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City Manager’s Updates

Downtown Area Parking Sensor Installation – Through the end of May, parking meters in the downtown area and in the parking lots will intermittently be closed between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, for the installation of parking sensors. The parking meter/space will immediately open once the sensor is installed. 

For questions or concerns, contact Deputy Director of Public Works Paula Faust at (949) 497-0303 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

City Managers worker

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Submitted photo

Parking sensors are being installed in the downtown area

Laguna Beach Animal Shelter in Need of Blankets – The Laguna Beach Animal Shelter needs donated blankets for the animals. People interested in donating blankets (not electric blankets) for the animals can deliver them to the Animal Shelter located at 20612 Laguna Canyon Rd, seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The City thanks the community in advance for its help. 

SCE Pole Replacements Southern California Edison (SCE) will be working in several areas in town next week. For questions or concerns regarding these projects, contact SCE’s Customer Service number at (800) 655-4555.

Coast Highway near Ruby Street – Tuesday, May 21, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., SCE will replace a utility pole located at the intersection of South Coast Hwy and Ruby Street. SCE will also be working to install spacers on the overhead wires located at South Coast Hwy between Ruby Street and Arch Street. The sidewalk and northbound lane closest to the curb at South Coast Hwy will be closed between Upland Street and Diamond Street. 

450 Glenneyre St – Wednesday, May 22, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., SCE will replace a utility pole located at 450 Glenneyre St. The sidewalk and the northbound lane closest to the curb at Glenneyre Street will be closed between Legion Street and Park Avenue. 

Glenneyre Street at Diamond Street – Thursday, May 23, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., SCE will replace a utility pole located at the intersection of Glenneyre Street and Diamond Street. Approximately 100 feet of Glenneyre Street will be closed immediately south of Diamond Street. Detour signs will be posted to route traffic to adjacent streets during the work.  

Fire Hydrant Relocation on South Coast Highway – On Monday, May 20 to Wednesday, May 22, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Laguna Beach County Water District will have the #2 northbound lane of South Coast Hwy closed between Ruby’s Diner and Nyes Place for a hydrant replacement. Advanced warning and traffic control measures will be in place. 

For questions or concerns, contact the Water District at (949) 494-1041.

Junior Lifeguards – Registration for the 2019 Junior Lifeguard program is now open to Laguna Beach residents. Participants must pass the required swim test or have participated in the 2018 program to be eligible to register. The next swim tests will be held this Friday, May 17, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 18, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Laguna Beach High School and Community Pool, located at 670 Park Ave. 

Additional information about the Junior Lifeguard program is available at or call (949) 497-0788 with questions.

The Community and Susi Q Senior Center is turning 10 this year – The center hosts Community Services classes for participants of all ages, and in collaboration with Laguna Beach Seniors, Inc. provides programs and services of interest to the senior community. Join the City at the center on Saturday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., to view demonstrations of their programs for all ages, along with live music, refreshments, and opportunities to win gift certificates for Community Services classes.

Council appoints slew of residents to commission, committee and board posts


The City Council on Tuesday appointed applicants for one board, two committees and two commissions.

Incumbents Dawn Knepper and Mimi Niebuhr, Karyn Philippsen and Terri Smith were appointed to two-year terms on the Personnel Board, which hears appeals pertaining to employee disciplinary action, dismissals, demotions, reductions in pay or suspensions. 

Knepper is a member of the Labor and Employment Section of the State Bar of California. Niebuhr served as an alternate to the board, starting in 2018. She has been a resident of Laguna Beach for 35 years. Philippsen is a founding President of Visit Laguna Beach and of Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association. She has also served as a board/staff facilitator in the hospitality industry and construction. Smith, who recently retired as a marketing programs manager, feels he now has the time to become involved in civic and community activities.

The appointees will decide amongst themselves which of the four will serve as the alternate.

Arts Commission

Incumbents Michael Ervin, Pat Kollenda, Suzanne S. Mellor and Adam Schwerner were among the nine applicants for the four open seats on the Arts Commission. All four were reappointed.

Ervin sits on the boards of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and Laguna College of Art & Design. He has been involved with LOCA, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, Laguna Art Museum and the Festival of Arts. Kollenda, who describes herself as a professional volunteer, has served as chair of the commission six times and has had her fingers in almost every artistic pie in Laguna. Mellor has been a member of the commission for five years and previously a member of the boards of the Laguna Playhouse and LAM. Schwerner is Director of Horticulture and Resort Enhancement at Disneyland Resort.

Housing and Human Services Committee

Incumbents Jheri St. James and Marcus Skenderian were reappointed to the Housing and Human Services Committee. Newcomers to the committee are Rebecca Apodaca, Sam Goldstein, Steve Kellenberg and Laura Sauers.

