Liberate Laguna PAC – Developer Interest Donations

Submitted by Guest: Mike Morris (September 22, 2018)

Liberate Laguna sounds like a grass-roots organization working to free Lagunans of the tyranny of City Hall. Burdened by the uncaring bureaucracy, Liberate Laguna sounds like a breath of
fresh air to the average resident; perhaps a counterweight to the heavy-hand of Village Laguna.

Until you take a look at their Form 460 (reportable donations), required under the Political Reform Act. Their 1 filing (for the period of 1Jan18 thru 30Jun18) reveals only 5 donors pulling
together an impressive $33,000 tally in a very short period of time. When you examine the Names & Occupation/Employer information, you’ll quickly see familiar names of some of the biggest developer/real-estate-investors in town. The smallest donation is $500 and the largest $10,000. Indeed 2 of their donors are responsible for $22,000 (2/3s) of their war-chest. So much for

Make no mistake, these folks are working to loosen all manner of restrictions/oversight on development in Laguna Beach.



Mission Viejo-Taking the Tougher Stance On Homeless Familiar to Laguna Beach

The Mission Viejo City Council has voted to toughen its ordinance against camping in the City.  According to the Voice of OC:

“The camping ordinance is a revision of the city’s previous camping law, which only addressed sleeping in cars, campers, recreational vehicles and trailers. The new ordinance applies to individuals sleeping anywhere on public property in the city.

“Unless otherwise permitted by law, it is unlawful for any person to camp or use camp paraphernalia in or on any public park, street, sidewalk or other public property,” the ordinance reads.

It seems that the City Council of MV would have done well to examine the long and expensive history that Laguna Beach has experienced in following a similar path.  Although MV’s law will not allow the citing of anyone “camping” if there is no alternative lodging space available, it seems that the ACLU and other homeless advocacy groups are already preparing for a legal challenge.

When will cities learn that they can’t ‘fix’ this homeless problem on their own?  This requires a state/county-wide approach that brings together government, faith and private resources in order to have a realistic impact.  Read the VofOC article here.

Fiscal Prudence Makes Surprise Visit To LB City Hall-Indy

At its 11 July 2017 meeting, the City Council overturned the ‘informal’ Essential Employee Housing Assistance Program that had been created in April 2000.  The idea behind the program was that certain ‘essential’ city employees should live in the city so as to be readily available in case of emergency.

After several residents spoke out against the continuation of the program and when the total remuneration paid to current program participants was revealed, the council made the fiscally prudent decision to halt providing housing assistance to additional city employees.

See the Laguna Beach Independent article on the decision by clicking here

Legislative Action to Regain Local Control over Sober Living Facilities

The 27June 2017 City Council meeting has a consent item concerning Laguna Beach’s signing-on as a member of  the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition (WSSLHR) spearheaded by the Association of California Cities – Orange County (ACC-OC).  The Coalition supports federal and state legislation that seek to close loopholes in the FHA and ADA that have prevented localities from enforcing zoning and business-oversight laws in the case of Sober Living Facilities.  LagunaBeachCHAT supports the City joining the Coalition.  We have reproduced the majority of the invitation letter sent by the ACC-OC to the City Council, laying out their membership invitation and legislative ideas.

ACC-OC & Efforts

The ACC-OC is a non-profit organization that represents the interests of the 34 Orange County cities and the County of Orange. ACC-OC serves as a resource for elected officials and municipalities, focusing on three key initiatives: education that empowers, policy that is collaborative, and advocacy that is service-oriented. We bring together our city members, the business community, non-profits, special districts, and higher education to find fair solutions to challenges that affect our cities, like those related to sober living homes.

ACC-OC has been at the forefront of sober living home reform, working with local leaders, and state and federal legislators to sponsor bills, support reform measures, facilitate educational meetings and host televised town halls. We have a three-pronged approach to working with our communities on sober living home reform:

  • We support federal action: H.R. 472 sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa is a critical bill that would close loopholes that protect bad-acting sober living homes. If passed, the bill would amend the federal Fair Housing Act, empower cities to enforce current zoning laws, and limit the distance of facilities in their communities. The ACC-OC strongly supports this legislation and is working to build support across the state and beyond. ..
  • We are leading state action: ACC-OC has sponsored past statewide legislation and is currently working on Assembly Bill 572. There are just 16 state employees that enforce sober living facility registration for the entire state of California. All of whom are located in one region of the state. AB 572 would allow cities to fund an enforcement employee, locally, in partnership with the state and the County of Orange, to more quickly address noncompliant sober living facility complaints and misconduct…
  • We are informing the public: ACC-OC has hosted public town halls, media efforts and other public education initiatives that are important to ensuring that the public is aware of their rights, how to effect change and who to call with concerns. Communicating what cities can and cannot do regarding the actions taken against sober living residences is imperative for city residents to understand.

