Council Moves To Censure Councilman Peter Blake

Resident Peter Blake was elected to the LB City Council in the November 2018 election. He took office in January, 2019. Since that time, friction began to develop between Councilman Blake and LB constituents over his verbal outbursts including professional and personal insults and overall aggressive behavior towards residents when they spoke publicly during city council meetings. The city council, city manager and the city attorney began to receive numerous complaints from residents who expressed fear of being verbally attacked by Councilmember Blake during meetings and shared their feelings that our Council Chambers now felt like a hostile government environment. Some residents stated that they felt as though they were also being insulted and harassed by Councilman Blake in emails from their communications sent directly to other council members.

After months of public turmoil, in September 2019, it became necessary for the LB City Council to create and adopt the City Decorum & Civility Policy. Councilman Blake voted for the D&C Policy but since has refused to abide by it and any other governmental conduct order including Roberts Rules of Order relevant to public official conduct.

Blake has rejected all attempts to address the issue and offer city council members and residents relief from such unruly official behavior has prompted an official censure action based upon the guidelines of City Decorum Policy by newly elected City Councilmember George Weiss. This censure resolution will be heard on March 9, 2021.

Note: The March 9, 2021 agenda item, meeting video footage, all constituent written censure related communications and attachments and the final City Council votes and decision will be added to this site following the meeting.

View Censure item #18 video here.

Media coverage on call for Censure of CC Peter Blake

LA TIMES

VOICE OF OC

STUNEWS

DAILY PILOT

OC REGISTER

VOICE OF OC 

LB INDY

STU NEWS

STU NEWS

One example of the disrespect Peter Blake shows for Laguna’s elected officials and residents taken from one of the the above interviews states,

“I’m the only one in a spineless group of council people that stands up and fights back. And yes, I have fought back. And yes, I have at times been brash and I’m proud of it. I have no issues with it whatsoever,” Blake said. “The silent majority in this community, they support me.”

The public pushback about Peter Blake’s behavior has been ongoing for well over two years. Volumes of local public outcry at city council meetings, in local print media and social media platforms exists from various resources such as The Laguna Beach Indy, Stunews, LB/SL Nextdoor, YouTubea, FB and individual private accounts. Other sources will be added to this site as they become available.

LB resident Michael Morris is often a target of Councilman Peter Blake because of his high-level involvement in Laguna Beach civics and his outspoken position on Blake’s behavior. Mr. Morris regularly offers input to the city council on finance and other important issues and is well respected by the community. Mr. Morris is also a founder of Laguna Resident First (LRF), a political action committee formed to give residents a voice regarding major developments and other city impact issues. Video footage on multiple examples of Blake’s in sessions conduct to residents can be viewed here

View an open letter to City Council from Resident Lorene Laguna with video footage of Councilmember Peter Blake’s comments during a council session here

Peter Blake “Mr. Monster” city council vides footage can be viewed here

Here is just a sampling of CC Peter Blake public newspaper exchanges with constituents who have spoken out about his intimidating and behavior.
2019-2021

We are finding that what Laguna Beach constituents are going through with a public official who is a self-proclaimed bully may not be unique. But how it gets handled and resolved is.

What are your thoughts about elected’s behavior? Should they be allowed to degrade voters they have differences with in public and private? Please share your experiences with us.

City Welcomes New Police Chief

A message from the new LBPD Chief Robert Thompson:

On behalf of my family and myself, I want to thank the people of Laguna Beach for
a warm welcome. As a frequent visitor to the city, we have been amazed at the
kindness of the people we’ve met, the spectacular beach and dining. It was this
experience as visitors which led us to embracing the exciting opportunity to join the
team as a member of the police department. Laguna Beach is a special place, a
place people choose to be, and one we are humbled to be a small part of.

I remain committed to helping provide accurate and timely information, being
accessible to the community, and listening and learning as policing in America
evolves in this new era. The men and women of the Laguna Beach Police
Department and dedicated and committed to the safety and welfare of all residents
and guests. With the support of the community, I am confident we are wellpositioned
to continue to provide the service the people of Laguna Beach deserve
and expect.

Thank you all for the kindness you’ve shown my family as we settle in Orange
County, and I look forward to serving this outstanding community.