Apodaca’s family has been in Laguna since the 1920s. She has lived here since 1953. Apodaca has been associated with No Square Theatre and the Assistance League. She is a senior and disabled, and she understands the need of both groups, which are in purview of the committee.

Goldstein is an art patron and investor. He believes the committee needs more innovative ways to create more housing and to supply it faster to the community. 

Kellenberg worked with Orange County Mental Health Foundation projects to provide support facilities for the homeless and psychiatric and substance abuse patients. St. James has served two previous terms on the committee. Her goal is to help longtime residents, artists, workers and seniors to continue to live in Laguna and she wants to assist the local homeless. St. James volunteers for Lifelong Laguna at the Susi Q. Sauer is a licensed counselor and regularly works with individuals with immediate housing crises due to disaster or crime. Skenderian is a real estate broker. He has lived in Laguna for more than 40 years and been in business here for more than 20 years. 

Planning Commission

Incumbent Susan Whitin and Steve Goldman were selected from the 11 applicants for the two seats on the Planning Commission.

Goldman has spent 35 years in the hotel industry. He feels the challenge to the commission is to encourage responsible growth consistent with the City’s General Plan and to preserve the character of the town. Whitin is an urban designer and landscape architect. She has been a member of the commission since 2015. Prior to that, she served on the View Preservation and Restoration Committee. 

Emergency & Disaster Preparedness Committee

Incumbents David Horne, Charity Morsey, Sonny Myers and Lynda Olsen and newcomer Thomas Gibbs were appointed to the Emergency & Disaster Preparedness Committee. Shelly Benecke and Edward Mousally were appointed as alternates. 

Gibbs is a Red Flag Patrol member and intends to take the next available Community Emergency Response Team training. Horne, who lost his home in the 1993 fire, is the founder of the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safety Council and has been a member of the EDPC committee since its inception. Morsey is a graduate of the CERT training and the Laguna Beach Police Citizens Academy and advisor and recorder for the EDPC. Myers is a member of the Laguna Beach CERT team and is responsible for CERT radio communications. Olsen is director of communications and public affairs for the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. She is a graduate of Leadership Laguna and CERT training.

Bennecke chaired the Environmental Sustainability Committee and CERT training. 

Mousally’s interest in the committee dates back to his early career as an Emergency Medical Technician and a firefighter. 

Barbara’s Column

Chamber hosts State of the City Luncheon


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Mayor Bob Whalen combined his dry, sometimes wry, humor and a serious call for a return to civility in public discourse at the annual State of the City luncheon, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce at the Montage on May 3.

Whalen, who has been wearing a brace to stabilize the 11 vertebrae he injured in a fall from a horse, said it might be mistaken for a Kevlar vest – and Kevlar might have been the better choice for some recent council meetings, he said.

“People ask me all the time if [the fall] was painful,” said Whalen. “Quite frankly, it was no more painful that some of our eight-hour council meetings.”

And then he got serious. 

“I am concerned about what I see as the unprecedented nature of personal attacks and efforts by some to embarrass or intimidate either an elected official or a member of the public who does not share their point of view,” said Whalen. “In my opinion, we are spending far too much time attacking one another and too little time attaching the issues and challenges we face as a community. We can do better.

“The council needs to do its part to elevate the quality of the debate by creating an environment in our meeting that allows everyone to speak freely, without fear of intimidation or exclusion and without being demeaned by others because their views are different or unpopular. 

“As the one in charge of running the meeting, I do my best to achieve this standard, but I will redouble my efforts.”

Whalen called on his fellow council members and the community to help meet that goal. 

Chamber hosts trio

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Police Chief Laura Farinella, Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow

He then addressed one of the issues that have caused a major rift in the community: multiple complex developments.

“The pro-development and anti-development sides are girding for battle and hardening viewpoints,” Whalen said. 

He urged both sides to work together to come up with a solution that is “appropriate and smart.” 

“This is not an all or nothing choice,” Whalen said. “It will be about finding the right mix.”

Another issue facing the city is funding to reduce the risks of wildfire. However, Whalen said he is optimistic about the city’s future. The upcoming budget will fund goals such as sidewalks on the highway and resident serving programs financed in part by visitors. 

Whalen was joined on the dais by Police Chief Laura Farinella, Community Development Director Greg Pfost and Public Works Director Shohreh Dupuis

Chamber hosts panel

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Development Director Greg Pfost and Police Chief Laura Farinella 

Pfost also addressed development: it’s at the highest level ever, he said. One goal of his department is to ensure that small projects don’t get lost in the cluster of major developments along Coast Highway being proposed by Laguna Beach Co.

