.
    3. An ordinance enforcement officer then issued citations
  • Pahnos & Stephens appealed to a state certified hearing officer who dismissed the citations, ruling that the DRB had acted improperly and had no jurisdiction to hear an ordinance enforcement case.
  • Laguna Beach Municipal Code 1.15.110 (a) states that “The decision of the hearing officer shall be final.” This is a state mandated section of the code for General Law cities, using state certified hearing officers, so that cities cannot harass defendants with repeated citations.

 Criminal Court

  • The city then filed criminal charges against Pahnos & Stephens for disobeying the City Council, which upheld the DRB decision that had been ruled to be illegal, even though the case had received a final ruling. The criminal prosecution was based on the citations that had already been ruled to be invalid. The city ignored its own municipal code, asked the Court for $1,000 per day fines for Pahnos & Stephens each, retroactive to the city council hearing, and six months in jail for both.
  • A Superior Court Judge dismissed the city’s case, ruling that the citations were “totally invalid.” The judge also stated that not all trees are hedges and that she could give many more reasons for dismissal, but invalid citations were sufficient.
  • Within two weeks the city filed the same charges again, based on the same DRB/Council ruling and the same invalid citations, now having been invalidated by the state hearing officer and Superior Court. The City began judge shopping, an unethical practice not condoned by the Court.
  • The charges languished for four years, while complaints against the city were being heard in civil court, becoming the oldest case on the criminal court’s docket. The city asked the Court again for $1,000 per day fines for Pahnos & Stephens each, retroactive to the city council hearing and six months in jail for both. (Millions of dollars by this time)
  • During the civil procedures, the city attorney maintained that there is no evidence that Pahnos & Stephens live in a landslide/mudslide area, even though they and their neighbors have had multiple landslide/mudslides. The city withheld voluminous evidence of landslide risk in its possession during the discovery process, and presented a city street map, saying that the map was all it possessed. A city official also admitted in a sworn deposition to destroying internal emails during litigation before they could be subpoenaed, and the Director of Community Development, in a email to the Phelpses and in a sworn deposition, said that the city filed criminal charges in order to prevent Pahnos & Stephens from using the administrative process again to invalidate new citations.
  • The civil procedures ended in a muddled ruling without a jury trial, which Stephens and Pahnos had asked for: nevertheless, the Court ruled that Pahnos/Stephens could “keep what they had” when the Hedge Height Ordinance was passed, which is considerably more than they currently have.

City Attorney Continues With Criminal Charges

  • The city attorney, ignoring the civil decision, continued with the criminal charges. By this time, Pahnos & Stephens had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting for their basic rights and safety against the improper and unethical actions by the city and the city attorney. The Court suggested a civil agreement to end it. Deputy City Attorney Noam Duzman, told Pahnos and his lawyer that no matter how many times the charges were dismissed that the city would keep filing them and make Pahnos & Stephens spend money to defend themselves. Deputy City Attorney, Ajit Thind had previously told Pahnos & Stephens attorney that they, “must learn to obey.” Among the charges, Pahnos & and Stephens were prosecuted for refusing to trim trees that were on another neighbor’s property, which they did not own, even though Pahnos/Stephens told the enforcement officer that they did not own the trees – the DRB had ordered it, and ownership fell on deaf ears.
  • Pahnos & Stephens had never had a dispute with neighbors or the city before in their lives. Neither of them have ever before been charged with a misdemeanor or even an infraction; yet, on the face of it, the city was maliciously pursuing these gay senior citizens. Several neighbors had written to the city, attesting to the fact that Pahnos & Stephens were good neighbors, that there is, indeed, a mudslide problem on the north side of 10th Avenue, and that the Phelpses had lied about the trees and vegetation. These neighbors also spoke out at city hearings, and were prepared to testify in court. The neighbors were ignored.