Looking for the latest data on Crime and Safety in Laguna Beach – Click Here

To Learn more on the city’s new Police Chief’s background view the article in Public CEO here.

Call To Laguna Residents – Register To Vote!

  Laguna  Beach Residents

  REGISTER TO VOTE!

You must register before you can vote. That can be done online. Have your drivers’ license number and the last four digits of your social security number handy. Then click on www.ocvote.com/registration/register-to-vote and follow the easy steps. Same day voter registration will also be available at Vote Centers that will open 14 days before election day, which is Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Registrar’s office has done a detailed evaluation and lots of staff training to be ready for safe in-person voting at these Centers. That includes buildings that allow for social distancing at all times, frequent wipe downs, disposable pens and security envelopes, lots of markers, signage, and reminders to keep things flowing safely and smoothly.

CAST YOUR VOTE!

The Voter Information and Sample Ballot booklet mailing to voters begins September 24th. This information will also be available online. Every registered voter will also be sent a ballot by mail.  These come with pre-paid return envelopes.  Mailing of ballots to voters begins October 5th.  

There are three ways to vote and you can track your ballot online to insure it reached the Registrar.

  1. Mail your ballot via US Postal Service mail.
  2. Drop your ballot into one of 110 Drop Boxes that will be available around Orange County. These are tamper-proof, 1,000-pound military grade steel boxes, with a drop slot big enough only for two envelopes, so no hand can reach in. They are open 24/7 and picked up daily or every other day. Phone numbers will also be available at the boxes for questions.
  3. Vote in-person at 167+ Vote Centers around Orange County. This is not the old polling place system. You can vote at any Vote Center that is convenient for you. They will have a full electronic roster to validate your eligibility so your vote will be final, not provisional.

VOTE by Tuesday, November 3, 2020!

BE COUNTED!   Vote early this year. Your vote is so important!  

USPS Mail might be slow. To be counted your ballot must be received

on or before election day, November 3,2020.

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

Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) State Law Causing A Household Stir…

No matter what position you hold on the issue of providing and regulating additional housing within Laguna Beach the subject has become extremely controversial.

Much of the controversy is in response to the interpretation of the new California State Law 65852.2 (click here for pdf) related to the creation of Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) by municipalities. The new law was signed by Governor Brown last year. The State’s intent was to address a proposed California housing deficit and to encourage more affordable housing options, especially in coastal and higher-income areas. The new State law promotes less restrictive ordinance guidelines and other than State guidelines and existing zoning codes, minimal interference by municipalities. In essence, the push is to relax or loosen-up current housing use restrictions to accommodate more renters and provide homeowners looking to generate extra income the option of sharing their home or
unused space.

Laguna Beach has an existing Single Resident Unit (SRU) Ordinance 25.17 (click here for pdf) and is currently in the process of updating the ordinance to comply with the new State Law requirements.

According to Monique Alanz-Flejter, AICP, Associate Planner, Community Development Department, City of Laguna Beach. “We are currently accepting and processing applications with the current SRU Ordinance criteria, as well as adhering to the parking exemptions required by State law, and waiver of water and sewage connection fees, and exceptions for fire sprinkler requirements. A draft ordinance will be presented to the Planning Commission on December 13, 2017 for their final recommendation to the City Council on the proposed changes.”

This topic should be of interest to all property owners and residents as changes to the current LB SRU ordinance regulations will have a direct impact on Laguna’s residential neighborhoods, city-wide density, parking, students, those with disabilities and senior populations and possibly yet unknown shared taxpayer fiscal considerations. LBCHAT encourages homeowners and residents to review the local SRU ordinance, the new State Law and the revised draft ordinance (when made available to public) and to communicate your thoughts and opinions to the Planning Commission as well as the City Council when the final recommendation goes forward.

Please feel free to share your thoughts via our contact page and we will add your comments below this article. There are strong opinions and support on both sides of this issue. Lets hear from our subscribers!

Guest Articles – Laguna Historic Ordinance Meeting

The City Council is accepting applications for the Historic Preservation Ordinance Task Force. The Historic Preservation Ordinance Task Force was created by the City Council at its January 23, 2018, City Council meeting.