There is no denying the necessity of providing treatment options for those in our community struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. In 2016, fatal drug overdoses hit a 10-year high in Orange County, and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called the national spike in drug abuse and overdose deaths a national epidemic. The issue of sober living home reform lies instead with those seizing on the lack of oversight to open sub-standard facilities, and the inability of cities to ensure that the facilities within their jurisdictions are functioning properly. SLHs have not only negatively affected cities and the composition of neighborhoods, but has also diminished the quality of living for those patients seeking treatment in residential settings.


In California, there are two types of sober living residences, licensed facilities and unlicensed homes. Sober living facilities (SLF) must be licensed through California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), when at least one of the following services is provided: detoxification, group sessions, individual sessions, educational sessions, or alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment planning. The more difficult and unregulated residency type is referred to as a sober living home (SLH). SLHs are considered single family homes and are treated as such, as long as they maintain a group living situation of six people or under and do not offer any treatment to patients through any of the listed methodologies. No matter how closely that the SLH in question operates as a business or whether they are suspected to be providing what would be considered licensed treatments, if the SLH is a group of six people or fewer choosing to live among one another in a home, neither the state or a local government have the authority over how that home is regulated or operated (emphasis LBChat). Additionally, the only entity with the ability to enforce any licensing standards and respond to complaints related to licensed facilities lies completely with DHCS.

The laws at the federal level have further propelled the proliferation of SLHs because of the protections that were enacted by the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which have been interpreted to extend those protections to SLHs and SLFs. These laws have prohibited the discrimination against those recovering from Alcohol or Other Drug abuse by classifying these individuals as disabled. Fair housing law requires states and cities to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled by not limiting their ability to reside in a home or enact laws that would treat those recovering from substance abuse any differently than another residence based on the residents who live within a single home. These federal laws have unintentionally left cities and states with little to no recourse to address the bad actors in the industry.

City Challenges

In California there are nearly 2000 licensed facilities and countless unlicensed homes – an alarming 15% of which are located in the County of Orange. As an example, there were 83 licensed drug and alcohol treatment facilities and 95 unlicensed sober living homes within the city of Costa Mesa alone. The City contains a population of over 112,000 people, which is less then 3.5% of the total countywide population; this has led to an oversaturation of treatment facilities and homes that exceed a reasonable need for services within a single jurisdiction. The FHA and ADA laws didn’t account for the determination of what would be considered a reasonable number of service providers. This is needed to maintain a healthy balance of treatment accessibility, while still preserving a residential environment.

The challenges presented by oversaturation has also led to the need for distancing requirements. When a neighborhood becomes absorbed with SLHs and SLFs a residential community turns into an institutionalized one – the very atmosphere that a residential recovery option is meant to avoid. Often, SLHs and SLFs operators will open residences directly next door to one another or even take an entire neighborhood block. This allows operators the ability to provide multiple service units, or to create institutionalized sized kitchens or living spaces for those living in the adjacent primary residences. This practice occurs on the same or different parcels of land to maintain the classification of an SLH or to expand SLF services. Cities cannot bar sober living residences to expand in this way because that would be considered discriminatory activity under FHA and ADA protections. The cities that do try to implement citywide ordinances requiring distancing requirements between multiple SLHs or SLFs have all faced time consuming and costly litigation – even in the few instances that the courts have ruled in favor of the city. The cities who have been successful in this remedy still face regulatory uncertainty, and the potential to be taken back to court on a case by case basis.

Due to the composition of SLFs housing six different tenants in what is normally meant for a single-family unit there are many behavioral complaints reported by community residents. These issues include: excessive smoking, an overabundance of trash and litter, loud noise, and a concentration of six or more vehicles for one household – leading to parking congestion. A handful of cities have done their best to regulate SLHs by enforcing local “nuisance” ordinances related to these behaviors, but that does not get to the core of the issue. Nuisance ordinances don’t help in reducing a neighborhood’s sober living residence proliferation, which multiplies these harmful externalities.

SLH Residents

In addition to the fact that many cities are unable to regulate and enforce rules over sober living homes, the residents seeking treatment in SLFs and SLHs have little to no recourse related to the quality of their treatment of living situation. SLFs often have documented and licensed treatment plans that residents agree to participating in before residing in those facilities, but SLHs are not required to provide or offer any type of contract, report outcomes, and are not held to any accountability standards. In both cases, cities cannot field any complaints of misconduct or licensure incompliance because of federal and state laws, even if reported by a client or resident.

