2020 Election: KX FM & Chamber host final Candidates Forum


Radio station KX FM and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce hosted the last scheduled Candidates Forum and it was lively.

Answers to some questions posed to City Council candidates Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, Ruben Flores, Larry Nokes, Mayor Bob Whalen, and George Weiss were rebutted and those in turn were rebutted, leading to more direct interaction between candidates that at times resembled a debate. 

“That is exactly what we wanted,” said Chamber President/CEO Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold.

Questions were submitted by the public and selected by an ad hoc committee.

The forum began with statements from City Treasurer Laura Parisi, who is running unopposed, and City Clerk candidates Ann Marie McKay and Mariann Tracy, introduced by KX FM General Manager Tyler Russell McCusker. 

KX FM Music Director Alyssa Hayek and Rainbow Radio host and Laguna Beach Pride 365 President Craig Cooley moderated the forum. Monica McCusker was the timekeeper.

Edited answers respond directly to the questions asked. For more information about the forum, click here or call (949) 494-1018. 

Question 1. Do you really believe it’s necessary to add another one to two years to this process [approval of specified development projects] as added expense to residents [by requiring a vote of the people on the developments]?

Flores: He said some projects have taken five or six years to get approved. “What were they doing to delay the projects?”

Dicterow: He described the initiative as poorly written, unnecessary with the amount of public input on projects, would have a chilling effect on development, and involve constant expensive elections. Dicterow said there is no transparency problem right now.

Weiss rebuttal: $20,000 from the Chamber [to help fund the downtown parking structure study] was a lack of transparency, he said.

Nokes: Agreed with Dicterow that the initiative was not well thought through, and the public is involved in the approval process. He also expressed concern about the elections.     

Weiss rebuttal: Three cities have passed it, he said. 

Whalen: “I do not support initiative,” said Whalen. “This is an initiative in search of a problem, and we don’t have a problem.”

He said he had faith in the city staff, the Design Review Board, Planning Commission, and the council. 

Flores rebuttal: With a new PAC and a new council, things can be pushed through, he said.

Weiss rebuttal: “Large projects are taken out of the normal process,” he said. 

Whalen rebuttal: “We don’t have to bring everything to an initiative,” he said. 

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Mayor Bob Whalen

Nokes rebuttal: He said a cumbersome process [initiative] would discourage people. 

Q2. How important is it to you that your campaign be run with civility and truth, despite differences or opposing views you may have with fellow candidates? Would you adopt that same civility on the dais?

Dicterow: He is president of the local World Kindness organization and stated he would maintain civility – which he said has not always been true in this election.

Nokes: “I don’t like the way people have gone after Steve and after me,” said Nokes. A lot of his law cases end in mediation, he said, and he would bring that to the dais.

Weiss: He said he would like to see [council civility rules] enforced more. “Steve and Bob have not enforced the rules,” he said. “I wouldn’t allow it.”

Dicterow rebuttal: “Bob has done a good job.”

Weiss rebuttal: He complained that he had received a message from [Councilman Peter Blake] with foul language.

Nokes rebuttal to Weiss: “So have I – from a council person,” he said. 

Dicterow rebuttal to Weiss: “It is fair to hold the council responsible in council chambers, but it isn’t fair to hold it responsible for private communications,” he said. 

Whalen: He described himself as generally civil and the ordinance as a good thing but agreed that a better job could be done.

Flores rebuttal: He said standing by silently when a council person is demeaned is like being an accomplice. “There’s gotta be more that we can do,” said Flores.

Whalen rebuttal to Flores: “I thought we gave up stocks and flogging in public a long time ago,” said Whalen.

Q3. What is your stance on the proposed downtown Laguna Beach parking structure? Do you feel we need additional parking options beyond this? If so, where? 

Nokes: He said he is a big fan of village area parking and believes it lessens the burden borne by residential neighborhoods. He also supports additional parking and restrooms in other areas.