The Task Force will consist of (9) nine members of the Public selected by two City Council members who will act as liaisons and non-voting members of the Task Force. The purpose of the Historic Preservation Ordinance Task Force will be to attempt to reach consensus on the Historic Preservation Ordinance and to provide recommendation(s) back to the City Council.

Applicants may be contacted by a City Council member prior to the appointments so please be prepared to make a brief statement about your desire to serve on this Task Force. Laguna Beach residents who are interested in serving on the Historic Preservation Ordinance Task Force should obtain an application from the City Clerk’s office or on-line from the City’s website, www.lagunabeachcity.net and file by Wednesday, February 28, 2018, at 5:30 p.m. Questions may be directed to the City Clerk’s office at 497-0705. Applications will not be accepted after the February 28, 2018 deadline.


Let Laguna Live (LLL) appears to be the only organized effort to stop the adoption of the “revised” historical preservation ordinance. LLL having a meeting for all interested citizens and homeowners in Laguna Beach. Please attend for information about the Historic Preservation Ordinance and how it will affect your property. There are ways you can get involved to keep your property rights intact. The Let Laguna Live! Board and an expert will discuss next steps.

I have written a lot on this subject but let me try to summarize my position. I would like LLL advocate these positions and welcome any support.

Some facts:

  1. CEQA does not mandate any city adopt a historical ordinance, registry, inventory or survey. The City is free to design their own local historical program .. or not have one at all. (I have this in writing from the Local Government & Environmental Compliance Unit
    California Office of Historic Preservation)
  2. All local building permits are exempt from CEQA unless a structure in on the federal state or local “registry.”
  3. Creating an “inventory” or “survey” traps all the homes on this list in the CEQA review process AGAINST the will of the home owner.
  4. Laguna is the only City I can find that requires registered home owners to sign a perpetual contract that can never be terminated.
  5. The proposed ordinance to declare all homes over a certain age to be a “potential historical resources” subjects these homes to time consuming, costly CEQA environmental reviews .. without the owner’s consent or due process.
  6. The Laguna ordinance PROHIBITS an unregistered home owner from filing for Mills Act (a 10 yr contract with substantial property tax reduction) UNLESS the first sign a PERPETUAL contract .. only to learn the City will not grant MILLS ACT. This is a huge disinceti8ve to participate in the historical preservation program.

What needs to be done;

City Council should REJECT the proposed amendments and instruct the staff to draft a NEW ordinance based on simple policy positions:

  1. All applications for Registration should be VOLUNTARY. Any property that is now registered without the consent or will of the homeowner should be allowed to terminate.
  2. The use of perpetual contract should be terminated. Like other cities, registration is voluntary and the regulation of a registered homes is controlled the city code enforcement just like any other permit.
  3. Halt all efforts to create a “survey” or “inventory”. Stop spending taxpayer money on outside consultants who drive by your home and place you on a list against your will. These “lists” serve no purpose other than to encumber homes without due process.
  4. Marking un-registered homes “potentially historical” because of their ages should be rejected.
  5. Process applications for registration with Mills Act concurrently. You get both or you get nothing. Other Cities do this .. Pasadena is the best example.
  6. Draft the new ordinance to minimize CEQA review of historical resources. State that only registered homes are subject to CEQA review .. thus limiting future demolition and remodeling.
  7. Drop incentives such as reduced fees and variances from energy and environmental codes for registered homes. They have little value as financial incentives. Registered homes that violate current energy efficiency laws should be brought up to code to save energy, GHG emissions, fire safety, etc. This is a public safety issue. Safety is more important that preserving an old dangerous structure.

Please feel free to state your own positions and attend this meeting.

Douglas H. Cortez

* 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.

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.

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.

Swimming After Gold or Plunging into Red Ink?