The main concern related to the bad actors in the SLH industry is that these homes run primarily for profit due to the lack of oversight. In many scenarios, unlicensed SLHs charge their tenants unregulated rent prices as high as $75,000 a month with the promise of providing a safe and sober living environment for clients to rehabilitate. Many facilities have been able to take advantage of insurance covered treatment costs that have been subsidized by government programs, without any type of eligibility thresholds to receive these dollars. Those recovering from addiction have been compelled to seek treatment in places like California or in western states at higher rates than other parts of the country because of the attractiveness of licing in a welcoming climate, and operators’ promises of ‘resort-style’ recovery. An overwhelmning number of residents who live in western state sober living homes come from across the country, basing their move on operator advertisements and the draw of leaving behind negative influences and lifestyles in preparation for their treatment.

Unfortunately, these seeking treatment are often in desperate need, including families trying to find a safe environment for their young adult or teenage children. In 2011, 20 – year old Brandon Jacques’ family paid a Prescott, Arizona facility $14,500 a month to provide a sober living environment for their son. After he experienced an alcohol related incident in the Prescott home he was urged to move to a more ‘effective’ home in Newport Beach, California, by the owner and operator of these SLHs. When Brandon got to the Newport Beach facility he was moved to yet another home, in exchange for different profits traded between SLH operators. Within two months, Brandon died in the sober living home because he still had access to alcohol and was still practicing abusive behaviors. The only entity in the state of California with the authority to investigate misconduct didn’t intervene or revoke associated licenses connected to the operators and owners until after Brandon’s death.

Sadly, Brandon’s case, is not the only incident of this kind. While those circumstances are egregious, many residents experience other negative fallouts including, continued substance use, poor living conditions, physical abuse, and the most frequent, the potential for homelessness. If a resident is unable to continue paying the high premium of rent, their insurance has run out, or their treatment is deemed to be over; SLH residents end up on the street and have become a part of the growing homeless population. California cities working with homeless individuals have reported that this has been the case. Especially affecting many out of state former SLH residents. These residents had no other place to go, and in many cases, went back to abusing alcohol or other drugs.


The previously described sober living home problems are not unique to Orange County cities or even the state of California, sober living home challenges transcend city, county and state lines. ACC-OC is working vigorously to find commonsense solutions to the currently broken system, but our voices would be much louder if they were heard together. We need our neighboring states and cities to join in our efforts to impact federal law. The sober living home laws passed at the state and local levels cannot truly have an impact until the risk of those laws being challenged or superseded at the national level have been diminished. The reforms introduced by H.R. 472 would be a welcome resource for cities across the country, and especially in our western region. We are inviting you to join the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition to help advocate for bills like H.R. 472 and other national regulatory and legislative efforts to reform sober living homes.

Please join our coalition by signing on to the attached document. This will allow us to include your city’s affiliation on Coalition approved joint letters, shared advocacy information, and general Coalition promotion and outreach. Should you have any questions about the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition or about ACC-OC, please contact Diana Coronado, ACC-OC’s Legislative Affairs Director, at (714) 953-1300 or at We hope to be a resouce to you, and we look forward to working with you and your City on this important mission!


Heather Stratman

Chief Executive Officer

Association of California Cities – Orange County

Public Pressure works! – BoS authorizes $5m in new housing for homeless people with serious mental illnesses

Building public pressure does work to influence our elected representatives, as seen in the BoS’ increased attention to issues of homelessness in the County. Most recently, they have voted to spend $5million in new monies targeted at services for mentally ill homeless. Most of the attention is directed at the “riverbed homeless” and those in North Orange County (as we have mentioned before). Its too bad that our City officials don’t seem to engage with the County on this issue, giving Laguna no seat at the table when public monies are directed towards this problem.

Read more at the Voice of OC:

Noting Public Pressure, OC Supervisors Approve Homeless Services and Housing

Kraemer Place – Phase 1 Year-Round Homeless Shelter Opens in Anaheim

The OC Board of Supervisors celebrated the opening of Phase 1 of  “Bridges at Kraemer Place”  last week. This will be OC’s first year-round shelter outside of Laguna’s ASL.  When Phase 2 opens, the facility will be able to house 200 residents.  However, based on the most recent survey of OC’s homeless, this is just a drop in the bucket in comparison to the need.  Plus, priority will be given to homeless from North County… (we’ve heard this Residency Test applied before).