Laguna Beach is a Landslide/Liquefaction Area

During the city’s administrative process, through the policy decision, city officials refused to acknowledged, admit, or discuss evidence of a risk to public safety occurring as a result of its actions. This is at best malfeasance, since the health, safety, and welfare of residents is the highest priority of every city under California and Federal law.  The California Geological Survey has designated the entire city as a landslide/liquefaction area. The city has gotten money from FEMA. In 2005, over 20 homes fell down a hill in Bluebird Canyon. Residents have lost their lives in mudslides in Laguna Canyon. The city’s only response throughout is that it does not believe that trees hold soil. Science denial is not a defense for violating state and federal environmental laws or the withholding of official documents. The Safety Element of the City’s General Plan, (page 69) a mandatory section, requires the Department of Community Development to perform a detailed geological hazard survey of the entire city by 1998 and requires the City Council to monitor the progress. It was never done.

The Civil Agreement

Pahnos & Stephens decided to enter into a civil agreement with the city believing it would stop the city attorney from filing the same dismissed charges over and over again, and the judge had assured them of that. Deputy City Attorney, Noam Duzman, drew up an elaborate agreement in collaboration with the Phelpses, using their arborist. The Phelpses arborist, who the city paid for, informed Duzman, in front of two witnesses, that it was illegal in California to top healthy trees, even though that’s what the Phelpses want. The court had ruled twice that the Phelpses could not be a party to either the criminal or civil proceedings and that they had no legal claim against Pahnos & Stephens because they had suffered no harm. Duzman, however, asserted that the civil agreement was for the purpose of satisfying the Phelpses, who he repeatedly referred to in multiple meetings as his “clients.” He also asserted multiple times, in writing, that he would file criminal charges again, until the Phelpses interpretation of the agreement was satisfied. Conversely, Duzman never asserted that there was a public interest served by this agreement, or by prosecuting Pahnos & Stephens, but he asserted repeatedly, in front of multiple witnesses, that he was serving the Phelpses. Unfortunately, he was using the prosecution powers of the city to do it, and the taxpayers were paying his fees for the Phelpses sole benefit. The agreement, in the end, did not resemble any Laguna Beach ordinance.

Fair and Equal Treatment

The ethics section of the Laguna Beach Municipal Code:

“Section 2.14.040 Fair and equal treatment.

Preferential consideration of the request or petition of any individual citizen or group of citizens shall not be given. No person shall receive special advantages beyond that which are available to any other citizen. (Ord. 738 § 1, 1973).”

Nevertheless, Pahnos & Stephens wanted to end the dispute, and signed a civil agreement.

  • The Phelpses immediately began to interpret the civil agreement in ways to get more trimming. Their interpretation, via Duzman, became the official city interpretation – whatever the Phelpses wanted. Even two years after the agreement was signed, Duzman continues to meet with the Phelpses.
  • Under the agreement, Pahnos & Stephens are required to trim epicormic branches on their stone pine tree (new branches below the crown that sprout from the trunk.) The Phelpses complained that there was epicormic growth. Pahnos and his attorney met with Duzman and Tony Farr, enforcement officer, who said that he had seen it. Pahnos explained to them that stone pine trees do not have epicormic growth, as most species of pine trees do not. Pahnos & his attorney suggested that Duzman spend 10 minutes on the Internet to read about pine trees.
  • Several months later, Duzman demanded that an arborist climb the tree and measure all the branches to certify that there were none under five inches in diameter (epicormic branches). Pahnos & Stephens paid a certified arborist, one used by the city for its trees, to spend two days in the tree measuring branches, and to write a report to the city. The report stated that he measured all the branches, none were smaller than five inches in diameter, and that stone pine trees don’t have epicormic branches. It cost Pahnos & Stephens $3,000.00 for this useless exercise.
  • Duzman continued to send demanding letters about various trees and shrubs, continued to demand that trees be topped so severely as to kill them, (against state law) and continued to demand that trees be trimmed to meet the Phelpses interpretations down to the inch. Pahnos & Stephens stopped responding to Duzman’s demands and threats of prosecution.
  • Duzman notified Pahnos & Stephens that they are to be arraigned again on August 18, 2017 in criminal court for violating the municipal code, without any mention of which ordinance and without the issuance of a citation, knowing full well that previous citations were invalid.

The city and its attorney have been improperly, unethically, and illegally harassing Pahnos & Stephens for a full seven years. Members of City Council must put a stop to this shameful travesty and investigate how this could have happened; otherwise, it would appear that Council members have colluded in this harassment of senior citizens who happen to be gay and do not receive the same political favoritism in the city as their next door neighbor.


