City of Laguna Beach Ralph M. Brown Act Violation (2021)

For several months since June 29, 2021 the Laguna Beach City Council has been wrapped in controversy over whether or not they and city staff violated the Ralph M. Brown Act: Link to state Brown Act here.

The controversy ended with an investigation by the Orange County District Attorney’s office (DA) and the issuance of a formal letter confirming a violation and the assignment of closed session protocols as a mediation measure. The City of Laguna Beach agreed to these measures. See Orange County District Attorney’s Office and City of Laguna Beach Brown Act Documents: Click here

Laguna Beach Legal Counsel – Rutan & Tucker “Are we well-served” story to update R&T legal counsel concerns)

In addition to the LB City Council closed session Brown Act violation review the DA also provided a statement regarding a potential Brown Act violation by Council Member George Weiss. No confirmed violation was determined.

Council Member Weiss was formally “censured” by Council Members Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro-Ten Sue Kempf and Council Member Peter Blake for sharing a “closed session discussion” with the public prior to the DA investigation. Council Member Weiss holds that he could not have violated the Brown Act during the closed session meeting because the closed session topic under discussion was not properly noticed and therefore illegal. Council Member Weiss and several members of the public have requested that the censure be rescinded. To date there has been no acknowledgement of the public requests by Mayor Bob Whalen nor reminding action taken. (Click here to view Council Member Weiss addressing the Brown Act violation and censure during council meeting on 1)

LB City Council meeting related agendas/videos:

JUNE 29, 2021 Closed Session: Laguna Hotel discussion/action occurred proposed as violating Brown Act.

JULY 27, 2021: Public comment by resident Mark Fudge regarding his letter on July 13, 2021 to Mayor Whalen requesting specifics on the June 29 Closed Session Laguna Hotel potential litigation discussion. View here (Public Communications at 50:35 – 53:16 min.)

AUGUST 10, 2021: Council Agenda #12. Request of Mayor Whalen for censure of Councilmember Weiss and Councilmember Iseman for unauthorized disclosure of closed session confidential information (Whalen). View here

SEPTEMBER 28,2021: Council Special Meeting on potential litigation – District Attorney Letter Aledged Brown Act violation and City Response (Closed Session) – View here

OCTOBER 19, 2021: Multiple Closed Session and Brown Act references in minutes. View here

NOVEMBER 2, 2021: Mayor Bob Whalen acknowledges the City Council Brown Act Violation and apologizes to constituents and adoption of Closed Session Meeting Protocols – Consent # 9 – View here

(Public Communication starts at 23:16 – 39:12 min.)
MEDIA Coverage

OC District Attorney Says Laguna Beach City Council Violated Brown Act

Laguna Beach council’s closed session and leaks violated Brown Act, district attorney says

Letter: District attorney takes remedial action on Brown Act violation

PUBLIC FEEDBACK – Letters to Editors/ Council Member Communications.

Opinion: Bob Whalen we thought we knew ‘ya – By Alan Boinus – here

Letter: A Sorry Spectacle of Local Government – Kurt Wiese – here

Letter: District Attorney Takes Remedial Action on Brown Act Violation – Howard Hills – here

Letter on Councilmember Weiss Censure By Howard Hills

I have no involvement in the current Hotel Laguna developer’s renovation project or the city’s code enforcement in that case. Also, I’ve never met or spoken with Councilmember George Weiss, and did not vote for him. For me this matter is about transparency and justice in my hometown.

What can be confirmed at this time is that in response to a request by Weiss to investigate the Board’s conduct on June 29, the Orange County District Attorney has determined that from June 29 to the present, including on Aug, 10 when the Council censured Weiss, there has been more serious and actionable evidence the Council majority violated the Brown Act than there is that Weiss did so. Indeed, under the Brown Act exception to closed meeting requirements in CA Gov. Code Sec. 54963(e)(2), it is lawful for a Council member to disclose the factual and legal basis for challenging the legality and propriety of Council action purporting to lawfully close a meeting to the public.

In a letter of Sept. 21, 2021, the Special Prosecution Unit of the DA’s office rejects the finding of the Council that the closed meeting was lawfully convened. What this means is that the Agenda Item Report and hearing on Item 12 failed to provide adequate legal substantiation for the censure of Weiss.

It now appears that in defending the unlawful meeting closure of June 29 in his signed background paper in the Agenda Item Report on Aug. 10, the City Attorney intentionally and for purposes of improper undue influence on the Council misstated the factual and legal grounds for closing the June 29 meeting. It also seems clear that false narrative of that background document was known by the City Attorney and City Manager to be untrue.

