Guest Opinions: Tony Fisch

Tony Fisch

Laguna Beach Resident Tony Fisch is President of Tony Fisch Consulting (TFC) a strategic public relations, communications and sales firm specializing in IT, entertainment, eCommerce, gaming, and more. Notable clients include Microsoft, Siemens, Bionime, and local real estate corporations. Tony is an advocate for government transparency. Contact Tony @

What’s next? 2024 is a big year for this city.

Exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or control that makes possible the manipulation of prices and behavior is the definition of public service monopoly.

Are “We The People” of Laguna Beach Whalen’s and Kemp’s Pickle Ball?

This December my property taxes increased by 5%. My 2024 SCE bill also increased by at least 7%. Laguna Beach had a great relationship with SCE and residents got discount coupons, but not anymore. I work from home remotely, so the difference is obvious. Water bills? They’re higher, too. How much severance did our former City Manager and Director of Community Development receive recently? Wiener was fired, yet still received a severance package. Hum.

A large increase in litigation against the city, at least four suits that I know of, comes out of our pockets. Our beautiful city outspends more than Dana Point by a daunting margin. Our payroll is $44 million dollars more than Dana Point’s. Yet Dana Point’s population is 11,000 more than ours.

We’ve had four pedestrian deaths in only two years with no response from the city to solve the high risk of street crossing. Enforced speed limits? Or simply changing a crosswalk’s blinking yellow light (meaning slow down) to red (meaning stop) seems like a no brainer.

Our city management had no idea when I called as to who our phone/internet provider was. It is Frontier, BTW. At the time of my call to solve a problem, Frontier had been installing fiber for 13 months in Laguna.

Laguna Beach has more places to buy alcohol than any matching sized city in California. We have over 140 bars and restaurants sharing 170 Alcoholic Beverage Control licenses. We have the highest number of DUIs per capita among 101 cities closest in population in California. Our elected leadership want to make Forest Avenue’s promenade an alcohol zone where you can walk freely with liquor, ala Las Vegas. There were also plans to cut down over 200 trees in our city, a historically preserved greenbelt (U.S. Library of Congress).

Bob Whalen and Sue Kempf have been Laguna Beach’s Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem for almost 6 years. Each year, the Mayoral titles get exchanged between them. How is baton passing not a leadership monopoly?

Do you feel safe or fairly represented? Do you desire a cycle change in 2024 and 2026? Would you vote for fresh thought and change? Would you support a transparent audit/investigation of our council and city? Anaheim, Bell and Los Angeles did this. The information and benefits to voters were dramatic. I see every reason for residents to call for this. Our council may refuse, but we can petition for it. Ask yourself why they might not cooperate:

1. We lost six senior department heads in just over two years.
2. The City Manager lied to a police officer without investigation.
3. Evidence of body cam video from Dupuis’s traffic stop was “edited” by an outside agency and multiple sources claim the Mayor was aware?
4. Roughly 250 CEQA (CA Environmental Quality Act) exemptions have been issued by our community development director over two years — causing damage to our Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) in a coastal zone.
5. These are also violations of CA Supreme Court law. See Banning Ranch vs. Newport Beach requiring all lead agency projects on ESHA property to enforce initial CEQA review, and/or biology for status and, or EIR.
6. Not applying CEQA exceptions to exemptions means there are more state laws and guidelines for development being violated.
7. Piecemealing and cumulative damage is increasing, destroying open land, sensitive areas, wildlife corridors, and canyons.
8. Staff has misrepresented state code and self-manufactured misinformation on-the-fly while advising city council in 60% of meetings.
9. Projects like Sweetwater get approval even when it’s been proven that deadly contamination exists. In this case, causing cancer and lead poisoning. The city supported building it anyway without remediation.
10. DRB members Gibbs, Sheridan, and Weil have led approval of CEQA exemptions without study or expertise as our city attorney, an alleged CEQA expert, sits idle.
11. The city violated FCC law and lead agency guidelines on wireless facility expansion without public notification.

This list goes on. If the election cycle through 2026 does not reverse the current 4-1 vote in city council, our property rights and view equity may be gone, and real property equity will be halved.

You may just see a 2-story, 25 ft. tall ADU in your face, as others have. Since 2018, residential over-development has greatly impacted parking and traffic, wildlife corridors, and canyons. Note new coyote packs hunting daily.