County’s First Year-Round Homeless Shelter Opens

FPPC Issues Warning Letter To Mr. Dicterow

On April 24, 2017 the FPPC issued a Warning Letter to Mr. Dicterow as a result of the sworn complaints filed against him in October and November of 2016.  Broadly, the FPPC found that Mr. Dicterow had failed to properly disclose his ownership of non-primary-residence income property he owns within his area of influence; going back to at least 2012. However, since he immediately filed an amended 2016 Candidate Form 700 once the complaint was filed they believed this multi-year snafu was a mere oversight, sloppiness or failure to understand the filing rules.  As for the second complaint, that Mr. Dicterow had failed to disclose income received from a business with current, past, or future operations in Laguna Beach, they failed to find evidence of such operation, and hence reaffirmed that he needn’t disclose such income.

What is an FPPC “Warning Letter” and how serious is it?  From the FPPC’s website:

  • Warning Letters – A Warning Letter is issued if a violation of the Act is found but the seriousness of the offense is low, public harm is minimal, and/or other mitigation is found so that a monetary fine is not warranted. Since no administrative penalty is imposed, these letters are issued by the Enforcement Division and do not require approval by the Commissioners. A warning letter can be considered a prior action by the Enforcement Division when considering a future penalty.


LagunaBeachCHAT is satisfied with the decision.  This author (who made the sworn complaints against Mr. Dicterow) believes too, that Mr. Dicterow probably did not materially gain advantage through his position on the City Council with regards to his property in Laguna Woods. But he might have or might in the future and citizens of Laguna Beach deserve to know about his economic interests in this property.  As for the second complaint, this author realizes that he failed to ‘connect the dots’ well-enough for the FPPC to find for that complaint. We still believe that Mr. Dicterow’s ‘unusual’ legal-retainer income for American Computer Optics Inc., owned by a  Laguna Beach resident with occasional business coming before the council, should have been disclosed.  Although the FPPC could not find that ACO conducted business in Laguna Beach (thereby requiring any income derived from this company to be disclosed by Mr. Dicterow), I strongly believe Mr. Dicterow has an obligation to reveal this income arrangement to Laguna Beach’s citizens as long as it continues.

In the end analysis, LagunaBeachCHAT remains concerned and perplexed at how a (now) 5-term City Council member who is by profession, an attorney could have been filing Form 700s for 16 years and fail to understand or worse, feel that accurate disclosures were so trivial, so as not to have understood the filing guidelines and minimum requirements. Rest assured that if we come into additional information with regards to ACO’s operations, or indeed discover any other unreported material economic interest of any of our City council members, we will investigate, and where warranted, file future sworn complaints with the FPPC.

We provide the reader with the FPPC Warning Letter here.

To read the original posting about the complaints here on this site, click here.

Big money convinces Council to support continued mansionization of coastline

Last night’s (18April17) relatively brief city council meeting spent a lot of time on Public Hearing item #2, which was an appeal against the Design Review Board’s denial of a variance to tear-down & replace a ‘possibly’ historical bluff-top home in South Laguna (31987 Coast Highway).  As is so often the case with items that are brought to the City Council after having been ‘decided’ by a City board or committee, this was a De Novo hearing, meaning the evidence for both sides was to be heard as if nothing had been presented before…all new.

The home in question was never officially on the historic registry, but once plans were proposed by the new owner to raise the house & replace it with an enormous glass & steel modern structure, the city balked and claimed (somewhat ambiguously) that the home might be of historic significance.  Different studies by different ‘historic registry’ consultancies came to different conclusions.  What was not disputed, however, was that this home was the 1st to sit atop the ocean bluff near 1000 steps, and had become iconic to those who frequented the beaches in that area.

The new owner, Mr. Andy Dimitri (CEO of Eximware, a vendor in the cloud-based commodity trading software area) pulled out all the stops. He had a vast array of guns-for-hire (who all got 3 minutes to speak in favor of the project), in addition to his lead gun-fighter, Mr. Larry Nokes (local attorney and involved in all 3 agenda items for tonight’s meeting) who started things off with a 5 minute presentation. I counted 7 people (in addition to Mr. Dimitri himself) who spoke in favor of the appeal. Nokes, Mr. Tom Davis (Davis Law, who represented the seller’s estate in the sale to Mr. Dimitri), Brian Genette (architect), Structural engineer, historical preservationist, CEQA consultant, geological consultant, & 1 neighbor who would benefit from the new building’s setback, all spoke in favor of the appeal because:

a) existing structure is unstable & would have to be partially demolished to stabilize it anyway,

b) existing structure was never revealed to be historic and even so, it doesn’t merit that classification because its quite plain

In support of keeping the structure & denying the appeal were 2 neighbors, and Ann Christoph (representing So Laguna Civic Assoc) who each got 3 minutes to speak.  They were completely and totally outgunned, as you would imagine.

