Why No Term Limits In Laguna Beach?

Laguna Beach Residents/Voters – isn’t it time our elected’s allow us to vote on adopting City Council Term Limits?

As a resident and supporter of term limits for elected officials, I spoke at council and sent the written request below to City Officials on November 14, 2023.

Plenty of time to discuss and get it on 2024 ballot. It was ignored. Why?
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Dear Mayor and City Council Members,

The discussion on adopting Term Limits has been ongoing for years in our City. While it is rare that I have agreed with Indy columnist Michael Ray, here’s one of his former column messages on the need for Council Term Limits which I and many residents supported via their public comments. https://www.lagunabeachindy.com/opinion-musings-on-the-coast-18/

Laguna Beach is one of a small number (3-5?) of cities among the 34 cities in Orange County that has not formally explored or moved to allow its voters to vote on Term Limits for its City Council Elected’s. While there are various term limit examples to review I include here one adopted by the City of San Clemente in 2020 that was overwhelmingly passed by voters.

https://ballotpedia.org/San_Clemente,_California,_Measure_BB,_City_Council_Term_Limits_(November_2020)

Since that time many other cities and school boards have moved to establishing Term Limits, in fact, 61 Term Limit measures for publicly elected government officials in California have been adopted in recent years. See: https://ballotpedia.org/Local_term_limits_on_the_ballot.

I believe it’s time our City move forward to adopt City Council Term Limits as well. I ask that the Mayor instruct the Interim City Manager to agendize it for public discussion and determine the most expeditious way to get it before voters. While we are at it, it may be prudent to include Boards and Commissions appointments to Planning and DRB as well.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
MJ Abraham, LB Resident/Founder LBCHAT
~~~
I continue to ask our city officials – Why No Term Limits? Voters, you should too.
If you agree, please email LB City Council: citycouncil@lagunabeachcity.net.

Join other locals who agree:

Resident Sam Goldstein, former Liberate Laguna PAC founder is asking publicly that term limits be put on the ballot too:
https://www.lagunabeachindy.com/letter-city-council-needs-term-limits/

Resident Roger Butow (Founder of CWN): Read the Patch article here

CLB Council Serving data / Term Limits by Mike Morris

MJ Abraham
LB Resident/Founder LBCHAT

Laguna Residents First (LRF) PAC LB Survey 2024

Opinion: Surveying 2024 priorities for Laguna Beach

By Merrill Anderson

Laguna Residents First conducted an online Survey Monkey poll circulated amongst registered voters in Laguna Beach in January 2024. A total of 370 people responded (12% response rate) to a question about what the top priorities for Laguna Beach in 2024 should be.

Respondents could select multiple priorities and were invited to write comments.

Top priorities: Reducing traffic congestion (61% selected as a priority) and undergrounding power lines in green spaces (52%) emerged as the top two priorities. Respondents supported undergrounding all power lines, starting with the most critical areas, i.e., Laguna Canyon.

To read the full survey for 2024 on the Laguna Beach Indy website – Here

Laguna Beach Voter Guide: What’s On The Ballot, Voting and More

Laguna Beach voters will choose candidates for district supervisors, president, senator and more in the March 5 election.

By Miranda Ceja,
Patch Staff

With the presidential preference primary happening March 5th, most Golden State residents already have their mail-in ballots in hand.

With the presidential preference primary happening March 5th, most Golden State residents already have their mail-in ballots in hand.

LAGUNA BEACH, CA — The 2024 presidential primary election season in California is officially underway, but the real excitement in California comes in the form of down-ballot races, including the race for congressional districts across Orange County.

The election is March 5; most residents already have their mail-in ballots in hand.

With presidential frontrunners former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden expected to win their nominations handily, all eyes in California are on the hotly contested primary race for the seat vacated by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein as well as a slew of local races.

Locally, Orange County voters will decide who they want to represent them in the state assembly and their respective congressional districts.