In 2016’s Laguna Beach Community Survey, respondents were asked to rate 21 different ‘perceived local problems’ in terms of seriousness. Respondents could select:

  • Extremely Serious
  • Very Serious
  • Somewhat Serious
  • Not too Serious
  • Don’t know

in response.  As you might imagine, issues such as traffic congestion on PCH & LCR, traffic congestion on local streets, number of homeless,  and insufficient public parking topped the rankings. For example, 71% of  respondents felt traffic congestion on PCH/LCR was an extremely or very serious problem.  At the 20th position (of 21) was the issue: “Lack of Recreation Facilities”.  This perceived local problem was seen as Extremely or Very serious by slightly less than 10% of respondents. 63% felt the issue was “Not too serious”.   Only “911 emergency response times” was seen as less problematic in the survey, with slightly less than 4% indicating this in the top 2 categories.* Given this statistically significant feedback, the impartial observer could not be blamed for being surprised at the passionate rhetoric being heard about the desperate need for a second public pool in Laguna Beach.

Is the Current LB High School Pool so Bad?

The current public-accessible pool is owned by the Laguna Beach High School, but maintenance costs are shared between the city and LBUSD, much like the Park Avenue tennis courts. According to the city’s website on the pool:

The Laguna Beach Community & High School Pool offers water polo and swim teams for kids of all ages, water aerobics classes, swim lessons for children of all abilities, and Masters’ swim programs. We also offer lap and recreational swim times every day. Laguna Beach High School also uses the pool for their swim and water polo team practices.

There are no doubt a varying community of users beyond the High School swim and water polo teams.  Indeed casual observation confirms that there is a lot of activity at the pool site (at least during the daylight hours when this author typically passes by). So, we have an existing pool that is well used, especially during the school year when LB sports teams are active.  Another common complaint about the existing pool is that is is not “Olympic” sized; to be sure the current pool allows only 25 yard(/meter?) lengths as opposed to the 50 meters of an Olympic pool. However, throughout the U.S., 25 meter length pools are the most common, so Laguna Beach isn’t a outlier in that regard.

Who is Promoting the Idea

With that background, we are wondering how the debate about a possible second public pool in Laguna Beach became so passionate.  Insofar as lack of a second public pool would fall into the “lack of recreation facilities” bucket, shouldn’t more local folks have indicated this as either Extremely Serious or at least, Very Serious on the Community Survey, if indeed it was a common sentiment?  Or are we witnessing an extremely vocal minority pushing for its pet project loudly and frequently whenever the opportunity arises?

An extensive search through City Council/LBUSD meeting documents shows that the topic of a “Potential for a second community pool” was agendized for the joint CC/LBUSD meeting held on 24Jan2017.  At that meeting, school board member Ketta Brown showed her support for the construction of a larger pool with the statement: “…glaring need in the City”.

Its likely that the very vocal and well organized group of “2nd pool boosters” who regularly attend City Council meetings and speak in favor of a 2nd community pool have built support via the Laguna Beach Unified School District board and have expanded their efforts at lobbying the City Council.  As early as February 2016, in response to 4 parents’ public comments in support of a second pool (Christine Kelleher, Susan Lewis, Richard & Eleanor Ramsey), Mr. Whalen voiced support for the concept.  Since then, City Council meetings have seen many speakers during the public comments period, speak in favor of a second pool.

Here Come The Consultants

Last February during the City Council’s mid-year budget update, item 17 read: “Lang Park Community Pool Geotechnical Environmental Investigation, Public Outreach – $80,000”.  This item was approved by all 5 council members.  Interestingly, this same vote also approved the additional funding for the (in)famous City Wayfinding Signage program in the amount of $300,000.  In the notes for the 19 funding items being considered was the rather matter-of-fact footnote that ultimately approving the project for the Lang Park Community Pool would require a 1-time set-aside of $15,000,000 (fifteen million dollars) to the Capital Improvement Fund.

The $80,000 appropriation followed an initial $15,000 spent on a consultancy to locate an ideal spot for a second pool. The other guidelines that were provided by the City to the consultancy were:

  • Constructing a 33 meter by 25 yard pool(!!!)
  • Adjacent teaching pool
  • 100-space parking deck (assumes multiple-level)
  • Project should not impact existing major features, including playground, tennis & basketball courts and community center

It is unclear whether the potential of locating the facility at Lang Park was suggested as a starting point, or whether the consultancy was allowed to explore all possible sites within the city.  Please note the 1st bullet point; the proposed second public pool will not be Olympic-sized according to these guidelines. So, for those advocating the second pool because of this feature, they appear to be misinformed. As best we can determine, this second proposed pool will be similar in size to the existing pool.