He is also working on improvements in the department’s services, such as lessening processing time by having all related departments review the project simultaneously. 

Dupuis has had her hands full coping with the city’s urban forest, determining which trees need to go, may or may not be replaced, and with what, and being second guessed. She is also heavily involved with public works projects that will impact downtown, not to mention the Village Entrance – some 30 years in the making. A film of some of the department projects was shown. 

In addition to those on the dais, the luncheon was attended by council members Toni Iseman, Peter Blake and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow

Dicterow was asked to say a few words of inspiration. He did a dandy job.

During a visit last fall to his native New York, he had occasion to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, not, he said, to be confused with the Bronx Botanical Garden. As he walked, he spotted a rose garden. 

“And I stopped to smell the roses,” said Dicterow. 

Shouldn’t we all?

Chamber hosts JJ

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Chamber of Commerce President J.J. Ballesteros

The luncheon could only be called a success.

“There are more people here that last year and the most ever,” said past chamber President David Rubel. 

Sitting President J.J. Ballesteros welcomed the crowd to the luncheon.

“I have had the opportunity to attend this luncheon several times, but this year is different for me,” said Ballesteros. “While I suspect that is partly because I am giving the speech rather than judging it – it is also because of the chamber’s current direction for growth and the new tone and dialogue with our council and with our local businesses. I think this dialogue is vital.”

Ballesteros said he and recently appointed chamber Executive Director Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold have met with most of the council members and have had positive discussions. 

“Our primary goal was to hear from everyone,” said Ballesteros. “It was reassuring to know our council members are in unison for the most part. They want to know how our businesses are doing and what would help them overcome challenges.

“They wanted to know what residents need, as well. These are ongoing discussions and we look forward to working with them.”

Chamber hosts Paula

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Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold

Besides representing business, the chamber also supports special event such as the luncheon, a golf tournament in July, Hospitality Night and a revamped Taste of Laguna.

The chamber has also hired an urban economist to assess the future of the downtown, funded by an allocation of $25,000 from the city. Data will be provided in upcoming months. 

Hornbuckle-Arnold thanked luncheon sponsors Cox Communications and Julie Laughton Design Build. 

Once folks were seated, she mostly stood at the back of the room, keeping a vigilant eye on the proceedings, prepared to step in if necessary,

It wasn’t.

Chamber hosts Lisa and Mo

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Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and Mo Honarkar

Folks in the audience included Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and her Community Relations Advisor Sergio Prince; Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Renae Hinchey, and board members Debbie Neev and Cheryl Kinsman; Disaster/Emergency Preparedness Committee Chair Matt Lawson and his wife, Mary; Margaret Warder; Laguna Beach Company CEO Mo Honarkar and daughter Hasty, and Chamber Board members.

But wait – there’s more. You will find advance notice of all the fun and interesting stuff for visitors or residents to do in Laguna by reading Contributions are welcomed.

See below for more photos from Mary Hurlbut

Council to interview and make appointments


The normal council agenda was turned upside down for Tuesday’s meeting to accommodate requests for special presentations to be made at night not in the afternoon when some folks complained working folks could not attend. 

Public comments and a special presentation on 5G installations and the permit process will be held following the presentation. Interviews and appointments of applicants for seats on one board, two committees and two commissions will be conducted first. Incumbents are identified by *; those who submitted applications for more than one position are identified by **, with the second applications in parentheses.

Personnel Board

The board hears appeals pertaining to employee disciplinary action, dismissals, demotions, reductions in pay or suspensions. Members meet as needed during two-year terms. 

Four seats, including an alternate, are to be filled.

Dawn Knepper*, Cathy King Viviani*, Mimi Niebuhr*, Karyn Philippsen and Terri Smith have applied.

Arts Commission

The commission advises the city council on proposed art projects and the costs, including the millions of dollars from the Business Improvement District, funded voluntarily by the lodging establishments in Laguna Beach. The commission has eight members, including an alternate. Four of them must be active participants in the arts.

The terms of Michael Ervin*, Pat Kollenda*, Suzanne S. Mellor* and Adam Schwerner * will expire in June. All four have reapplied. They are joined by Heidi Burkhardt, Sam Goldstein** (Housing and Human Services Committee), Michael Ray, Carl E. Smith, Liz Rizza** and Laura Widdow** (both of whom submitted applications for the Planning Commission).

Housing and Human Services Committee

The committee provides information to the council on affordable housing, the needs of all segments of the community, and makes available the resources and programs that deal with those needs. 

Cottie Petrie-Norris, who resigned from the committee when she was elected to the State Assembly in November, is one of the six members of the committee whose term is ending.

Applications were submitted by Jheri St. James*, Marcus Skenderian*, Rebecca Apodaca, Steve Kellenberg, Laura Asuers, Thomas Kadar** (Planning Commission) and Diane Robinson** (Emergency /Disaster Preparedness Committee).