Here’s a run-down on the races for the 2024 primary election season in Orange County.

Read the full article on The Patch website – Here

Voice Of Laguna Interview with Mohmmad Honarkar Redefines Hearsay

Voice Of Laguna reviews new allegations and brings up those that have long been defined in Superior Court Of California, County of Orange

Tony Fisch

Ed Steinfeld’s radio style is unique. Let the guest talk and praise them. On Thursday, Honarkar in a 39 minute interview shared his opinion, narrative and hearsay about his multiple current lawsuits. Naming many names and even naming resident activists who present facts in council meetings throughout the year. Honarkar made accusations against CM Mark Orgill, mentioned Mayor Sue Kempf and former City Attorney Phil Kohn. Honarkar’s behavior in Laguna Beach since 2021 raises many questions.

California’s “hearsay rule,” defined under Evidence Code 1200, is a law that states that third-party hearsay cannot be used as evidence in a trial. This rule is based on the principle that hearsay is often unreliable and cannot be cross-examined.

To read more on this interview with Mohammad Honarker visit The Patch Laguna Beach website here https://patch.com/california/lagunabeach/voice-laguna-interview-mohmmad-honarkar-redefines-hearsay-nodx

LB Indy Letter To The Editor: Promenade Committee – Residents, Business owners

Promenade Committee Should Include Residents, Business Owners
LB Indy Letter To The Editor by Jerome Pudwill, Laguna Beach

Is the City Council majority tone-deaf? Or do they just not care about what residents want?

Mayor Sue Kempf has promoted the promenade since 2020 without giving residents an opportunity to provide meaningful input. This was repeatedly pointed out at the Jan. 23 city council meeting when 20 residents and business owners blasted councilmembers and railed against the two permanent city-defining promenade plans the council majority hoped to approve. Both plans called for removing virtually all existing Forest Avenue trees.

The promenade was imposed on residents, originally advanced without required public notification by Kempf and then-Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis as a temporary fix for four restaurants during Covid.

Part of their justification was based on a survey they took of Forest Avenue businesses (no residents) – a survey never revealed. No mention of how many businesses were surveyed, whether interviewees were landlords, business owners or salespeople, or what questions were asked. In short, no data, proof or evidence – just their word.

Two public planning workshops were eventually conducted. The first consisted of condescending questions such as, “Which style of garbage cans do you prefer?” That workshop ended in infuriated chaos. In the second session, the consultants basically said, “Here are two plans – pick one.” This approach has resulted in wasting a quarter of a million dollars on two unacceptable plans rejected in part by the overpowering public rebuke at the council meeting. Please see those comments at the 3:15 point of the Jan. 23 meeting, which can be found on the City of Laguna Beach website.

Despite having mismanaged the process, the council majority has appointed Kempf to head a new committee to review future promenade development with direction that’s supposed to include residents and promenade retail business owners. Yet Kempf is already espousing her plans and denying others when the idea of the committee is to solicit all possible solutions.

For instance, in the OC Register, Kempf stated, “We want the whole street designated for (liquor sales), where restaurants can serve alcohol without having to rope areas off.” Do residents truly want to turn the promenade into one big bar?

Councilman Weiss said, “The promenade has been in place for three years, yet we have no truly independent data on how many residents versus visitors use it, how long they stay, and what they do – much less its impact on sales.” (So much for data-driven councilmember talk.)

There is no way this “committee” should exist without independent residents and promenade retailers permanently serving on it – not just pro-business councilmembers and cherry-picked city staff designees.

Contact all councilmembers at citycouncil@lagunabeachcity.net and tell them what you think.

Silence only encourages them to ignore you.

City Council Candidates November 5, 2024 Elections

1) Judie Mancuso – Campaign Website.
Check out Candidate Community Related Articles and Opinions: Judie Mancuso

2) Hallie Jones – Campaign Website coming soon.