* The opinions, representations and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and not of the LagunaBeachChat.com as a whole. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. LagunaBeachChat.com accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

Comparison Shows An Outdated Historical Ordinance

In a recent ‘Letter To The Editor’ submission in the LB Indy Newspaper, local resident Doug Cortez addresses problems with one historical ordinance coming before Planning Commission this month.

He states, “Over the years many Lagunans have been critical of Laguna’s historical preservation program. On Oct. 18 the Planning Commission will try again to draft a revised ordinance. But there seems to be confusion and a lack of clear direction.

I called the historical preservation planners in Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Pasadena, Fullerton and Orange. It seems like we are living a bubble built on outdated ideas and dysfunctional regulations.”

Check out his full letter on the Laguna Beach Indy Newspaper website here

Guest Article – To Build or Not To Build The Second Pool… That Is The Question ‎

With the success of the Laguna Beach High School girls’ polo team internationally there is now word on the street that Laguna must have an Olympic size stadium pool for more practice and support for further successes with our water polo teams. There were many who spoke out against this new pool as way too big and way too expensive. However he new second pool advocates continued to press on with attempts to bring the large pool plan to the City Council.

At this time it has been noted that the Olympic size would be Laguna’s second public pool but now has been reduced in size in hopes that it will now be a plan more acceptable to the Taxpayers who will pay for this luxury. Please keep in mind that all of this remains in the talking stages to some degree. With a City of only some 23,000 in population the need for a second pool seems extravagant. Many athletes in training for swimming in Olympic events whether in lap competition or diving or polo had to travel to areas that had Aquatic Centers with large facilities for training. These Aquatic Centers are located in Laguna Niguel and San Clemente and other nearby cities. Much larger cities with large open land space for development and a much broader property tax base to pay for these Aquatic Centers made it very easy to build such Centers. These Centers as well as others are very close to Laguna Beach and could be used for all swimming competition practices.

This is a much fairer, reasonable, and practical approach to serve the needs for these athletes and not create a significant burden from our much smaller tax base. Our current local pool is part of the LBSD with total costs carried by the School District and then with the School District’s total costs paid in full by the Taxpayers. Our current pool accommodates both students and the public. The new second pool advocates have mentioned in presenting their case, the over crowding of pool usage and thus the need for this second pool. There are those citizens who have observed pool usage during pool hours and have noticed how few people are actually there at any one time and therefore creating less demand for a second community pool. My neighbor, who is a senior and uses the pool often, mentioned that there has never been any overcrowding and plenty of room for free swimming or doing laps.

With emails from various departments of the City the information that a geological survey had been completed at Lang Park in South Laguna. There were no other areas in Laguna Beach that were being consider for a second pool location. This survey was done in June of this year in consideration for a second pool location. To my knowledge there was no information given to the public as to any exploration for a second pool location at Lang Park. It did take an email to the City to get current and accurate information. At this time it is unknown if the second City pool is actually a done deal or remains yet in the planning stages. Many Citizens in South Laguna are in opposition to any pool being developed at Lang Park mainly due to the significant increase in traffic and parking needs that will impact this quiet neighborhood. Instead of a second pool most Citizens of South Laguna have needed side walks, more adequate beach patrols, and public bathrooms, along with better maintenance of beaches in the South end of town. A second pool at Lang Park would only add to the burden many of these Citizens must deal with on a daily basis.

To my knowledge the building of a second swim pool in our town has never been a priority until the recent victories won by the high school girls’ polo team. Second pool advocates are now stepping up to encourage the City to move forward with planning. To date there have been no discussion as to cost to build the pool and what can be expected on costs to maintain this facility. How will parking be controlled and how much actual green belt will be left for play areas for children and families? Who will be allowed to use this second pool? Additionally, with the Village Entrance yet to be completed with a budget already set aside at $7.1 million Taxpayer dollars, and the talk of under grounding telephone poles at a huge estimated cost, plus even a greater demand to accommodate our Homeless population, and the added demands on our local Police Department, plus the liability for our unfunded pensions, it seems very clear that the demand for a second multi million dollar pool on a population of only 23,000 is extreme.