Planning Commission

Twelve applicants are vying for the two open seats on the Planning Commission. 

The dozen in alphabetical order are: Steve Chadima, Chad Edgley, Jeff Feldman, Steve Goldman, Ernest Hackmon, Thomas Kadar** (Housing and Human Services), Karen J. Martin, Roger McErlane*, Liz Rizza** (Arts Commission), Diana Robinson** (Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Committee), Susan Whitin* and Laura Widdows** (Arts Commission).

Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Committee

The nine-member committee advises the council on disaster prevention, planning and preparedness. 

Shelly Bennecke, Thomas Gibbs, David Horne*, Charity Morsey*, Edward Mousally, Sonny Meyers*, Lynda Olsen*, Dianna Robinson** (Housing and Human services) and Lisa Romines have filed applications for the five open seats. 

City Manager’s Updates

Village Entrance Project Lot 11 to Open May 6 – Parking Lot 11, located at the intersection of Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue, is scheduled to open for public use by May 6. Parking Lot 10, located adjacent to Art-A-Fair, has been temporarily closed for bridge reconstruction beginning April 29. 

Parking spaces along Laguna Canyon Road will become available for free public use. In addition, free parking and free trolley to the downtown area and the Farmers’ Market are available this weekend at Lot 16 (Act V). 

For more information, click on this week’s Village Entrance Project video update here. 

“City Chats” on KX 93.5 – Get to know Community Development Director Greg Pfost as he talks about his passion for Community Development and the ways the department is making it easier for Laguna Beach property owners to navigate the development process this Thursday night at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5’s new “City Chats” segment. 

Listeners can also tune in to the segment online at or on the iHeartRadio app. He’s also going to play some of his favorite tunes and share the stories behind them. Tune in to “City Chats” this Thursday night at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5!

SCE Pole Replacement – On Wednesday, May 8, and Thursday, May 9, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Southern California Edison (SCE) will be replacing a utility pole located at the dead end of Balboa Avenue, immediately north of the Del Mar Avenue intersection. The emergency access fire road will be blocked during the work, which has been coordinated with the Fire Department. Pedestrians can access the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park via Moulton Meadows Park during the work. 

For questions or concerns, contact SCE’s Customer Service number at (800) 655-4555.

HYBYCOZO at City Hall – Artist team HYBYCOZO has installed three sculptures outside City Hall. Created of steel, the sculptures are a geometric exploration through light, shadow, and perception. They will be on exhibit through July. The lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach have funded this program.

City Managers HYBYCOZO

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Courtesy of City of LB

The Village Entrance Lot 11 will open on May 6 

Sunset Serenades – On Friday, May 10, Sunset Serenades returns to the Heisler Park Amphitheater near the corner of Cliff Drive and Jasmine Street. Enjoy free live music by guitar duo Django Shredders from 6:30 p.m. to sunset. 

For the full six-week schedule, check the City’s website here. The lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach have funded this program.

Heritage Month – Come celebrate Heritage Month this May and enjoy the many scheduled activities and events. A new event featured this year includes the Historic Residential Project forum where design, architecture, and real estate professionals will present historic projects and experiences. The forum will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, in City Council Chambers at 505 Forest Ave. 

A calendar of all the events will be posted on the City website at

Alta Laguna Basketball Court Resurfacing – Routine maintenance and resurfacing work at the Alta Laguna Basketball Court will begin on Monday, May 6. The work is slated to be complete by Friday, May 10. The basketball court will be closed for play during this time. 

For questions, call Alexis Braun, Sr. Recreation Supervisor, at (949) 497-0762. 

Pearl Street Beach Access Improvements – On Monday, May 6, construction work to rebuild the closed beach access at the end of Pearl Street will begin. The project includes replacing the stairways, creating seating and overlook opportunities, and adding landscaping. Construction is scheduled to be complete in October 2019. 

For additional information, contact Tom Sandefur, P.E., Associate Civil Engineer at (949) 497-0792 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Red Telephone Booth Installation Rescheduled – The installation of “Super Hero Changing Station by local artist Robert Holton in the Red Telephone Booth on Forest Avenue has been rescheduled to Monday, May 6. The installation will be on display for 24 months as part of the Arts Commission’s temporary sculpture program. The lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach have funded this program.

Council holds special workshops to deal with complex issues


The City Council took action at the April 23 meeting to appease critics who complained that workshops on complex issues held at 3 p.m. were unfair to folks who work and cannot attend.