Public Pool Resources Elsewhere in OC

LagunaBeachCHAT investigated the current public pool resources in all 34 cities in Orange County last January, when we first started seeing the repeated comments in favor of a second pool during city council public comments. We felt that by analyzing the number of public-accessible pools elsewhere, we might better understand the real needs of our community.  What we found was:

  • Locating information on public-accessible pool resources throughout the 34 cities in OC was exceedingly difficult
  • Number of public-accessible pool resources is a poor metric; public-accessible pool hours is better but very hard to determine
  • Public-accessible pool resources differ; some are not suitable for activities such as team water polo or even lap swimming

So, take these caveats to heart when you review the data. Here is what we found.  Population data is based on the 2010 US census (some cities provided 2015 updates, and when available, these numbers were used):

OCPublicPools-vDraft-RO

We thought we would find a moderate positive correlation between city population and number of public-accessible pool resources. It turns out that there is only a very weak positive correlation, which means that other factors are in play (accepting of course, that correlation is never causation).  If population size isn’t significantly correlated to increased numbers of public-accessible pools, what might be at play?

Critical Mass

Looking at the spreadsheet data, the City of Placentia stands out for its 4 public-accessible pools (2 public sites and 2 High School sites).  This for a city with roughly twice the population of Laguna Beach.  Many folks will recall that one of the best female swimmers of her generation, Janet Evans, grew up in Placentia and nearby Fullerton, CA.  She started competing in school events including El Dorado High School in Placentia, CA. Evans was a world champion and world record-holder in distance free-style swimming, and won a total of four gold medals at the 1988 and the 1992 Olympics. Many of her long-distance world records stood for nearly 20 years. Currently the Swim Team of Placentia, which is affiliated with USA Swimming operates out of one of the Placentia facilities.  What we take away from the example of Janet Evans is that ample opportunities for swimming activities during her youth helped her hone her natural abilities, to ultimately become a champion.  We believe that her astonishing success built enthusiasm and support for swimming endeavors in Placentia that helped to create a critical mass of talent, coaching, facilities and funding to that city.

Laguna Beach has also seen its sons and daughters succeed on the international stage in various sporting events.  The remarkable water polo achievements of the Makenzie sisters in the 2016 Olympics and World Championships as well those of Annika Dries (2012) have helped to build enthusiasm for the sport.  The city also has its share of Olympic and world champion volleyball players.  If any of these champions come to dominate their respective sports we could expect residents’ support and enthusiasm levels to continue to grow.  With this growth, Laguna Beach might eventually see a critical mass of factors coalesce, resulting in momentum towards building a ‘sports dynasty’ to replicate its past sporting success.  It is reasonable to expect that with additional public/private funding for improved coaching and facilities, Laguna Beach would improve the rankings of its various sports teams.

Dollars and Cents

Pools are expensive to build, but also very costly to maintain.  When this author lived in a condo with a pool only in operation from Memorial Day to Labor Day (3+ months), the operational costs of the pool were among the top-5 annual expenditures of the HOA.  Its unlikely that any public pool can operate on the income generated by admissions fees alone. They will always require tax-dollars/additional funding for operations, let alone to service any debt that might be incurred for construction. And that is the core issue for Laguna Beach tax payers to consider.  The debt placed upon local tax payers to service the bonds that would have to be issued for construction, will be significant. Together with the low priority that the vast majority of LB residents place on a second public-accessible pool (as extrapolated from the LB Community Survey responses), it is questionable whether public financing is justifiable.  Indeed, given the many other infrastructure priorities that the Community Survey revealed, a publicly financed second public-accessible pool would likely fail a popular vote.

Others have suggested that a way forward would be for a public/private partnership.  Indeed, LagunaBeachCHAT is amenable to exploring such a possibility. Perhaps the city could provide the land necessary for a second public-accessible pool. Through is contribution of land (a significant contribution, to be sure), Laguna Beach residents would be offered ‘resident’ entry fees. But to be clear, we feel that the funding for construction as well as the substantial ongoing operations would have to be financed privately.  Those seeking to establish a Laguna Beach water polo dynasty need to seek private sources to fund their plans. Tax payers are already paying the costs of the existing High School pool; its unreasonable to expect them to carry the burden for a second facility.

