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The story of our town

Once upon a time in a far off land, actually between Corona del Mar and Dana Point, there was a lovely pocket of land that had incredible views of the coastline and an expansive view of Catalina Island. This little pocket of land was surrounded by hillsides that eventually were populated by the many folks who were charmed by its little village, its panoramic view of the coastline – some of these views had names, Newport Beach and even Long Beach. The hills were dotted by live oak trees that had lived there for hundreds of years.  But then one day some early folks brought in some trees that were fast growers and cheap. There were other downsides to these trees – but this happens later in our story. 

Soon word got out about this special place and people started building homes, hotels, restaurants, and other stores of convenience. It wasn’t long that the flat lands were taken and folks started building in the hillsides. Many not paying attention if they blocked views, heck there was so much land who would care. Then famous art events were held in this little town and millions came to visit. 

In a few years, big homes with swimming pools, garages, and media rooms were built and space was at a premium, so were views. The City as it grew with the town had many things to worry about – traffic, parking, water and sewage control, parks, and people were demanding more attention to property rights and views. Some things were easier to take care of, but not everything. Especially when a group of people decided that they knew what was best for everyone living in what is now known as Laguna Beach. Some of the issues they picked on like height limitations were good – that resulted in building codes. However, like all groups who think they control things, they became a bit outspoken and sometimes even rude. Some of the group members planted trees to block views, others thought of ways of blocking expansion, not letting parking structures be built, they even wanted to plant more eucalyptus trees – which most of the rest of the population did not want. They even started saying things that many like myself know are not true – that tall trees prevent fires, even though there was a big fire in 1993 in which over 400 homes were burnt. These folks also made sure that their friends were on various committees created to keep the charm of our town but that soon got old when mostly their friends, it seemed, were given the green light to do things in town, spend money on frivolous things, and of course, plant all the eucalyptus trees they wanted, it seemed, because they are part of our history. This divided the community. 

Recently one person noted that there was this green vine growing in one area and it had never been there before. It grew and grew – covering trees, bushes, and killing plants because the plants would not get sunshine. Soon the vine started growing in people’s back yards and they didn’t understand what it was but they were told it is natural here. Soon birds left because they couldn’t access trees to nest or rest. Then the four-footed wildlife left because they couldn’t find anything to eat as smaller animals had already left. Soon people were unable to remove the vines as they grew so fast and the seed pods were painful to get rid of. Plus on the internet they saw that the vines should not be put in compost bins. They were in a quandary.

So people moved out as the eucalyptus were growing so thick it became a forest, all the lovely views were gone, their homes were covered with vines which were “indigenous to Laguna” even though most folks had never seen them before. 

Soon Laguna was abandoned and well the rest is history.   

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach


Recognizing Laguna Art Museum’s underwriters

Last week, the Laguna Art Museum celebrated the completion of a year-long project to refinish its lower level galleries. Today, visitors can easily read the name of Frank Cuprien and other early supporters who paid a whopping $1.50 each to have their names inscribed on the floor of LAM’s basement gallery back in 1934.

Approximately twenty years ago, I dreamed up the idea of selling floor tiles in the lobby of the museum.  In contrast to the $1.50 originally donated back in the Great Depression, the 108 tiles we laid down in 2000 cost $1,000 each.

Recognizing LAM’s earliest supporters has paid dividends to Laguna’s art community for decades. My hope is the sponsors who generously underwrote the costs of the museum’s newer lobby tiles will be celebrated 30, 40 or 50 years from now.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach


Park Plaza torpedoed

It’s stunning that, while downtown retailers are looking to activate their streets and are using the word experience, City Council voted last Saturday to put Park Plaza on the back burner – the one no-brainer experience our community wants and needs. Back in March of last year, Council voted unanimously to move the concept of a pedestrian plaza forward in tandem with improvements to Coast Highway, with options for a permanent plaza to be presented within 18 months. Now, 11 months in, they decided to decouple it from the traffic improvements in progress and kick it down the road to other pie-in-the-sky discussions like traffic scrambles and making Ocean Ave one way. In other words, buh bye plaza.

Park Plaza was a fantastic win for everyone except a few people who use it as a shortcut. That’s why we were happy to wait until the left turn lane at Legion was extended, to help mitigate their inconvenience. Every box was checked: safety, shade, view, tranquility, entertainment, and, most importantly, community (with no adverse traffic impacts). Councilman Dicterow marveled at how many people he ran into, and how successful it was at bringing community together – in the dead of winter, no less. It’s already recommended in the Downtown Specific Plan. In other words, vetted and teed up.