A special meeting on 5G telecommunications installations, originally scheduled for 3 p.m., prior to the May 7 meeting, was moved to the end of the interviews of applicants for city committees and appointments to be held that night. The afternoon meetings had been scheduled to avoid late night hearings of special interest to large segments of the residents at a time when the council might not be at its best, after a 5 p.m. start with the closed session.

For all those who missed the meetings in which they had an interest, here is a recap. 

Financial Assessment Workshop

A five-year financial assessment workshop was held prior to the April 16 meeting. The one-hour-and-40-minute workshop included an assessment of the city’s revenues and expenditures for the next five years and recommended strategies to deal with budget gaps, rising pension costs and unforeseen glitches, while maintaining the city’s current service levels.

The council unanimously approved six policies, adding one** to the five which were recommended in the presentation by Gavin Curran, director of Administrative Services.

Approved policies to help guide the city manager and staff in preparing and managing future budgets:

--Review and consider increasing Community Development fees every two years to keep pace with inflation and account for changes in service

--Review and consider increasing other city fees every four years to keep pace with inflation and account for changes in service

--Consider establishing an Information Technology reserve for the replacement and repair of critical IT infrastructure

--Review existing cash reserves for possible internal refinancing of pension liabilities

--Incorporate items in future five-year financial assessment presentations based on feedback from the council

--Recirculate revenue alternatives that were discussed by the subcommittee

“It is important to stress that the financial assessment is a forecast, not a budget; and projected budget gaps or shortfalls are not the same things as a budget deficit,” said Curran.

The regular meeting was adjourned at 11:35 p.m. 

Significant Development Projects Review Process

Five major commercial projects and one residential project are in the pipeline and city staff wanted to ensure as much as possible that no unnecessary clogs would impede the development and entitlement process. 

Staff recommendations were presented at a 3 p.m. workshop prior to the April 23 council meeting. All of the projects are being developed by Mo Honarkar.

The projects include hotels, the Hive in Laguna Canyon, development of the Central Bluffs from the Hotel Laguna to Legion Street and a vacant parcel at the entrance to Canyon Acres.

Based on the city’s previous experience with the major development of the Montage and Treasure Island Park, the council appointed Mayor Bob Whalen and Councilwoman Sue Kempf as a subcommittee to work with staff and the applicant on a Memorandum of Understanding and a Development Agreement for Honarkar’s projects. 

The council also approved the staff recommendations to hire consultants to provide legal expertise and prepare the agreements with Honarkar, evaluate project impacts, identify potential public benefits and assist in the review of project economics. 

Consultants included Elisa Stipkovich, a 45-year resident of Laguna with 40 plus years of experience working on development agreements and MOUs; La Quinta City Attorney Bill Ihrke, a partner in Rutan & Tucker, LLP, City Attorney Phil Kohn’s firm; and Keyser Marston Associates, Inc., a company that has been advising cities on real estate, economics and finances related to development projects for more than 40 years.

The council also approved negotiations and implementation agreements to recover 100 percent of the costs of the experts and legal fees from Honarkar and to establish a system to recover all city development-related costs to process the proposed projects.

In March, the council directed staff to include a new position of senior principal planner in the upcoming two-year budget. Recruitment is underway.

Among the benefits staff feels can be derived from the proposed projects are the preservation of Hotel Laguna and bed taxes from the renovated icon as well as from the proposed Cleo Hotel and possibly what is called the Heisler Project. Not to mention property taxes. 

Councilwoman Toni Iseman said the Canyon Acres project should be reviewed and processed separately because it is the only residential component of Honarkar’s proposed projects.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:02 p.m.

Up Next

The third of the three special presentations will be held May 7, but at the end of the meeting, not the beginning.

Fire Chief Mike Garcia will make a presentation on small wireless installations referred to as 5G sites and other new technologies. The presentation will include a discussion on the impacts and opportunities of the deployment of 5G small cell sites in town.

Under duress by federal laws, the City Council adopted at the April 16 meeting a resolution to update the Guidelines for Site Selection, Visual Impact and Screening of Telecommunications to create a comprehensive set of design criteria for small wireless facilities.

Had the council chosen not to adopt the guidelines, the city would have defaulted to the government regulations pertaining to the facilities, certain portions of which are related to design criteria and took effect April 15. City staff expects worldwide deployment of 5th Generation wireless infrastructure to begin in 2020, with 5G phones currently on the market. 

Asked how much discretion the city has, City Attorney Phil Kohn said, “The short answer is very little.”

There will be even more 5G installations than the current number, according to Associate City Planner Anthony Viera. Neighborhoods that have undergrounded their utilities might see new poles installed, he said.

“I hope we well be hypervigilant about this,” said Councilwoman Toni Iseman.