In the end, it was Mr. Dicterow, who famously ran his most recent re-election campaign on several themes, including “Keep the Charm and Character” of Laguna Beach, who boldly stated that he didn’t see clear evidence that the structure in question had any historic value. Hence he was inclined to grant the appeal (thus allowing for the destruction of the existing home).  Mr. Boyd agreed with him. Ultimately, Mr. Dicterow made the motion (Boyd seconding) which carried with a 3/2 vote in favor of granting the appeal and thus allowing the destruction.  Yes, Ms. Iseman voted to grant this appeal; we believe her vote was influenced by the fact that bringing the existing structure up to code would require inserting numerous 86′ deep caissons into the bluff top and partially demolishing the structure. The vote :

Ayes-Dicterow, Boyd, Iseman

Noes: Whalen, Zur Schmiede

The approval did not, however, approve the current proposed design of the vast new building.  That battle will continue.

I was struck how someone who tried to cast himself as a ‘keeper of the character and charm’ could lead the charge to bulldoze Laguna’s past. But in the end, Mr. Dicterow has always been a staunch supporter of ‘property rights’. He is very consistent with that philosophy.  But think about it;  believing in strong property rights is entirely incompatible with ‘keeping the character and charm’ of a place. That circle can’t be squared.

As usual, we must analyze the campaign donations:

Homeless in the OC

In Orange County, new research from UC Irvine estimates an overall savings of $42 million per year if every chronically homeless person is provided permanent supportive housing.  The solution to this growing problem will require that all of our leaders work together, County, Cities, non-profits, communities of faith and the homeless themselves (those not suffering from mental illness) to break the cycle that sees up to 15,000 people a year experiencing at least 1 incident of homelessness, in Orange County. Read more from the Voice of OC here.

OC Supervisor removal of homeless encampment: decisive action or strong-arm tactic

The Voice of OC has reported that Supervisor Shawn Nelson (District 4: northwest Orange County) had the riverbed homeless encampment near Anaheim Stadium along the Santa Ana river removed. The justification given was that the removal was needed for flood control purposes.  Anyone who’s seen Mr. Nelson, an attorney, in action knows he’s not averse to bold action or courting controversy.  This action is likely to attract another ACLU lawsuit on behalf of those displaced.

Given our City’s ongoing issues with increasing homelessness and ever more ‘assertive’ homeless, how do you view provocative moves such as Mr. Nelsons?

Measure LL Oversight Committee Appointments – Pay-to-Play

The Laguna Beach City Council recently made its appointments to the LL Oversight Committee.  Readers will recall that the ordinance that was overwhelmingly approved by local voters on 8Nov16 provided for an “Citizens’ Oversight Committee” made up of appointed residents.  This committee was to review the uses of the LL tax revenues to ensure that the City Council was indeed spending the monies as promised:

  • Public Safety
  • Utility Undergrounding
  • Street & Beach Cleanliness
  • Protecting beaches from pollution

Specifically, the Meaure LL Citizens’ Oversight Committee’s charter is to:

  • Conduct annual audits
  • Review expenditures
  • Provide public reports

LagunaBeachCHAT conducted an analysis of the applicants donations to the Measure LL campaign, as well as donations to City Council members.  The results showed an APPEARANCE of favoritism shown to LL supporters and campaign donors.

If the City Council wanted the LL Oversight Committee to represent an independent voice of oversight, their methodology of appointing big donors and known-LL supporters has completely undermined this intent.

Read more here:  Campaign Donation Analysis of LL Candidates.

Pension cost explosion – When City Councils don’t understand the financials

The link takes you to an article detailing the pension costs in the City of El Monte, where 38% of the City’s General Fund budget goes to paying for pension costs. it also describes a broken system where one group gets a pension enhancement, and this is then used by other groups to lobby for the same. Oftentimes the City Councils that are being ‘sold’ these justifications don’t understand the cost implications of what they’re voting on. Even worse, many of these budget-busting proposals for pension sweeteners are approved unopposed by voters who are understandably confused by the proposals and unclear as to the ruinous cost implications.

Whenever the tax paying public hears politicians or union leaders using the justification of “we need to keep and attract the best”, or “our pay and/or benefits are not competitive…”, watch out. Lets be clear. Our public employees, including safety personnel are RICHLY rewarded as it currently stands.