The many volunteers who birthed this trial and donated hundreds of hours of their time to improve the community deserve better. It would be nice to see a public statement from the city assuring us the planning options for a plaza will continue in concert with Coast Highway improvements as voted on by our representative government. If you really want to know if it will work, here’s an idea: just install some hydraulic bollards immediately. Put them at Park, Forest, and Ocean. Raise them up when you want to close a street and test a pedestrian concept. Lower them when traffic flow is more important. Then start testing closures on different streets at different times and days of the year – with diverse concepts like art fairs, music, movies, and mid-week farmers’ markets. Let the community vote with their butts. Then, instead of talking about what might or might not work, we’ll know for sure. 

Billy Fried

Laguna Beach


School Board denies Dee Perry presidency

Dee Perry taught two of my children and ran for the school board to promote educational excellence for all Laguna Beach students while bringing openness to the deliberations of the board. She single handedly pushed to have board meetings videoed and streamed giving the residents a chance to see their school board in action. For her efforts to make this board more accountable she has twice been denied the presidency despite the bylaw of Clerk then President. Why? Because she views the students and their parents as her primary customers not some notion that uniformity of thought is the overriding goal?

Dee was the second highest vote getter in this past election with a total of 5,595 votes. Unfortunately this carried no weight with other members of the board and the superintendent, it appears, who seem to be trying to stop Dee regardless of how many votes she got. Do they view her as a “subversive” in trying to bring accountability to what the board was/is doing? What could they do to deny her what their own bylaws required namely that she serve a term as President? I believe they mounted a coup. Without changing the bylaws or noticing the public of their intent they elected someone else. Many including me believe that this sham “election” was illegal and worse, antidemocratic.

Justice Brandeis said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” It would seem this board prefers to work in darkness so somehow the meeting where this chicanery took place was not videoed. Allegedly there was a technical problem but was there really or was the technical problem a central part of a plan to keep the public in the dark about what was being done to disenfranchise those 5,595 citizens and deny Dee the presidency?

Why would they do that? Probably because only the president has the power to put items on the agenda. See BB 9006 No. 4. This is the type of tactic that dictatorships engage in. The LBUSB has managed to put itself in the company of people like Maduro in Venezuela. Is that really the model to emulate for Laguna Beach residence and students?

One of our best and most liberal newspapers, the Washington Post, has adopted a new motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” This is exactly what I feel the current board and superintendent are doing.

I call upon this board to immediately elect Dee Perry as the rightful president of the Laguna Beach Unified School District Board.

Emil Monda

Laguna Beach


Local teens will join climate strike on Friday

There’s a growing youth movement of climate strikes across the globe. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, has been striking every Friday for about 26 weeks now. Her message for urgent climate action is compelling. 

Greta poignantly stated, “Imagine what we could all do together, if you wanted to.”

Laguna Beach families are working together to raise our children’s voices and create more awareness locally. The boys are organizing a strike on Friday that starts at Main Beach around 8 a.m., then walking to City Hall around 9 a.m. and wrapping up

Jane Goodall explained, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall all be saved.”  We›re planning on signs to help people understand:

1. Last year was Earth’s 4th warmest year on record, coming in behind 2016, the planet’s warmest recorded year, as well as 2015 and 2017, according to information released earlier this month by NOAA, NASA and the U.K. Met Office.

“Nine of the 10 warmest years on record since reliable data began in 1880 have occurred since 2005. At the same time, greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels – as well as deforestation and intensive agriculture – have skyrocketed to levels not seen more than 800,000 years.” (Axios)

2. “The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt – in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change,” says Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA GISS. 

3. In August of last year, Scripps researchers logged the warmest sea-surface temperature at Scripps Pier since records began in August 1916. The record temp – 78.6 degrees – is the highest in 102 years of measurements. The entire ocean ecosystem is impacted by the warmer weather, and very relevant to us as a coastal community.

Greta’s TedEd talk:

www.ted.com/talks/greta_thunberg_the_disarming_case_to_act_right_now_on_climate?language=en

Greta’s World Economic Forum talk:

www.theguardian.com/science/video/2019/jan/25/i-want-you-to-panic-16-year-old-greta-thunberg-issues-climate-warning-at-davos-video

Nazish Mir

Laguna Beach


Good schools even better without petty politics

We often hear about the Brown Act that’s supposed to prevent backroom political deals. That state law mandates open meetings and a public record of all actions by city councils and school boards.