City Manager’s Updates

Village Entrance – Parking Lot 10, located adjacent to the Art-A-Fair, will be closed for bridge reconstruction beginning Monday, April 29. Parking spaces along Laguna Canyon Road will become available for free public use. Lot 11, located at the intersection of Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue, is scheduled to open for public use by May 6. 

For more information, visit the Village Entrance website and newsletter at

Update: SB 584 Heads to Senate Appropriations Committee – State Senate Bill 584, Wildfire Mitigation Through Undergrounding of Power Lines, has passed the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration in late May. If the bill is passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, it would expedite the process for local jurisdictions like Laguna Beach located in Tier 3 fire-threat areas to underground current overhead electrical utilities for wildfire mitigation. 

The bill will also establish a Wildfire Mitigation Oversight Board to develop and implement policies that reduce the looming threat of more wildfires. Overhead utility lines and equipment have caused many devastating blazes, with the equipment of California’s three largest utilities being responsible for igniting over 2,000 fires between 2014 and 2017. Currently, there are methods to aid municipalities in undergrounding their electrical lines. However, the criteria have remained mostly the same over the years and have not adapted to the changing utility dynamics that may necessitate undergrounding for a wider range of reasons, including wildfire mitigation and environmental protection. Click to hear Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen and Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Garcia speak more about the issue as it pertains to our City.

City Managers poles

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

SB 584 heads to Senate Appropriations Committee 

The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day – On Saturday, April 27, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Laguna Beach Police Department will be partnering with the DEA to host the DEA’s 17th annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day drop spot will be in front of the Laguna Beach Police Department. Several members of our Police Department will be there to greet each community member and assist in the disposal of their prescription drugs. 

The Police Department will also have a sharps container to assist in the disposal of unwanted hypodermic needles. 

As a reminder, the usual methods of disposing of unused medications, flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash, both pose potential safety and health hazards. 

For further information, contact Public Information Officer Sergeant Jim Cota at (949) 464-6671 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

Heritage Month – Come celebrate Heritage Month this May and enjoy the many scheduled activities and events. Opening festivities commence on Thursday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. on the patio of Ocean at Main, located at 222 Ocean Ave. A new event featured this year includes a trolley tour of past artists’ homes within the city. This free tour will be held on Saturday, May 4, from 1 - 3 p.m. and will begin on Loma Place, adjacent to City Hall. 

Tour space is limited so RSVP by emailing Clark Collins at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

A calendar of all the events are posted on the city website at

SCE Pole Replacement – On Monday, April 29, between 1 and 4 p.m., Southern California Edison (SCE) will be replacing a utility pole located at the intersection of Bluebird Canyon Drive and Keller Way. The westbound lane at Bluebird Canyon Drive will be blocked in the vicinity of the work and personnel will be directing traffic.

For questions or concerns, contact Mark Collins with Pro Energy Services, Inc. at (714) 451-5896.

Pearl Street Beach Access Improvements – On Monday, May 6, construction work to rebuild the closed beach access at the end of Pearl Street will begin. The project includes replacing the stairways, creating seating and overlook opportunities, and adding landscaping. Construction is scheduled to be complete in October 2019. 

For additional information, contact Tom Sandefur, P.E., Associate Civil Engineer at (949) 497-0792 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Police Department Citizen Academy Graduation – On April 18, 19 people graduated from the 26th class of the Laguna Beach Police Department’s 13-week Citizen’s Academy. They will join the ranks of almost 484 alumni members. The Citizen Academy is a one-night-a-week event designed to provide community members with a better understanding of the Police Department leading to a stronger partnership between the police department and the community. The next class date is expected to start sometime in January 2020. 

Interested candidates should contact Ross Fallah at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.for more information. 

New City Hall Exhibitions – The Artist Fund at Festival of Arts currently has artwork from three exhibitions, including Tie-One-On Retrospective, Board of Directors Show, and Red-Hot Series on display in City Hall’s first floor gallery in recognition of their 20-year anniversary. There will be a free reception for the exhibitioners on Thursday, June 5, from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.

Red Telephone Booth Installation Rescheduled – The installation of Super Hero Changing Station by local artist Robert Holton in the Red Telephone Booth on Forest Avenue has been rescheduled to Monday, May 6. The installation will be on display for 24 months as part of the Arts Commission’s temporary sculpture program. The lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach have funded this program.

Changes Made as Result of Public Questionnaire Feedback – If you recently interacted with City of Laguna Beach Community Development Department, you are invited to take a new customer service questionnaire about your experience. The city is already using your survey feedback to make service enhancements: a customer suggested the city make the Building Permit application easier to fill out electronically. As a result, the city has changed the format from a static PDF to a dynamic PDF – now customers can enter their information on their home computers, print it out, and save time at the counter. See the new Building Permit here

You can take the survey at This questionnaire is a tool to help us enhance customer service, streamline development approval procedures, and improve project turnaround time as part of a new Community Development Department Action Plan.

