Volume 15, Issue 76  |  September 22, 2023SubscribeAdvertise

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Water district commission OKs funding teen-focused waterwise podcast, accepts donation for honeybee mural at HQ

By SARA HALL

The local water district commission this week unanimously approved two creative projects focused on outreach efforts regarding water efficiency and art.

In two separate action items, the Laguna Beach County Water District Commission on Tuesday (Sept. 12) voted 5-0 and approved a $10,000 expenditure to partner with the LB Boys and Girls Club to create a waterwise podcast series program and, later in the meeting, accepted a donation from the LB Garden Club of a commissioned mural proposed to be painted on a wall at the district’s headquarters in Downtown.

The district was approached by the Laguna Beach Boys & Girls Club about a month ago with the idea of a partnership to launch an educational waterwise program, said Assistant General Manager Christopher Regan. They specifically wanted to focus on high school students through the club’s teen center, The Port.

“When we were approached, it was mainly from the standpoint that Laguna Beach is in an area that is prone to drought, like much of California,” Regan said.

Recognizing the importance of water to Laguna Beach and the city’s achievement of being named the nation’s most waterwise city for the past eight years, district staff believed the partnership with the club is a good match.

Another notable benefit for the district is that it reaches an audience that isn’t typically interested in these topics and it does so in a creative way. It keeps the conversation going not just on water efficiency, but the district’s background and how the agency works.

“It creates a really innovative program and it engages a group that, for us, is tough to crack: The teen youth, the high school group,” Regan said. “There are a lot of interesting stories they can tell that can help us get our message out and also meet the needs of creating a great space and a great program for the Boys & Girls Club.”

Teens from the club will be the driving force behind the content, production and promotion of the series. With guidance from district staff, the teens will engage local officials and water experts in discussions about responsible water management, conservation, sustainability and environmental stewardship, Regan explained. Success of the program will be measured through listenership metrics and social media engagement.

Startup costs for the program are anticipated to be about $10,000 for equipment, software, training, and marketing and promotion. As a nonprofit, the club relies on donations and community partnerships to fund these types of initiatives and programs. The funds are available in the district’s educational outreach program budget, which are generated through the district’s tier two rates. In recognition of the LBCWD’s funding commitment, the center’s sound studio would be named for the district. That would be a “nice feather in our cap,” Regan commented.

It’s one of the less expensive programs they’ve invested in over the years, Regan said, noting another program that reached local youth at the high school level, but was interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So we’ve been looking for this kind of niche program to add to our water use efficiency efforts,” he said.

The program also satisfies the Boys & Girls Club’s youth advocacy group initiative, which was established by the state, and aims to empower teens to be champions of vital causes within their community.

Regan noted that they are also hoping to create a ripple effect, not only to other local high schools, but also nationally through the affiliation with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

They are going to aim for two episodes per month.

Overall, commissioners were enthusiastically supportive of the idea.

“I think it’s incredible. I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Commissioner Debbie Neev.

Several teens from the center attended the meeting and spoke in support of the project. One student changed several of her lifestyle habits in an effort to conserve water and they hope the podcast will encourage other teens to take similar steps. Coming from their peers, other teenagers might be more inclined to listen, added another.

“I think you guys are going to set a huge precedence throughout the county and beyond,” Neev told the handful of students at the meeting.

Commissioner David Horne emphasized the importance of planning for the future of the podcast and getting younger generations interesting in continuing the program. Some in attendance noted the relationships they have with other high schools through the Boys & Girls Club and agreed about getting younger students involved that can take over once the older kids graduate. They can introduce it as a club, explained one student. If the podcast takes off, younger kids will want to be involved, another teen pointed out.

“The enthusiasm you have has to be transferred to the next group,” Horne said.

Water district commission OKs funding honeybee mural sketch

Click on photo for a larger image

Art by Mark Willey/Courtesy of LB Garden Club and LBCWD

A rough draft sketch of the proposed honeybee mural for a wall at the Laguna Beach County Water District headquarters on Third Street

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In another item, the commission unanimously accepted the Laguna Beach Garden Club’s donation of a $32,000 commissioned mural by world-renowned artist, Mark Willey to be painted at the district’s headquarters.

Willey started a global art project called “For the Good of the Hive,” a commitment by the artist to hand-paint 50,000 honeybees (which represents the approximate number of bees in a healthy, thriving hive) in murals around the world. He is six years into an estimated 20-year project, and, so far, has created 35 murals and installations showcasing more than 8,600 hand-painted bees. His large-scale works have reached hundreds of thousands of people and are displayed at several notable locations, including the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C., Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza in New York City and the Burt’s Bees global headquarters in Durham, N.C.

The mural will be located on the 25-foot long, six-foot-high concrete block facing Third Street, adjacent to the district’s yard entrance. Currently, most people drive or walk by and don’t even notice the nondescript wall, Regan said.

“(This) is the perfect opportunity to take a spot on that walkway…and create a nice moment with some world-class art,” Regan said.

Staff shared a rough draft of what the mural will look like, which features a group of honeybees drinking water. They requested that a water element be incorporated into the artwork, Regan said. A more refined rendering will be brought back to the commission at a later date.

The item will be considered by the LBCWD board of directors at their September 28 meeting. If approved, staff will work with the LB Garden Club on an application that will be submitted to the city (to be considered by the Arts Commission and, if approved, the City Council).

If approved by the city, work on the mural could start in January and would take approximately three weeks to complete.

This project is the “bee’s knees,” a few commissioners and staffers joked.

“A great project at no cost to the district and I think it’s going to generate a lot of great publicity for us,” Regan said.

The LB Garden Club is funding the entire cost of the commission, $32,000, along with the artist’s accommodations while completing the mural. The district has partnered with the club on various programs and projects in the past.

Vice Chair Jeff Meberg, while also emphasizing that this project looks great and he supports it, asked if the district can focus on local artists for future proposals.

They typically do lean toward local artists, Regan answered. He noted another mural, “Canyon Preserve,” on district property that was done in partnership with Community Art Project and features work from local artist Michele Taylor. But others who have approached the district for commissioned pieces in the past it’s been about a purchase. For example, a sculpture that was proposed for the garden for $42,000.

“The district cannot spend those kinds of funds, because it’s a gift of public funds and it’s not what we’re here for,” Regan explained. “This was brought to you because it is being paid for solely by the Laguna Beach Garden Club.”

Both items were presented to the district’s Water Use Efficiency and Outreach Committee on September 5. The committee recommended approval of both projects.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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