Whoever runs for office needs a platform that addresses these concerns and more. If voters let this continue and we are silent, we get what we deserve.

I was a resident of Los Angeles in 2016, when then Mayor Garcetti cut a deal with the Firefighters Union boss to set up, disgrace, and remove the then Deputy Chief, Fire Marshall because his digital inspection transformation enabled 10 years of inspection backlog to get done in only two years. Old guard crony inspectors were billing inspection double-time, taking millions in taxpayer money. They did not want their payday ruined.

Garcetti gave the story to the LA Times. They never contacted the Chief for comment. The LA Times was complicit in damaging the Chief. Garcetti in turn got $373,000 in campaign contributions and endorsement from the union. I helped the Chief get the real story out and two years later the City of LA settled a defamation case right before I was to be deposed. The Chief received a public apology and over seven figure payment.

If you drink the Bob and Sue Kool-Aid and you backed their four-year support of Peter Blake bullying everyone including voters in 3 Arch Bay, you are aware that there was only 1 vote that was not 4-1 pro development. What’s next? 2024 is a big year for this city.

*The views and opinions of any guest columnist is the sole responsibility of that guest columnist and the columnist or city residents cannot hold LBCHAT or its publisher liable for the views, information or opinions expressed in this section. All items submitted by the public must be approved by LBCHAT’s Publisher prior to publishing on this site.

Laguna Beach City Transparency Items

City of Laguna Beach Transparency Items

CLB Transparency & Compensation – Here

CLB MOU’s/Contracts (City employee organization contracts) – Here

FORM 802: Free Pageant of Ticket Distributions Reporting – Ticket Policy – Here

2023 Reporting Forms

Public Input/ Media Coverage

Laguna Beach Parking Information

Laguna Beach like many other coastal designation cities has its share of parking related issues. It’s been a growing hot topic among city leaders and residents for decades. According to visitor business industry organizations like Visit Laguna, LB now hosts 6 million visitors per year. That’s a lot of vehicle traffic. Accommodating tourists with parking, in or near our downtown and other commercial districts has been an ongoing dispute between City Council Members and Residents. One significant disagreement creating such discourse is if parking structures are necessary and if so where should they be built and who pays for them. Many resident taxpayers feel that if the need is driven by commercial property owners and their businesses, then they should be the primary investors.

To address the parking issue, the City Council approved a master plan subcommittee appointing Council Members Bob Whalen and Sue Kempf to oversee the development of a comprehensive study to identify potential parking structure sites within the city. This effort resulted in the development of the Parking and Transport Demand Management Report which after several reviews by Council and the public was adopted on June 13, 2023.

While the the Council approved of the consultant report, no action has been taken to move forward with any specific locations at this time. Stay tuned. Those interested in giving input on the report and future parking needs should can contact:

Community Development Parking Plan Meetings and Documents 2 – Here

Community Development / Master Plan Subcommittee Report – Here

Final Recommendations and Adoption of the Parking and Transport Demand Management Report. June 13, 2023 Council Agenda Item # 14 – Here

2023-2024 Budget Information and Costs: Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Fund


The Proposed Budget programs $2 million for projects approved for “medium-term” action items. Those projects included the completion of the fuel modification zones at Park Avenue and in the remainder of the City, funding to maintain the fuel modification zones, and incentives to improve the wildfire resistance of existing residences.

Laguna Beach City Fire Safety and Wildfire Mitigation – Here

Pension Costs and Information (2023-2024 Adopted Budget)

Pension costs are expected to increase by about $670,000 next year. Strategies to address presented to the City Council in February 2023, including the issuance of pension obligation bonds. Additional information about pensions can be found immediately following this letter.


The City of Laguna Beach has contracted with the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) for pension benefits since 1945. The City has approximately 298 active and 406 retired employees (members) enrolled in the pension plan. In these plans, members earn service credit towards a lifetime retirement allowance after employment (defined benefit), calculated under a formula that accounts for the employee’s years of credited service, the employee’s “final compensation,” and age at retirement. For example, with 30 years of service, a “3 at 50” safety pension formula provides 90% of final compensation at age 50, and a “2.5 at 55” non-safety pension formula with 30 years of service provides 75% of final compensation at age 55. The CalPERS Board of Administration has absolute authority and fiduciary responsibility to ensure the System’s integrity, the investment of monies, and the overall administration of CalPERS.