Main Beach Basketball Court Resurfacing – Routine maintenance and resurfacing work at Main Beach Basketball will begin on Monday, April 29. The work is slated to be complete by Friday, May 3. The basketball courts will be closed for play during this time. 

If you have any questions, call Alexis Braun, Recreation Supervisor, at (949) 497-0762.

Council divided on short-term lodging regulations


The City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to submit to the Coastal Commission proposed modifications to the city’s Short-Term Lodging Ordinance.

Community Development Director Greg Pfost has been dueling with the commission staff for about 16 months to try to reach a compromise on regulations for short-term lodging – defined as less than 30 days. The city’s position is that any new STLs should not be permitted in residential neighborhoods – new being the operative word. The commission in 2017 faulted the city ordinance for excluding up to 5,200 residential units as possible STLs, thus reducing visitor-serving opportunities and negatively affecting the visitor-serving uses in residential districts on the ocean side of North and South Coast Hwy.

“Since the Commission’s decision, the [city] staff and the Coastal Commission staff have met numerous times to discuss potential alternatives for a revised ordinance that would be acceptable to the commission and yet meet the city’s goal of restricting new STLs in residential zones,” Pfost reported at the meeting. 

The staffs have reached a consensus as a result of the meetings, Pfost said. 

Six key changes have been incorporated into the revised ordinance that will be submitted to the commission staff, in about two weeks after the required second reading of the proposed ordinance at the May 21 council meeting.   

“I am hoping for a commission hearing before the end of the year,” said Pfost. 

Pfost informed the council that he believes the revised ordinance is a balanced solution that will be consistent with the California Coastal Act, the city’s General Plan and Local Coastal Plan, while recognizing the city’s special character.

“A previous council’s 5-0 vote [instructed] staff to go to coastal and see if they could reach a compromise and that is what Greg did,” said Mayor Bob Whalen, who voted with Council members Sue Kempf and Toni Iseman to approve the revisions to be submitted to commission staff.

Whalen also tried to allay concerns about terminating existing permits for STLs in residential zones.

“Anyone who has it, gets to keep it,” said Whalen.    

Currently the city reportedly has 734 STLs.

Councilman Peter Blake, who voted with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow against the revised ordinance, opined that short-term lodgers were preferable to six meth addicts moving next door, over which the city has no control, by state law.

Dicterow suggested that permits be granted in the residential zones if the city imposes strict regulations on the number of days the unit could be rented and if the owner is on the premises.

“Non-owner occupied [sites] leads to problems,” said Dicterow, addressing concerns about loud, unruly renters.

Michele Monda said she rented an STL for 12 years before she moved to Laguna.

“I couldn’t afford a hotel,” said Monda. ”No one likes party houses.” 

She also said the city is losing money (bed taxes) by restricting STLs.

Sixteen members of the audience spoke about STLs: some reported confusion about their status, others were upset with the permit process and some favored the restrictions on locations.

South Laguna resident John Thomas supported the staff recommendation.

“The plan is fair and presents positive opportunities to address emerging problems,” said Thomas. 

“In a climate where online retail has created an oversupply of brick and mortar retail, and at the same time where there is a housing shortage, using excess commercial space for residential purposes could help both situations.” 

However, he added a caveat: If the commission will not accept the city compromise – litigate.

The compromise reached by the staffs of the city and the commission includes six key issues that have been incorporated into the revised ordinance that will be submitted to the commission staff: 

--Continue to exclude STLs in residential zones and permit them only in the same commercial-mixed use district as previously proposed by the city

--Allow existing STLs in the commercial-mixed use districts to be converted to STLs, regardless of non-conformance to density, parking or other development standards

--Prohibit existing residential units that are restricted by covenant for affordable, senior or disabled housing to be used as an STL

--Place new responsibility, including collection of bed taxes and code enforcement, on STL hosting platforms that advertise and serve as facilitators to those who rent out STLs, encouraged by Santa Monica’s successful court challenge against the provisions

--Increase penalties for violations, eliminating the scaled penalties of $100, $200 and $500, and instead impose a flat penalty of $1,000 per violation 

--Applications for permits to be heard by the Planning Commission, rather than the Community Development Director

City and Coastal Commission staffs working toward reconciliation


The most recent attempt by City and California Coastal Commission staffs to address conflicts between the two agencies may have been more fruitful than previous tries to reconcile their differences.