The Brown Act also prevents abuse of individual local elected officials by local government bodies. For example, Section 54960(a) gives state courts jurisdiction to determine if any local government “rule or action…to penalize or otherwise discourage the expression of one or more of its members is valid or invalid under the laws of this state or of the United States.”

That’s important because state and federal law prohibit action by the majority violating the right of free speech, freedom of association, due process or privacy of elected leaders in the minority on a local government body.

To ensure protection of minority voices on School Boards in particular, California Ed. Code Sec. 35010(b) declares any School Board action under a local rule to be legally invalid if it violates civil rights of minority members or otherwise conflicts with state or federal law.

Ironically, despite our history of very good local schools a disturbing pattern persists of School Board intolerance for diversity, debate, and criticism. It seems recent superintendents pander to the insecurities and worst political impulses of the Board majority.

Claiming to value civility as the currency of good public school governance, our Board has relied on a controversially applied manual seemingly being used to control and even penalize minority members. “LBUSD Adopted Governance Protocols 2018” is invoked by the Superintendent and Board majority more often than state law or the Board’s own rules and bylaws, it seems, to justify Board practices, policies, and actions.

These so-called “protocols” emphasize fine sounding sloganeering about “speaking with one voice” and “unity of purpose.” But the LBUSD “protocols” were not actually “adopted” at all, never voted on, just deemed to be accepted by “consensus.”

It’s fine to act by consensus, but only binding rules with clearly defined non-discriminatory standards of conduct are enforceable. Under state and federal law vague advisory “protocols” cannot be enforced by the majority to discipline minority members without due process, in an attempt to silence elected leaders.

Tolerance for diversity and pluralism allow majority and minority coalitions to constantly realign. Intolerance promotes entrenched majority pressure on a fixed minority, which must surrender or be punished. It’s political bullying.

The current Board and Superintendent recently chose intolerance and bullying, I feel, by aggressively attempting to enforce the anti-democratic and legally absurd “protocol” demands on Board member Dee Perry to “support decisions once made by the majority.”

You’re thinking that must mean respect policy you oppose while you seek to change it, right? That’s what Perry thought, it seems. Wrong.

That “protocol” is a demand for silence and tacit support of policy a member opposes and voted against, it seems. Perry compromises, perhaps too often, but serves more independently than any member in the last 25 years.

Perry draws the line at “protocols” limiting her fact-finding or research, constituent services that are in compliance with actual binding Board rules. That includes meeting to exchange non-privileged public information and ideas within the school community.

To punish Perry the Board appears to have deviated from past precedent under its own local bylaws by twice denying Perry her turn in rotation as Board President. Board member Peggy Wolff is now chanting the word “protocol” at Perry in Board meetings like a mantra warding off bad karma before we must be punished.

But now it may be Wolff, whose overzealousness as protocol police, seemingly could be at odds with legally binding Board rules.

I recently spoke publicly at a School Board meeting on video recording blackouts at meetings and denial of Perry’s turn as President. Afterwards I came into possession of what appears to be an official email from Wolff in her capacity as a Board member and under seal of the School District.

The email is a public communication that accuses Perry of misconduct under Board protocols and bylaws for meeting with constituents, the very people she is supposed to serve as an elected Board member. If real the document is replete with contrived insinuations and admonitions without any apparent legal basis.

To get at the truth I have submitted a public document request to obtain an authenticated copy of this email. The public needs to know who prepared it and approved it. 

None of this, of course, is “for the kids.” It’s petty political bullying of a decent woman denied her right to represent voters. The Superintendent and Board are already appealing court cases, never admitting losses. Denial of Perry’s turn as President and bullying by discriminatory punishment, it seems, may require further legal action to restore good order under state law. 

Maybe the Board subconsciously craves attention, likes drama. We don’t.

Jennifer Zeiter

Laguna Beach


Current LBUSD Board President should resign immediately, and a new election should be immediately called nominating and approving Dee Perry

I am appalled at the way the School Board is treating Dee Perry. Two of my sons had Dee as their second-grade teacher and her entire focus has always been what was best for the children. Nothing has changed in her attitude in the 25 years I have known her. Her reason for running for the school board was so that the students could have a voice. I was here when this board tried to shut down that lone voice when the high school students begged, yes begged, them to have a voice in their governing board and to rewrite a constitution that was relevant to today. The board wouldn’t even allow that as an agenda item. 