We Taxpayers are most willing to accommodate the needs and costs for maintaining our community but are unwilling to be overburdened with unnecessary and wasteful costs. Our government must care for the daily needs of our Citizens because it is us, the Taxpayers, who will be picking up the tab. Tourism actually puts little money into the City coffers and taxes paid from purchases in our commercial district, not much of those taxes actually end up as part of our General Fund. The costs to run our City remains
nearly solely on the backs of Property Owners. Further more, any recommendations for any large expenditure projects paid for by Taxpayers must be approved by a ballot vote and open discussion before any consultants are hired and any actual planning is started.
The true need for a second pool remains totally unnecessary and most unpractical. The group who advocates for the second pool is small but determined. Taxpayers in opposition to a new second multi million dollar pool must step forward to be heard and resist this second pool movement which, if approved, will become yet an additional tax burden.

Jim Gothard
Laguna Beach

* Editor’s Note: LagunaBeachCHAT welcomes guest articles on topics of general interest, from respected sources. If a guest article is accepted as relevant and topical, we commit to making no changes (other than spelling and small technical corrections) and will publish the article in its entirety.

Guest Op-Ed – Motorcycle Noise Within Laguna City Limits

Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman addressed a group of Wesley District residents on the night of September 20. She shared a proposal regarding restrictions on motorcycle noise on PCH. She then advised us the problem would be enforcement because, “I happen to know that our police officers don’t like pulling over motorcycles because they would rather pull over little old school teachers, (as she gestured to herself), in their cars because that is easier.”

There were three retired police officers in the room. I was one of them. I spontaneously replied, “That’s not true.” Behind me one of the other police officers said the same. Mayor Iseman put her hand up towards us in a gesture to stop, looked elsewhere in the room and continued. None of us persisted. It seemed not the place. Perhaps this is.

The Mayor’s comment came up in our neighborhood the next day. Several residents acknowledged that she was once a school teacher and is probably why she referred to herself? And that perhaps she once received a ticket? I don’t know.

What I do know is that first responders, police officers and fire fighters, do not have the time or luxury to address our critics. Especially another public servant. It goes against our Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. It can also be construed as under color of authority if there is any semblance that we are speaking as a public officer. Minimally it is considered unethical and unprofessional. We would be disciplined.

That night the Ms. Iseman began her talk by reminding all of us that as mayor she has the “Bully Pulpit” and intends to use it to speak on our behalf. Mayor, you used your platform to speak flippantly of our police officers and eluded to them as lazy. It was a reckless statement, true or false. And it was false.

Factually speaking, Laguna Beach officers have shared with me that motorcycle excessive noise and exhaust have been an emphasis of their attention.

My opinion is from a career of law enforcement in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. That included the honor of being assigned to the Training Division three times, as a deputy, sergeant and lieutenant. Between street assignments I always gravitated back to training because it is what molds the future of law enforcement. And I can assure you that California police officers, specifically Orange County police officers, are the best in the nation.

I was fortunate to retire in the assignment of the Orange County Regional Training Academy Commander. I can pledge to you, with confidence, that the required six month academy to become a California police officer weeds out any “lazy” recruits. To the contrary they are trained daily that law enforcement is a career of service to others. Those who do not grasp that concept do not graduate.

Toni Iseman is entitled to express her opinion. But Mayor Iseman we believe should be more prudent in a public forum when speaking about our city police department. Police officers are not perfect. But we police ourselves. Besides self-discipline, the peer discipline is constant. And at times unforgiving. I’d like to believe the same can be said of our city civilian leadership.

The next day, Thursday, September 21, I watched with sadness and reverence as the Laguna Beach Police Department Color Guard folded the Flag of Remembrance for Officer Gordon French. And for Officer Jon Coutchie, commemorating the anniversary of his EOW, (End of Watch), when he was killed in the line of duty, selflessly serving our city. I also saw Laguna Beach police officers I had the privilege of having an active role in their training several years ago. One has an on-duty injury, temporarily preventing him from working on the street. He told me he is determined to return as quickly as physically possible. It reminded me why we can all sleep peacefully every night.

May we all have appreciation for those who serve in public service. But may we also have a special gratitude in our hearts for those who stand watch, 24/7, between us and our worst fears. And whenever possible, a word of thanks or even a simple nod of recognition can be all it takes to help them make it to  the end of that sometimes thankless shift.

