Guest Opinion: John Thomas

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


It’s Time To Act! according to resident John Thomas.

Read what John had to say to our City Council about our City financial challenges related to tourism and spending, and the question he poses directly to them – ”How are we going to pay for all the stuff we want to do?”

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

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

A 2017 study showed that, at that time, revenue the city received that was attributable to tourists was $23 million less than the added costs the city incurred due those visitors. Since that time the city budget and number of visitors have grown, so it is likely that the shortage is much greater today.

City leaders and staff have acknowledged this problem, and despite some early efforts, there has been little progress made in reducing this large subsidy by residents of visitors. Now is the time to act. The City Council could put on the November 2024 ballot a measure that will narrow the gap between revenue and costs associated with visitors. The number of ambitious and costly items currently under discussion by the City Council makes it even more important to reduce the visitor subsidy. The aggregate cost of some of these items could exceed
hundreds of millions of dollars. Without correcting the drain on city revenue due to visitor costs, it will be financially challenging for the city to proceed with even the most important projects. Three of the best possibilities for generating meaningful amounts of revenue for the city are 1) an adjustment in the business license fee structure that increases city revenue from the most tourist-focused businesses; 2) revising the current hotel tax to be on par with one-third of Orange County hotels, and 3) expanding pay parking for nonresidents to areas that are within walking distance of the beaches while allowing residents to continue to park for free in residential neighborhoods.

Alternatives would be to either raise taxes on residents, lower the level of city services provided by the city government, or borrow a lot of money.

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

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

A second way to generate revenue from visitors is to expand pay parking for nonresidents to areas throughout the city that are within walking distance of the beaches while allowing residents to continue to park for free in residential neighborhoods. And the third way could be to update Laguna’s current 12% hotel tax to match the third of the hotel rooms in Orange County that charge 15%. As a top Orange County visitor destination, it seems only fair that Laguna’s total hotel tax should be in line with other top Orange County tourist destinations.

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

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

Supporting Documents below:

1. Full letter to City Council
2. Original Guest Column at the Laguna Beach Indy
3. Balancing the Costs and Revenue Study
4. Coastal City Comparisons
5. City’s Visitors Inpact Report

Do you agree with John? Do you have other ideas on how to address our City tourism
financial challenges?

Guest Opinion: Michèle Monda

Michèle Monda is a resident with a passion for government transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability.

With an MBA from Wharton Business School and a career in advertising and marketing for major agencies and companies she uses her talents to build community arts; first resurrecting the Laguna Art Museum store and currently developing ArtStart for our landmark Hotel Laguna. She is married with three grown sons, two grandchildren and a feisty cat.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way; it’s called the California Public Record Act (CPRA)

Currently our Laguna Beach City government is anything but transparent. They provide the least amount of information publicly preferring to have you ask for information rather than just have it available. So how do you get it? Happily, there is a process and it’s called a California Public Record Act request (CPRA). It is an extension of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in 1967, has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) was enacted in 1968 to (1) safeguard the accountability of government to the public; (2) promote maximum disclosure of the conduct of governmental operations; and (3) explicitly acknowledge the principle that secrecy is antithetical to a democratic system of “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. The CPRA was the culmination of a 15-year effort by the Legislature to create a comprehensive general public records law.

The California Public Records Act defines “public records” as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” This includes emails and phone records.

So, let’s say you want to find out how much Laguna Beach has spent on consultants’ studies in the past year. You are entitled to know that information as a member of the public and they have to provide it to you. How do you do that?

Filing a CPRA with the City of Laguna Beach is an arduous multistep process but
actually not complicated. Here’s how it works:
Go on the City website at and click on Government and City Clerk.
Click on Public Records request and search.
Then click on Public records request portal. Agree to go to the external URL.
Click on Public records request which will take you to the form to fill out for your CPRA. When you’ve filled in the form click on submit.

I never said they would make it easy for you. If you’re like me, I get suspicious that they really don’t want you to file a CPRA and give them more work.

The city has 10 days to determine whether the records requested are subject to disclosure under the CPRA. By law they could take another 14 days to determine this but they must inform you of that if they do. Once they inform you if they have records that conform to your request, they will give you an estimate of how long it will take to fulfill that request. And that’s where they can slow walk this all they want. I have found that periodic reminders are a good idea to let them know you are paying attention. I have also found that they take as much time as they can so you have to be patient . . . to an extent.

My personal experience with this process was tortuous. My first CPRA requesting the footage from the City Manager’s traffic stop in November 2022 and attendant records was dismissed outright – they said there was nothing there to produce.

Then I got a First Amendment lawyer involved and used legal verbiage. Magically, while they very much slow walked the release, they decided that there were things that they could publicly release, although not the video. It took many letters to their lawyers, many appearances at City Council meetings and many emails to City Council members to finally get information 3 months later. They finally released a contextualized version of the body cam footage 5 months after my first request. This resulted in the City Manager “retiring” in September 2023, 9 months after my first request. Was it worth it? You bet. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely.

It’s your right to question the government. It’s their obligation to answer you. Use this CPRA process to get the information that you need to determine if they are serving you properly…or serving themselves.

Contact Michele Monda @

Guest Opinions: Tony Fisch

Tony Fisch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guest Opinions: Roger Bütow

Roger Bütow

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