Check out Candidate Community Related Articles and Opinions: Hallie Jones

City Clerk Candidates:

Media and General Public Candidate Related Articles and Opinions for the November 5, 2024 Election Below: As Available…

 

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 @  Tony@fischconsulting.com.

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
https://www.lagunabeachcity.net/home/showpublisheddocument/16511/638307202196300000
https://www.lagunabeachcity.net/home/showpublisheddocument/16511/638307202196300000

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: lagunabeachcitycouncil.net.

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

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.

PENSIONS

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

Former City Manager Shohreh Dupuis – Gone But Not Forgotten

Dupuis leaves behind a trail of city government internal and external controversies. Not to mention reaping a retirement package many taxpayers do not support. Lots of questions still exist. An example is the public attention that continues to appear.

CLB Next City Manager Update. Its been reported that the Council starts City Manager interviews in mid-January.

Stay tuned. The public is watching closely to see if Council members Bob Whalen and Sue Kempf attempt to influence or control other members like they did in 2020.

Local Media Relevent to Shohreh Dupuis:
City of Laguna Beach City Manager Announces retirement
LB Indy – Retirement Details
Voice of OC – Retirement Details

2024 PAC and 501(c)4 Group Campaign Disclosure Forms

Political Action Committee (PAC’s)

Advocates for Laguna Residents PAC (ID # 1455392)

Laguna Residents First PAC (ID#1421491)

Laguna Residents First (LRF) PAC LB Survey 2024

Laguna Beach Firefighters Association PAC (ID#1422691)

Laguna Beach Police Employee Association PAC (ID #1346972)

Village Laguna Inc. PAC (ID#990381)

Citizens for Laguna’s Future PAC (ID#1450234)

Laguna Matters PAC (ID#1420991)

LB Taxpayers Association PAC (ID#0352402)

Ballot Measure Committees

The Laguna Alliance / Laguna Beach Company Ballot Measure Committee (ID#145537)
https://www.lagunabeachcity.net/home/showpublisheddocument/16022/638264929573270000
https://www.lagunabeachcity.net/home/showpublisheddocument/14187/638108556478300000

Citizens for Laguna’s Future / Ballot Measure Committee (ID#1450234)
https://www.lagunabeachcity.net/home/showpublisheddocument/17638/638415411478070000

Citizens for Sustainable Laguna Beach / Ballot Measure Committee (ID#1441800)
https://www.lagunabeachcity.net/home/showpublisheddocument/17638/638415411478070000

Residents, local environmental groups band together to halt unauthorized SCE grading

On Jan. 4, Janine Robinson set out on her daily morning walk in the area around Alta Laguna Park. However, what the Top of the World resident saw carved into the wilderness below was anything but routine.

The SCE grading looking north at Top of the World on Jan. 18. Clara Beard/LB Indy

Several dirt paths, approximately 20 feet wide and estimated to be one to two miles long, had been bulldozed into the city-owned open space creating a prominent blemish across the landscape west of Alta Laguna Boulevard and north of Park Avenue.

The SCE grading looking north at Top of the World on Jan. 18. Clara Beard/LB Indy
Robinson, who immediately contacted the Top of the World Neighborhood Association about her discovery, wasn’t the only citizen with raised eyebrows and questions.

Contractors take steps to mitigate potential erosion before the weekend rainstorm on Jan 18. Clara Beard/LB Indy

“Imagine my reaction when my son came running into the house asking why people in bulldozers were ‘wrecking the ground in our front yard,’” A Park Avenue homeowner wrote in an email to the Indy. “How do you answer such an improbable question?”

Contractors take steps to mitigate potential erosion before the weekend rainstorm on Jan 18. Clara Beard/LB Indy
After a week-long flurry of emails and calls back and forth to city and county officials, concerned residents and local environmental groups discovered that not only was Southern California Edison (SCE) responsible for the bulldozed paths, it was doing so without City and Coastal Commission permits.