It was only after Weiss outed the Council and City Hall for unlawfully closing a meeting that the narrative about the threat of a lawsuit by the developer of the Hotel Laguna project was then trafficked by City Hall insiders to the press and influencers. That attempt to bake into the record of the Aug. 10 meeting a retroactive notice of a litigation threat that was not properly and lawfully noticed for the June 29 meeting was clever to a fault. Worse has been Phil Kohn’s flip flop now telling the DA our Council was considering a lawsuit against that developer, even though not mentioned in the closed meeting.

That abuse of authority by Kohn is now imputed to the Council by the DA’s office because it ratified his actions and the assertions he made to cover up his actions on June 29 in the Agenda Item Report memo he signed for the August 10 meeting. If Mr. Kohn claimed threat of litigation was purpose for closed meeting knowing that was not stated in the closed meeting agenda notice, wouldn’t this fit the dictionary definition of “lying” to the Council and the public?

It is reasonable to conclude the members were aware meeting was closed improperly to deprive the public of its right to open meetings, which is potentially a misdemeanor under Brown Act.

The Council should rescind the censure resolution, make an official apology to both accused members, and determine if Kohn or City Manager should be fired for cause. The members of the Council may have protection from slander liability, but that does not change the nature of what was done to George Weiss, which was political slander.

Howard is a third-generation Laguna native active in City Council and School Board affairs since 1967.

Letter to Mayor Bob Whalen from MJ Abraham,LBCHAT Publisher – November 5,2021:

Dear Mayor Whalen,
Thank you for the personal “public apology” regarding the City Council’s role in violating the Ralph M. Brown Act. Respectfully, I agree with you; with your legal expertise and time served in public office, it should not have happened. And there’s no question that our City Attorney Phil Kohn shouldn’t have known better; although it’s clear from his state-of-confusion that City closed session meetings may have been illegally conducted for years. In fact, further concern was offered by Council Member Weiss in the November 2nd public meeting with the mention of another closed session meeting last January where improper discussion, behavior and action by Council Member Peter Blake related to the hiring of Shohreh Dupuis as City Manager took place with both you and Mr. Kohn present. This suggests that more instances of improper closed session protocol by officials and staff who supposedly have been trained, as boldly stated by Council member Sue Kempf, on the Brown Act and other government body responsibilities while performing their duties under the guidance of our legal counsel existed. IMO, this latest serious mishap is cause for Mr. Kohn to resign or be removed immediately and this Council should implement this action asap to begin restoring public trust.

Sadly, this stain is forever part of our City, its leadership history and your Mayoral legacy. While you cannot remove it or the public trust issues it has created, your apology was a start and now that the public knows that the Laguna Hotel project work-status was not a litigation matter and therefore not confidential nor appropriate to discuss in closed session and steps have been taken to not repeat it, I ask that you also offer a public apology to Council Member George Weiss and rescind the censure action initiated by you and Councilmembers Sue Kempf and Peter Blake based upon this meeting. Ignoring this issue won’t make it go away and it can and should be corrected.

Mayor, if you truly want to reset and try to move us in a more positive community direction – this would be a good step in that direction. Thank you for your time and consideration.


MJ Abraham
Laguna Beach Resident and Proud Community Activist
Founder: LBCHAT

Note: No response to this request received from Mayor Bob Whalen.

Updated – Council Moves To Censure Councilman Peter Blake

Updated – 08/11/21

Yet another Laguna Beach resident publicly expresses her concern about her interactions with City Councilman Peter Blake and his uncivil behavior.

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










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.

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.

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

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, 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.

Newspaper reports on Hedge Claim Lawsuit

Headline Reads – Tree-Killing In Laguna Beach

The majestic trees surrounding one 10th Avenue oceanview Laguna Beach home perched above Pacific Coast Highway were planted the same year Elizabeth Taylor, Edward Kennedy and Johnny Cash were born—in the months before Adolf Hitler ruled Germany, Japan occupied Shanghai and Franklin D. Roosevelt toppled President Herbert Hoover. At 80 years old, the trees have outlived Taylor, Kennedy, Cash, the Cold War and the New Deal, and on a recent afternoon, they showed no outward signs of looming natural death. But these trees have startlingly selfish and relentless enemies, including an Orange County Register reporter, determined to kill them.

Read the full story here