Inconsistency between the city’s Municipal Code and the General Plan plus different interpretations by the two staffs have led to appeals to the commission about development projects. The City Council on Tuesday directed the Planning Commission to initiate amendments to sections of the General Plan, the Municipal Code and the certified Local Coastal Plan related to defining major remodels and the oceanfront bluff tops, clarifying coastal development procedures and streamlining the discretionary review process.

“I have worked on this for years,” said council watchdog, Sharon Fudge.

Fudge and her husband, Mark, frequently challenge council decisions on development issues, appealing them to the commission. 

“You say we should comply with the city’s Local Coastal Plan,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steven Dicterow. “We think we are complying.”

The problem has been that the commission doesn’t always agree.

In 2011, the council approved an ordinance that modified the precious definition of “Major Remodel” and “Non-conforming structures.” It was submitted to the commission for certification but was withdrawn in 2012 to allow the staff more time to reach mutually acceptable definitions. The staffs recommenced discussion in 2018.

Newly proposed amendments are intended to address the unresolved issues.

Staff is recommending a new definition of “major remodel” to include the statement that greater specificity shall be provided in the Municipal Code. Moreover, the sections of the code and land use planning pertaining to major development should be consistent.

Another bone of contention has been the definition of oceanfront bluffs. The city currently has two versions in its Certified Local Coastal Plan. The city and the commission have been using different definitions, leading to confusion on the part of the staffs and the property owners.

Staff is recommending sections of the Land Use and Open Space/Conservation elements be amended to clarify the bluffs and the setbacks from the bluffs. Staff also recommends adding a new section to the Zoning Code related to oceanfront development standards and requirements to be submitted on oceanfront lots.

Recommended amendments to the elements are expected to rectify the different interpretations of the Municipal Code by city and commission staffs. The council also directed to streamline the discretionary review process, which staff has undertaken.

“This should be moved along,” said Laguna Beach architect Marshall Ininns.

Development Director Greg Pfost posited bringing the results of the city planners review back to the council within four months. Staff will continue to meet with commission staff in the interim, Pfost said.

Tree policy vote delayed for Santa Monica official’s presentation


The City Council delayed at the April 16 meeting a decision on proposed changes to Laguna’s tree removal and replacement policy.

Councilman Peter Blake was the lone vote opposing the delay until after Santa Monica’s Public Landscape Manager and former Director of Tree Preservation for New York City Parks gives a presentation on May 1 in Laguna Beach. The presentation is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

“We are lucky to have our City Council and Public Works [Department] be supportive of having Mathew Wells come to address our community with respect to maintaining a sustainable urban forest,” Barbara MacGillivray stated in an email.

The presentation is independently sponsored by the Laguna Beach Urban Tree Foundation, funded by MacGillivray and her husband, Greg. 

Early notification of the presentation has been sent to folks in Laguna who, the Foundation explains, have expressed concern and interest in maintaining and maximizing the extent of the community’s arboreal cover, according to the email. 

Tree policy ocean

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Trees are often a source of controversy in Laguna: a view of Ocean Ave

Laguna Beach resident Adam Schwerner, who is in charge of Disneyland’s “treescape” and formerly in charge of Chicago’s, asked Wells to make the presentation in Laguna.

Wells has worked in Santa Monica for five years. Before that he worked in New York and in London. He has a Master’s degree in urban forestry and arboriculture, and is a Chartered Forester. He presents programs at international tree conferences. 

MacGillivray has a support paper for the Wells presentation. She has requested that those with a passionate appreciation for the value that trees offer read the paper and formulate questions that might be asked at the presentation, 

“Hopefully all of you will be able to attend,” she wrote, and asked to be made aware of anyone who should be contacted about the presentation.

“City Council members and Public Works staff have all agreed to be part of this and are as concerned as we are about the future of our urban forest,” MacGillivray’s email concluded.

The City Council approved modifications to the Interim Public Tree Removal Policy in 2017. The modifications included deleting the requirement for an on-site meeting with two City-retained arborists regarding the removal of dead trees. An exemption to allow the removal of trees with a six-inch or less diameter when damaged, or in serious decline and/or dying, without the need for the on-site meeting and an arborist’s report was also approved.

Laguna’s current tree removal policy requires significant staff time to administer, and the cost of arborists’ services to inspect trees, prepare reports, and attend on-site and City Council meetings exceeds several thousand dollars per tree, according to a report submitted by Shohreh Dupuis, director of Public Works.

The estimated cost of removing a tree is $5,400 per tree under the current policy. Staff time is estimated at 40 to 60 hours.

Landscape architect Ann Christoph and nursery owner Ruben Flores questioned the cost at the April 16 hearing.

Proposed changes to the policy would allow tree removal determinations to be made by Dupuis, based on urban forestry standard criteria for tree removals.

Additionally, the proposed revisions would add requirements for replacement of the removed trees and identify a process for replanting.

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