My understanding is that only the President can put an item on the agenda, not another member of the board. So, Dee patiently waited her turn first as Clerk with the assumption that she would be President. And then she was denied her rightful position not once but twice as President despite board bylaws saying that a board member is President after being Clerk. I want to know by what metric, what right, do they unilaterally have the authority to say that she is “Not presidential material”? What does that mean – do they have a policy to delineate what presidential material is? Are any of them that presidential material? How are they able to disregard their own policy of President after Clerk position? 

I am one of the residents who voted for Dee twice. The board has twice tried to take away my voice via Dee through this blatant power grab and total disregard for their own policies. What are they so afraid of with Dee? That she could actually be effective?  That she, as the second highest vote getter in the last election, might make a difference and let the students have a voice in their academic lives? Are their egos so large that they are convinced that only they are right? Why not follow board rules and see what happens? 

I ask, no demand, that the current President resign and a new election be immediately called nominating and approving Dee Perry as the rightful President according to School Board bylaws.

Michèle Monda

Laguna Beach


Community loses another tree: City should be taking the lead on preserving its trees not on removing them

The latest news on the tree-saving front is that two trees we have become accustomed to seeing at the Village Entrance site have been removed by the City as of February 7.

They are the mature Hollywood Junipers shown in the photo below. They are of the era of the historic digester building – they flanked the driveway to the original facility. Sculptural and beautiful touches of history, these trees were in an area planned for landscaping in the new Village Entrance plan. Preserving these trees was advocated as early as July of 2014 in a Village Entrance plan donated by our team of volunteers from the Laguna Beach Beautification Council and Village Laguna. 

Letter Christoph

Submitted photo

Click on photo for a larger image

Following up, we proposed that these Junipers be saved at public hearings including the last one at Council in July 2018. They fit into the landscape scheme – saving them did not seem to present a big problem.

Except in the end it did. In July 2018, City Public Works staff agreed to look into saving the trees. Months have passed since the contractor started work on the project. The trees were still remaining, so we felt optimistic even though we had no communication from Public Works about their status. Just to be sure, we requested a meeting with Public Works Director Shohreh Dupuis on Monday, Feb 4. At that time she said Public Works had commissioned an arborist report on the trees and were taking them down the next day. We were shocked and disturbed that staff had not reached out to us in all these months about how they were dealing with these trees or given us an opportunity to be involved in finding a solution. We believe there were ways to preserve these trees and were very concerned that we hadn’t been given the arborist report and that the notice on removing those trees was so precipitous.

The City should be taking the lead on preserving its own trees, but instead the City is taking the lead on removing them. It should not be this hard to preserve trees and it shouldn’t require such persistent efforts on the part of community volunteers. All for naught. It seems that all the volunteers end up doing is letting the public know about the next tree our community will be losing or has lost.

Ann Christoph, Johanna Felder, Ruben Flores, Barbara Metzger, Leah Vasquez, George Weiss

Laguna Beach


School Board follies not funny

Once again our School Board and Superintendent are spending inordinate time and resources defending unfair and divisive governance practices, it seems. While extolling best practices and openness, even constructive criticism of the Board’s governing culture seems to be met with predictable intolerance, toward people seeking to support not impede success of our schools. Many give up, too often for fear of retaliation. Sadly, that too often is a realistic fear.

For example, under state law our School Board annually elects a President and Clerk, just as the City Council annually elects a Mayor and Mayor Pro Tempore. Unless a member declines, it’s established practice that the Mayor Pro Tem serves as the next Mayor, and School Board Clerk becomes President. 

For the School Board there is a presumption against deviation from that practice under LBUSD Board Bylaw 9100: 

“After serving one year as clerk, the elected member may serve one year as president of the Board. It is the intent of the Board that all board members will rotate through the sequence of clerk and president.” 

This ensures each elected member has a turn as presiding officer managing meeting agenda content and proceedings. Denying any member equal opportunity as a Board officer denies equal representation in Board policy and rule making for voters who cast ballots in favor of the excluded member.

Yet, current Board member Dee Perry, who twice has been judged fit and elected by voters, and twice was elected Clerk by the Board, also twice has been passed over for President by the Board. 