On Jan. 11, Laguna Beach Interim City Manager Sean Joyce asked SCE to temporarily stop their repairs until the city could learn more about the circumstances.

SCE engineers inspect one of the five electrical poles scheduled for repairs at Top of the World. Submitted photo

“If citizens and environmentalists hadn’t alerted the city as quickly, and the city, namely Sean Joyce and Sue Kempf, hadn’t been so amazingly responsive and got them to stop immediately, they would have kept bulldozing, literally that next day, and could have caused more than double the amount the damage they already did,” Robinson said. “It’s not often the city and environmentalists team up so effectively and successfully and cause an all-powerful utility to stand down—and do the right thing.”

SCE engineers inspect one of the five electrical poles scheduled for repairs at Top of the World. Submitted photo
According to SCE Saddleback District Manager Robert Maystrovich, the public utility company was in the process of necessary repair work in the open space when engineers ran into a series of electrical issues, which, coupled with high winds, created an emergency situation.

“These new circuit loading and reliability risks to critical loads, including City Hall, along with the extreme fire risk caused by the initial weather event, led my team reclassifying this section of work as emergency,” Maystrovich explained in correspondence with Joyce, that he in turn, shared with all concerned parties in an email blast.

“As we shifted into the heavy terrain section, it was determined that the original construction plan to utilize helicopters to remotely fly in construction personnel and material was not viable due to the overgrown native vegetation,” Maystrovich wrote. “As we were without a place to physically and safely land them, this was no longer an option.”

Still, SCE lacked the necessary permits from the City and the Coastal Commission, prompting an emergency meeting with representatives from all three entities on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

“SCE agreed to submit an emergency Coastal Development Permit (CDP) imminently,” interim city manager Sean Joyce wrote in his report update on Jan. 18. “City staff met virtually with Coastal Commission staff this morning to confer about a variety of matters associated with the work performed and planned by SCE associated with its cover conductor project.”

Joyce said SCE has agreed to use helicopters for the pole replacements to avoid any further impacts on the habitat. SCE also hopes to complete its repairs before the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher begins its nesting season on Jan. 31.

SCE reports mitigation and restoration efforts are estimated to take five to 10 years. And with the popularity of Alta Laguna Park and the surrounding trails increasing, residents have expressed concern the bulldozed paths could be mistaken for public trails by visiting hikers, creating erosion.

Laguna Canyon Conservancy President Gayle Waite said she’s learned from meetings with the Southland Region Power in Nature Coalition that electric companies have caused this type of wildland destruction in other parts of California.

“When caught, they (electrical companies) are made to do mitigation, but it is usually too little, too late, and does not seem to stop them from repeating the behavior,” Waite wrote in an email to the Indy. “SCE should be forced to pay a big fine, but then residents and taxpayers will foot the bill and electric rates just go up.”

An SCE spokesperson is scheduled to give a presentation about the pole replacement project and its next steps during the upcoming Laguna Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 5 p.m.

“Laguna Beach city officials and the Coastal Commission should hold SCE senior management accountable since if these repairs were truly emergency ones, how is it possible neither was consulted and made aware of them?” Waite said. “Shouldn’t the city at least been alerted to a potential electrical emergency and have the fire department on notice? The public would like to know.”

LB Indy Letter To The Editor: Laguna’s biggest financial challenge

By John Thomas
Courtesy of Lagauna Beach Indy – for the original article click here

Considering the Strategic Planning the city is currently doing, the question arises: Is this the year that Laguna Beach confronts and addresses its biggest financial challenge?

A large share of the taxes that residents pay are not used to pay for services or capital improvements that directly benefit residents but are diverted to cover the substantial costs the city incurs due to the high number of visitors to Laguna.

A 2017 report showed that, at that time, revenue the city received that was attributable to tourists was $23 million less than the added costs the city incurred due to those visitors.

Since then, the city budget and visitors have grown, so the shortage is likely much greater today.