Jeff Bardzik
Laguna Beach Resident

* Editor’s Note: LagunaBeachCHAT welcomes guest articles on topics of general interest, from respected sources. If a guest article is accepted as relevant and topical, we commit to making no changes (other than spelling and small technical corrections) and will publish the article in its entirety.

Will Wayfinding Signs take us to Laguna-Land?

<To jump directly to the online petition, click here>

 

On 14 June 2016, the City Council adopted the FY 2016-2018 Economic Development Action Plan. Goal 2 of the plan is to “enhance the customer experience for residents in a way that visitors also enjoy”, and one of the strategies to achieve this nirvana-state is to develop a “wayfinding signage master plan”.  In bureaucratic-ese, they officially refer to this as the Citywide Wayfinding Sign Program (CWSP).

So far the City has paid $65,000 to Graphic Solutions (GS) of San Diego for Phases 1 and 2 of this strategy.  In their Request for Proposal (RFP) response, GS stated: “We know that a well-crafted wayfinding program will expedite vehicular circulation, direct drivers to parking, reduce trips, encourage bicycle travel and create a pleasant pedestrian experience – for residents and visitors alike.  In addition, we have gathered substantial evidence from our clients that functional wayfinding contributes to a community’s economic development and sustainability efforts.” (emphasis theirs – Graphic Solutions, RFP response, pg. 7, 13 July 2016).

We find it comical how both the City and the consultancy firm continuously strain themselves to point out the benefits of the CWSP for residents.  It is comical because we believe that any resident of Laguna Beach who has lived here for more than several months would find these signs to be of little use.  Think about it: once you have located City Hall, or the HIP district once, don’t you feel you’d be proficient to find either again regardless of your starting point?

More significantly, the visual effect of the signs will be to ruin a good amount of the remaining ‘quaintness’ of our town in favor of a highly commercial, amusement-park like atmosphere.  If you’re still not convinced of the actual intended beneficiaries of the program consider that the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce (LBCoC) and Visit Laguna Beach (VLB) have both been involved in the project from the start (they each helped vet the firms responding to the RFP) and VLB has expressed its willingness to contribute funds to the project’s implementation. 

The City formed a steering committee consisting of two City Council members, a Planning Commission member, an Arts Commission member, a VLB representative, and a LBCoC representative (NOTICE: no resident representative) to vet the possible wayfinding sign designs.  So let’s be clear. The CWSP is intended to benefit commercial interests in the city by helping tourists better locate city attractions, using general fund tax dollars (to which local property tax payers contribute the lion’s share) to fund it. Full stop.

As for the steering committee’s preferred sign design: I’ve placed a small red arrow atop the winner in the image below.

At the February 17, 2017 mid-year budget update City Council meeting, the council decided unanimously to set aside an additional $300,000 in funding to move the CWSP forward. So, together with the $65,000 spent on GS consultant services, local tax payers could potentially contribute an additional $300,000 for a total of $365,000.  We’re still awaiting VLB’s determination of how much (if anything) they will contribute to the program.

History

10/4/16 – Unanimous vote by council to approve up to $65,000 for phases 1 & 2 (out of 4)of the wayfinding project

11/15/16 – Council members Iseman & Zur Schmiede to represent the council on steering committee

2/17/17 – Unanimous Mid-year budget update; item 11 – additional funding of $300,000 for CWSP.

Next Steps

How is City Hall planning to unleash the CWSP on us?  For the pilot phase, 7 to 8 new wayfinding signs will be installed from Broadway to Legion Street along Coast Highway.  If the drawn mock-ups are scaled correctly, the wayfinding signs will apparently be 9 to 10 feet tall, with multiple horizontal “chevrons” pointing to the various “attractions” nearby.  Clearance under the lowest horizontal chevron should be no less than 7 feet.

Baseline Measurements

As LagunaBeachCHAT has repeatedly pointed out to our elected officials, sound management principles demand collection and analysis of data.  Only by collecting data and analyzing the changes in the data that result from actions taken, can one hope to make sound decisions.  In the case of the CWSP the city has collected no baseline data relating to the behaviors that the program is intended to affect.  Recall, “enhancing the customer experience” was the non-tangible/aspirational goal and hence not measurable in a meaningful way.  If we cut them some slack and try to measure some of the more defined outcomes they hope for: expedite vehicular circulation, direct drivers to parking, reduce trips, encourage bicycle travel and create a pleasant pedestrian experience; then by all means please collect baseline data on all of these metrics. But they have not attempted to collect any baseline data for these metrics and so how can our decision-makers hope to discern any positive or negative results from the pilot phase?