Passing over Perry was perceived by many familiar with Board history as veiled retaliation for Perry’s independent fact-finding, research and daring occasionally to openly disagree and vote against actions by the Board majority. On January 15, 2019, the Board majority accused Perry of “violating” so-called “protocols to promote unity” that have no legal basis and are used by educational bureaucrats to silence dissenting voices on School Boards and school communities.

Political nullification of Perry’s election became overt on November 15, 2017, when she was Clerk, and next in line for President. An early morning ad hoc special meeting convened on short notice under Bylaw 9320 included closed and open sessions, including an open session agenda item on Board bylaws and “protocols.” Multiple School District officials, staff and employees were present, but no members of the public. 

Two participants confirm Board member Ketta Brown initiated a discussion on election of Board officers, not scheduled until the December meeting of the Board. Those two sources (unidentified for obvious reasons) confirmed the Superintendent was present when Brown expressed concern about Perry’s readiness to manage Board proceedings, and proposed outgoing President Jan Vickers be elected to a consecutive second term in 2018.

Discussing and agreeing on who will be elected as Board officers is “action taken” under CA Gov. Code Sec. 54952.6 and LBUSD Bylaw 9323.2 (1)(2). If reports by school officials present are correct, under CA Gov. Code Sec. 54954.2(3), a question arises whether Brown’s proposal could lawfully be on the agenda for Board action before the December meeting.

Members Brown, Peggy Wolff and Vickers – constituting a majority with quorum present – reportedly agreed Vickers should serve another term as President, and Perry was told she could serve another term as Clerk. Perry was not given any choice in the matter, but stated she was not giving up her turn to rotate in sequence under Bylaw 9100. Ironically, Perry’s term was up in 2018, so passing her over but letting her be Clerk again meant she would be in line to serve as President in 2019 only if re-elected. 

Turned out Perry was number two top vote getter in the 2018 election, but Vickers, Normandin and Wolff refused to follow Bylaw 9100 or their own agreement regarding Perry. Instead, Wolff and Normandin joined Vickers in approving a third consecutive term for 30-year incumbent Vickers, and Normandin became Clerk. This means Perry goes to the end of the line behind Normandin, Wolff and new member James Hall (absent on business trip for annual organizing meeting). 

School District officials present when Perry was passed over after her 2018 re-election described member Peggy Wolff telling Perry, “Some people are just not presidential material.” If that is true, one wonders by what standard Wolff disqualifies someone elected by voters? If new members don’t get their turn, there is no deep bench ready to serve, hence Bylaw 9100.

Election of officers is typically the first item of annual meeting business, but on December 11, 2018, oddly it was moved to the end of the agenda. Mysteriously, the video live stream feed and archiving system crashed for the first time anyone I know can recall.

The next time Perry will be in line to serve as President is 2023, but her current term ends in 2022. So she will have to run for a third term to be back at the front of the line, or leave after eight years without being allowed fully and equally to represent those who elected her and ensure their issues are placed before the Board and other elected members are able to do. 

If the Board does not want to follow its own procedure, all it needs to do is repeal Bylaw 9100. But it appears Board members who passed over Dee Perry did not want to change the bylaw and risk being passed over in purely random political process every year.

If a member is to be passed over, Bylaw 9100 should be repealed before that action is taken, not after. Instead, the Board has acted in a discriminatory manner, it seems, to exclude one member who dares to speak up and stand up when her independent fact-finding and research lead her to cast a dissenting vote.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach


Recycle your worn or soiled clothing via H&M

For those who like to recycle, repurpose, and renew, I just learned that H&M, a worldwide purveyor of women’s clothing, has joined the march to provide us with another way to practice The Three R’s. All of their stores in CA and elsewhere have drop-off bins for all clothing, towels, and sheets for the sole purpose of recycling – cotton can be reconstituted to make the best paper. So we can still donate to our favorite organizations but those clothes that are a bit more worn or soiled (just not toys or shoes please) don’t have to go to the landfill. Plus, if you donate to them, H&M will give you a 15 percent off coupon.

Some may recall that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, rag pickers, esp. on the East Coast, would push their carts though neighborhoods looking for fabric castoffs. Here is another way we can save trees – bring your fabric goods to one of their six stores in Orange County – South Coast Plaza, Irvine, Mission Viejo, Brea, Santa Ana, and Huntington Beach. (I don’t know about their two outlets in Orange and San Clemente.) Happy donating/shopping.

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

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