*A total of 543 responses were received from 6000 residents whose email addresses were available from voter registration files and commercial lists. With this number of respondents, there is an overall margin of error of +- 4.2% and a confidence interval of 95%.

Laguna Beach Public Safety Information and Statistics

Updates:

Public Safety Message from the Chief of Police August 2018. Click here

OC Register Article on Laguna Beach City Crime. Click here

SpotCrime Map Laguna Beach.  Click here

City Manager Crime Report 2018. Click here

Additional City Crime Comparison information can be found here

Crime Statistical Report by Michael Morris, Laguna Beach Resident 2017

Laguna’s public safety personnel often claim that they simply don’t have the staffing to meet the demands placed on them. When residents’ complain of increases in property crimes, the reply is often that there simply aren’t enough personnel to patrol neighborhoods more often.  Also, the go-to boogeyman is often the oft mentioned “6 million tourists” per year that place such a burden on our public safety personnel and inflate the city’s public safety costs relative to other OC cities, making them seem so extraordinarily high.

LagunaBeachCHAT analyzed the available property- crime and violent-crime data and compared it with neighboring cities (Newport Beach and Dana Point). We also devised a normalization statistic that allows us to compare public-safety costs per person-day, using the best available data on visitors + residents for each city. That statistic is called “Cost per person-policing day”. The data come from the FBI – Uniform Crime Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice and are the most up-to-date that are available.

public-and-property-crime-1

 

violent-crime-rates-1

What we end-up with is a mixed picture. Looking at the Property Crime data (top-chart), we see that Laguna Beach sits between Dana Point on the low-end and Newport on the high-end.  The general profile of property-crime rates is very similar for all 3 cities (save for a spike in LB during the 2011 reporting period).

Informal analysis of the violent-crime statistics for all 3 shows a much more erratic picture. Laguna’s violent crime rate seems to have swung wildly from an extreme high in 2009 to an encouraging low in 2013 with an ominous spike in 2014. Somewhat surprisingly, Newport’s violent crime rate is far lower than either LB’s or Dana Points for most of the reporting period.

A final thought about costs. We created the “Annual Cost per Person-Policing Day” metric to try to account for the total person-days each city experiences during the course of a year. We used the best available city-resident + annual-tourist numbers that we could obtain from each city.  We consider the tourist numbers suspect, because there is no formal methodology reported, about how the numbers are determined, and the entities collecting/reporting the numbers vary from the cities themselves, to respective tourist-bureaus.  But assuming the annual visitor data reported for each city is relatively accurate, we can see that NB actually spends the most for police services annually per person-policing day, followed by Laguna.  Dana Point’s numbers are substantially lower, since that city contracts with the County Sheriff for their policing services, and the city doesn’t incur the same level of pension-benefits costs associated with a local city police force.

Favoritism At City Hall For Hedge and View Claims

Below find two different stories of victims of Laguna Beach City Hall who have both filed a Hedge Claim against neighboring residents, and city residents who are still being sued by the City due to neighbors not happy with the height of their hedges.

David Pahno’s Personal Story –

David Pahnos and Barry Stephens (sometimes referred to as “Pahnos and
Stephens”) have been the defendants in Orange County Superior Court Case Nos.
12HM05768 and 12HM05769 brought by the City of Laguna Beach. These were criminal
complaints based upon a local ordinance known as the Hedge Height Ordinance.
Pahnos and Stephens, a gay couple, are the only persons the City has taken to criminal
prosecution over the Hedge Height Ordinance. The ordinance purports to represent a
City policy but it has not been enforced against all residents of the City equally, but
rather discriminatorily, and in this instance, Pahnos and Stephens have been singled out
for no reason other than that they have insisted on being afforded their property rights,
physical safety, and constitutional rights, and because they made it clear from the outset
that they are intolerant of corruption and are themselves incorruptible.