Let Your Opinion Be Heard

LagunaBeachCHAT is planning a direct action to educate residents about this program and what we believe are its shortcomings.  Please be on the look-out for us near the Farmers’ Market on 29July17 and 05Aug17  from 08:00-10:00am where we will be collecting signatures from those who wish their opinion against the program to be counted.  For those unable to make it to the Farmers’ Market, we will be posting an online petition which we will collect and present to the Council once this program comes before them again for further consideration.

To go to the online petition click here

  • Michael Morris is a retired Software/Technology executive, living and owning a property in Laguna Beach since 2013.  He served on the Orange County Grand Jury for a 1-year term during 2015/2016. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Grand Jurors Association of Orange County.

* Editor’s Note: LagunaBeachCHAT welcomes guest articles on topics of general interest, from respected sources. If a guest article is accepted as relevant and topical, we commit to making no changes (other than spelling and small technical corrections) and will publish the article in its entirety.

Update! Guest Article – Pitiful Settlement, By Michele Monda

Update on Airplane Noise Issue – February 2018

City Hall, specifically those who run the city and not City Council, are at it again. They have been deceptive about the wonderful “new” settlement to make it look like they got a win and make it seem like the tens of thousands of dollars that we just spent with our city attorney’s law firm, Rutan and Tucker, were well spent. What’s worse is that City Council did not know anything about the details of the settlement until it was presented to them for their signatures. All this was done behind closed doors. And what a pitiful settlement this is for Laguna residents.
 
What they got has already been in place since NextGen was implemented in March 2017.  Their “negotiated” flight path change to south of Laguna (or really to over my head IN South Laguna and north of Three Arch Bay) – they’ve been doing that for the past 3 years but it really intensified after March. That’s their NextGen Flight path. The fact that the overflights over much of Laguna have decreased 80 percent in the past year – well YES, because they are all now on the laser beam flight path right over my house as mandated by NextGen. The altitude at crossing land of 10,000 ft – that’s their normal flight trajectory after they hit the last way station in the ocean at 7,000 ft. on the NextGen flight path. They’ve already been doing that. City officials are excited that the FAA has agreed they will not take short cuts over Laguna (well, Laguna north of me in So. Lag). But there are so so many exceptions that the FAA put into the settlement that basically they can still take short cuts whenever they want.
So all that was accomplished with this settlement is that Laguna Beach has formalized and legitimized what the FAA wanted all along and has been doing since March 2017. They didn’t negotiate anything – they gave away any possibility of getting what all of us wanted – to have them fly the planes farther out in the ocean and cross land higher up like they used to before NextGen was developed. They got nothing that wasn’t already being done with NextGen.
So what’s the next step for those of us STILL under the flight path in Laguna? We will be redoubling our efforts legislatively, appealing to Laguna Niguel officials to join in the fight and take the issue directly to the airlines. The City of Laguna Beach is now officially out of their nightmare of having to look like their doing something for their residents. They can point to this worthless settlement and say “See, look what we did for you.”  Bah.
Michèle Monda

Update on Airplane Noise Issue

The regional Town Hall meeting held in Laguna Niguel in May 2017 on airplane noise did in fact create a whole lot of noise. We had OC Supervisors Bartlett and Spitzer attend as well as Congressman Rohrabacher and major representatives from every south county city and Citizens for No Plane Noise.

As a result of that meeting Congressman Rohrabacher wrote a letter to the FAA. He requested that the planes fly higher and fly farther out in the ocean before turning back to cross land. As predicted, the FAA sent him a boiler plate, pabulum, pat on the head letter saying that there is ongoing legal action and they can’t (read won’t) do anything about it. Plus, it’s just so complicated . . .

So after this fell on deaf ears at the FAA, Congressman Rohrabacher followed up with legislative action. He introduced two amendments to HR 2997, the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act. These amendments pertain to coastal overflight procedures and the concomitant inclusion of community concerns to flight path changes. And the best news is that it specifically calls out the California Metroplex and our concerns. The bill is currently in the House Rules Committee – stay tuned for progress.