An unfunded liability for pension benefits generally exists when the value of all projected benefits payable to members exceeds the projected value of assets available to pay those benefits. The amount can change over time due to changes in benefits, pay levels, demographics, actuarial assumptions, and return on investments. State and local governments, including Laguna Beach, typically reduce their unfunded liability over time as part of their annual required pension contributions.

Risk pooling was implemented by CalPERS effective with June 30, 2003, actuarial valuations to protect small employers (those with less than 100 active members in the plan) against large fluctuations in employer contribution rates caused by unexpected demographic events. Costs are allocated to Pooled plans on the actual increases or decreases to the individual plans. It is the policy of CalPERS to ensure equity within the risk pools by allocating the pool’s experience gains/losses and assumption changes in a manner that treats each employer equitably and maintains benefit security for the members of the System while minimizing substantial variations in employer contributions. If an agency voluntarily or involuntarily terminates its contract with CalPERS, the agency member benefits are adjusted in proportion to the amount the employer can pay, and the plan is moved into a Terminated Agency Pool. This mechanism is designed to protect other agencies by eliminating the unfunded liabilities of employers who cannot, or will not, pay pension obligations.

Several events have contributed to the increase in unfunded liabilities for agencies in the CalPERS system. In 1999, Senate Bill 400 (SB400) passed overwhelmingly permitting more generous pension benefits to employees, both prospectively and retroactively. CalPERS also incurred negative investment returns due to the “dotcom” bubble in 2000 and again in 2008 during the great recession. On December 21, 2016, based on the expectation of lower investment return rates over the next decade, the CalPERS Board voted to lower the discount rate (investment rate of return) from the current 7.5% to 7% over three years. The impact on the City’s budget is an increase in the normal cost by 1% to 3% as a percentage of payroll for the miscellaneous plan and 2% to 5% increase for safety plans. Additionally, the City is expected to experience a 30% to 40% increase in its required unfunded liability payment. These increases are phased in over five years, beginning, and were expected to add approximately $3.0 million to the budget by FY 2024-25.

City Council Actions to Address Pension Costs.

The Unfunded Accrued Liability (UAL) for Laguna Beach as of June 30, 2021 (the most recent information available) for all CalPERS pension plans is $51.2 million. This includes Police Safety of $17.4 million, Fire Safety of $14.4 million, Lifeguard Safety of $1.4 million, and Miscellaneous plan of $18.0 million. The City’s plans are currently 84.1% funded. The City is contractually obligated to enroll all full-time employees in theCalPERS system with few exceptions. If the City Council wanted to offer an alternative pension plan, CalPERS would require the City to terminate its contract at the cost of over $500 million, which is financially prohibitive.

Over the past ten years, the City Council has been proactive in addressing the City’s unfunded pension liability. In 2010, the City Council approved borrowing funds internally to pay off its $10 million CalPERS “Side Fund” for Police, Fire, and Lifeguard safety plans. In 2013, the City Council approved higher employee contributions ranging from 8% to 12% of their salary. In 2014, the City Council approved a strategy to pay approximately $10 million over five years to accelerate the City’s unfunded pension liability payoff. These strategies are expected to save the City $31 million over thirty years and significantly reduce the City’s unfunded liability over time. This is in addition to the State’s pension reform (PEPRA) legislation. CalPERS requires higher contribution rates toward unfunded liability and reduced retirement benefits for new employees intended to completely resolve the CalPERS unfunded liability (including Laguna Beach) in about twenty years.

In 2022, the City Council evaluated the opportunity to issue Pension Obligation Bonds to pay off the City’s unfunded liability. The City Council elected not to pursue this opportunity due to rising interest rates and unfavorable market conditions. There is some concerning news. Recently, CalPERS earned a -6.1% net return on investments for the 12 months ended June 30, 2022. This brings the total fund performance to an average investment return of 6.7% for five years, 7.7% for a 10-year period, and 6.9% for a 20-year period.

City of Laguna Beach Page 12/13 of 276 Adopted Budget.

For more on City Pension Costs, click here