Read more on this story here:

Stefanee Freedman’s Personal Story –

My neighbors Jane and Greg Bruzell, along with my father (and resident co-owner) Marshall Freedman and myself hired local attorney Larry Nokes and filed a hedge claim against our resident neighbor, Howard Jacobson, in July of 2014. In October of 2014, Tony Farr submitted a ruling that there were indeed hedge height violations in the Jacobson’s yard and they should be trimmed back. In December 2014, Howard Jacobson filed an appeal to Tony Farr’s findings that resulted in the issue going before city council to vote on the hedge claim findings. At that time Jacobson had hired Tom Davis as his council. A meeting was set for February 24, 2015 at which time both parties had agreed to work on a settlement.

exhibit-3-to-settlement-agreementAfter that meeting, The Bruzell’s, my father and I learned that attorney Tom Davis was no longer the Jacobson’s attorney and Steve Dicterow was now representing the Jacobson’s in our settlement agreement.  We were very happy to compromise with our neighbors, The Jacobsons and looked forward to signing an agreement that would satisfy all the parties. Dicterow never had any intention of getting his client, Jacobson, to sign that agreement and was instrumental at costing the Bruzells and myself more and more money with Nokes while he has been able to delay Jacobson from agreeing to the settlement and keeping it from the city. At this point, Tony Farr’s original findings to trim the hedge still stands at the city level and the Jacobsons have gotten away with refusing to comply or trim their hedge.

During this entire issue, Jane Bruzell was undergoing Chemotherapy for stage 4 breast cancer with two teen boys at home. My father was also suffering from terminal prostate cancer and passed away on June 3, 2015 never seeing the resolution to this issue before his death. Due to family issues surrounding my father’s passing, I had to sell my property at 31865 Cypress Lane just east of the Jacobson’s residence with a loss of $200,000 due to the view loss from the Jacobson’s reluctance to trim their hedges and Dicterow’s success in allowing the Jacobsons to never have to comply with the hedge claim findings from Tony Farr.

The Bruzells and myself seriously question Dicterow’s involvement while a city council member and feel he should have never represented a private party on a Hedge or View claim while he was a council member. Nor been allowed to help circumvent an agreement in the favor of the party he was (and still is) representing.

While Mayor Dicterow has been a council member he has allowed this Hedge Height dispute issue to remain unresolved and the matter has never reached an agreement or settlement while he has been in office. That is just bad government for the city of Laguna Beach!

Resident Files Two Sworn Complaints With FPPC* See 24April17 update!

Two sworn complaints have been filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) against Mayor Steve Dicterow for failure to properly disclose reportable economic interests. These sworn complaints have been combined into a single investigation. The first complaint was filed in October 2016 and the second in November of 2016.

Documents: FPPC Case No. 2016 -19821; Steven Dicterow:

First FPPC Complaint and Investigation Acknowledgement Letter November 3, 2016 *
Initial FPPC Confirmation Letter

Second FPPC Compliant and Investigation Acknowledgement Letter of November 29, 2016**
November 29 Letter

Below are the most recent Form 700s filed by Mr. Dicterow {see our Form 700s link for all filings for Laguna Beach elected officials, City employees, Outsourced city-attorney and appointed boards/commissioners}

700-2012_dicterow_steve

700-2013-dicterow_steve

700-2014-dicterow_steve

700-2015_dicterow_steve

*On October 25, 2016 after the FPPC notified Mayor Dicterow that a sworn complaint was received, he responded through local attorney Larry Nokes and amended only the 2016 Candidate Form 700 disclosure leaving the earlier disclosure forms in non-compliance. Worth noting: This amendment was executed seven days after the October 18, 2016 City Council meeting where his failure to report this asset was exposed and Mayor DIcterow discounted the accusation.
Updated Nokes Letter Amended 700 Form

** November FPPC Letter acknowledges second sworn complaint and its inclusion in the open investigation. Awaiting FPPC ruling, which will be posted upon receipt.


On April 24, 2017 the FPPC issued a Warning Letter to Mr. Dicterow as a result of the 2 sworn complaints.  Broadly, the FPPC found that Mr. Dicterow had indeed failed to properly disclose his ownership of non-primary-residence property he owned 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 was a mere oversight 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 he needn’t disclose such income.

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.

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.