Laguna Niguel passed a city resolution supporting the limitation of the negative impacts of air flights over Laguna Niguel on August 1, 2017. The mayor of San Juan Capistrano sent a complaint letter to the FAA Administrator in Washington requesting a review of the environmental impact now that NextGen has been implemented.

Currently, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and the County of Orange are involved in a lawsuit against the FAA and it’s supposed environmental impact report (that was computer generated and not based on reality). They are currently in mediation behind closed doors about which no one seems to be able to get information. The FAA has requested a 45-day extension on the stay for mediation, which is set to expire on November 17, 2017. I sure would love to know what’s going on.

I’ve saved the best news for last. The city of Phoenix, Arizona sued the FAA AND WON!!! It took 2 years for the case to be heard (FAA is all about delay, delay, delay) and Citizens for No Plane Noise is currently digging into the case to see what we can use for our case. There are many similarities and points that we can use in our lawsuit, as their issue is identical to ours minus the ocean!

Yes, this is a slow process. But in the meantime we need residents affected by the noise to write letters and more letters. I personally am woken every morning at 7:02 when the planes start roaring over my once quiet house. In 2012 I NEVER had a plane. Now it’s constant. To learn how to write a complaint letter and to whom to write please go on our website NoPlaneNoise.us and look for the Laguna Beach tab.

Together we can make a lot of noise – we need to help our legislators help us!!

Michèle Monda
Citizens for No Plane Noise
Laguna Beach

* Editor’s Note: LagunaBeachCHAT welcomes guest articles on topics of general interest, from respected sources. If a guest article is accepted as relevant and topical, we commit to making no changes (other than spelling and small technical corrections) and will publish the article in its entirety.


To a packed house of over 500 residents on May 15 in Laguna Niguel Town Hall, Supervisors Bartlett and Spitzer and Congressman Rohrabacher presented the airplane noise situation. Since the FAA implemented the NextGen flight path realignment in April south county homes have been under attack day and night with noise. Elected officials from Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and Mission Viejo attested to the noise increase and the number of residents complaining.

As a result of the noise, a grass roots organization called Citizens for No Plane Noise was formed. They helped organize this meeting to educate the public and let them know how to complain to the FAA to stop the low flying planes.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the solution is easy – fly the planes farther out in the ocean so they gain higher altitude before they turn back over land. 20,000 feet would mean very little noise. Citizens for No Plane Noise has documented planes as low as 8,000 ft. crossing over. The FAA has slowly implemented this change of flight path and lower altitudes since the fall of 2015. When you complain they tell you nothing has changed. BUT IT HAS. Where before planes would fly out to Catalina before turning, they are now turning right after take off from John Wayne and following a very precise flight path thanks to satellite based navigation versus ground based navigation. They are now on a super highway in the sky and if you live under it you are besieged.

Additionally, with the realignment of the airspace, when John Wayne shuts down at 10 pm for their curfew, LAX takes over the airspace. Those are the planes that you now hear at 3 am. They are coming up from South America and Mexico and instead of flying over the ocean as they used to they are now flying over the coastal land area.

Why is this happening??? To save fuel and time in the air. This is the goal of the airlines and since they were instrumental in the design of NextGen these new flight paths serve their interests without taking into account the people under the flight path. Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and the County of Orange have lawsuits against the FAA saying that they did not do a proper environmental assessment of their new flight paths. Imagine the increase in pollutants from the jet fuel – and you are now breathing it.

What can you do about this? Write letters complaining of the noise and pollution!! Go on Citizens for No Plane Noise’ Website and write as many letters as you can to the FAA, city officials, and Congressman. Sample letters and the addresses are available. The more letters they receive, the more they will take notice. The website is www.NoPlaneNoise.us.

If you are bothered by the airplane noise, please write, write, write! Only in numbers will they listen and change their flight path – fly farther out in the ocean and cross land higher up!!!

Michele Monda
South Laguna
Michelemonda@aol.com

* Editor’s Note: LagunaBeachCHAT welcomes guest articles on topics of general interest, from respected sources. If a guest article is accepted as relevant and topical, we commit to making no changes (other than spelling and small technical corrections) and will publish the article in its entirety.