City leaders and staff have acknowledged this problem, and despite some early efforts, there has been little progress made by residents and visitors in reducing this large subsidy.

Now is the time to act. The City Council could put a measure on the November 2024 ballot to narrow the gap between revenue and visitor costs. The number of ambitious and costly items currently under discussion by the City Council makes it even more important to reduce the visitor subsidy. The aggregate cost of some of these items could exceed hundreds of millions of dollars. Without correcting the drain on city revenue due to visitor costs, it will be financially challenging for the city to proceed with even the most important projects.

Three of the best possibilities for generating meaningful amounts of revenue for the city are:

An adjustment in the business license fee structure that increases city revenue from the most tourist-focused businesses.
Revising the current hotel tax to be on par with one-third of Orange County hotels.
Expanding pay parking for nonresidents to areas within walking distance of the beaches while allowing residents to continue to park for free in residential neighborhoods.
Alternatives would be to either raise taxes on residents, lower the level of city services provided by the city government or borrow a lot of money.

The solution with the biggest potential revenue impact could be a revised business license fee focused on tourist-focused businesses. Though only a small percentage of visitors stay in Laguna hotels and pay hotel tax, approximately 70% of visitors to Laguna spend on food and beverages in town. This means that Laguna’s tourist-focused restaurants are a key point of contact with visitors, and these businesses are an opportunity to create a collection mechanism for visitor revenue to cover visitor costs. These bars and restaurants could be the stars in this effort, Laguna’s toll booth. A business license fee based on 1% of the gross revenue of these restaurants could currently generate over $4 million per year for the city government, and a very high proportion of this revenue would come from the visitors patronizing these restaurants. With time, a visitor-targeted business license fee could slowly increase from one percent to a maximum of 5% over five years and could eventually cover perhaps 60% of the current imbalance.

The revised fees could be designed to have little or no change for primarily resident-serving businesses. And fees for smaller businesses could be much lower than for the larger tourist-focused businesses. As is, our business license fees are among the lowest in California, so there is substantial room to adjust this fee without being out of line.

A second way to generate revenue from visitors is to expand pay parking for nonresidents to areas throughout the city within walking distance of the beaches while allowing residents to continue to park for free in residential neighborhoods.

The third way could be to update Laguna’s current 12% hotel tax to match the third of the hotel rooms in Orange County that charge 15%. As a top Orange County visitor destination, it seems only fair that Laguna’s total hotel tax should align with other top Orange County tourist destinations.

Combining the redesigned business license fee with an increased hotel tax and expanded paid parking areas could, in time, cover more than 75% of the overall shortage, thereby reducing the subsidy of residents to visitors, leaving more city revenue available to serve residents, and freeing up funds for the many projects on the city council priority list.

This is an election year. Now is the time for the City Council to act to close this huge financial gap and reduce the subsidy of visitors by residents. A solution will likely require a ballot measure. And a plan and ballot measure will take time to develop. Now is the time to get started, and the City Council needs to take action to do that.

John is a long-time Laguna Beach resident, business owner, former chair of the Laguna Beach Audit Review & Measure LL Oversight Committee, board member of the South Laguna Civic Association, and member of the South Laguna Water/Sewer Advisory Committee.

City Government

The City of Laguna Beach (CLB) is a general law city. This means the city operates
under the laws of the State of California and has a Council-Manager form of
government.

Elected’s – The Council consists of five members elected by the public and a Mayor
selected to serve annually by the Council. Council sets policy and directs the City
Manager. Municipal governing elections are held in November of even-numbered years.
Follow the upcoming Election 2024

Appointed’s – Part of the Council legislative power includes appointing citizens to
boards and commissions that serve as advisory bodies. Some like the Planning
Commission and Design Review Board also have overarching decision-making and
approval authorities. B&C Link.

City News – CLB issues a regular city newsletter. The City Manager’s Office issues a
weekly “The Week that Was” city business report available to the Council and the
public. City Council member George Weiss issues recaps of items covered at City
Council meetings.