Weiss: He opposes the site. “Put a structure as big as you want to make it at Act V,” said Weiss.

 But if it is built downtown, businesses should contribute to the cost, maybe with the formation of an assessment district, he said.

Nokes rebuttal: The structure will get the cars off the road and stop them from circulating downtown, he said.

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Candidate Larry Nokes 

Whalen: He supports the site and stated the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance also does. 

“It is the right first step,” said Whalen. 

He said residents will use it because they won’t use Act V to go downtown. 

He reminded the audience that the city had tried to increase parking fees to help fund parking, but it was rejected by the Coastal Commission. Increased fees would generate more money from visitors, Whalen said, and the city plans to resubmit the increase to the commission.

Flores: He supports enlarging Act V, taking over the tennis courts adjacent to the Festival of Arts grounds ,and the purchase by the city of the Art Hotel and putting parking under it. 

Dicterow: He said the proposed parking structure is the first step in taking back residential neighborhood streets, but parking facilities are needed all around town.

Weiss rebuttal: Parking is like affordable housing – an infinite demand. 

Flores rebuttal: It’s bad for the environment, he said.

Nokes rebuttal to Flores: It is not productive for the environment to have cars idling on Forest Avenue, he said.

Q4. What is the one thing you are most proud of having accomplished that has enhanced your community, and what are you least proud of?

Weiss: He said he is most proud of working with the land – taking out invasive vegetation and planting 300 native shrubs and trees. He is least proud of responding to Blake.

Whalen: He is most proud of the Fire Mitigation and Fire Safety Report that is fundamental to public safety, he said. He regrets he didn’t do more to get Measure P approved by the voters. 

Flores: He is proud of contributing to the beauty and ecosystem of Laguna with the landscapes he has created, Flores said. He is least proud of the debacle with his landlord. 

Dicterow: He said he is proud of agenda bills he has sponsored that improve policing that has reduced crime in Laguna.

He is not happy that he has been unsuccessful in getting the council to do de novo council reviews of Design Review Board appeals. 

Nokes: He points with pride at the Historic Preservation and View Preservation and Restoration ordinances, in which he was involved in crafting. Least proud of his decision to have the U10 Girls Soccer Team play defense exclusively in the last period of their game against the White Raiders, a game the team tied in regulation play, but lost in the penalty phase. 

Flores rebuttal: Complimented Nokes on the View Restoration Ordinance. 

Q5. What, if anything do you propose be done to assist South Laguna residents [whose beaches and streets have seen a massive influx of visitors]?

Flores: Provide restrooms. Put trash cans at the top of the stairs to the beaches. Revamp Fire Station Four.

Dicterow: Hold Town Hall meetings. Put in meters on Coast Highway. City takeover of the beaches. Provide restrooms. 

Flores rebuttal: Take over the beaches, close them at 10 p.m., he said. Provide better facilities for Fire Station Four. 

Nokes: He listed restrooms, transit, garbage collection, and parking. 

Flores rebuttal: Other issues come up and South Laguna gets overlooked, he said. He would put up a board listing priorities.

Weiss: Metering the highway would get rid of some cars and get the city some revenue, he said. He recommended the city work with the county and state on the beaches and mend its relationship with the Coastal Commission, which he described as “not good.” 

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Candidate George Weiss

Flores rebuttal: “We spent a million dollars on a study [for downtown parking structure], why not buy a piece of land like the community garden which would cost $1 million?” he said. 

Dicterow rebuttal: “It defies facts to say the city has a bad relationship with the commission,” said Dicterow, citing the recent approval of two submittals.

Whalen: Beef up beach patrols. Interim use of recently city-purchased lots for bathroom facilities and parking. Consult the residents about red curb [no parking] areas in neighborhoods. Provide free parking at Mission Hospital Laguna Beach and a shuttle to South Laguna. Provide better management of the water. A pilot program for weekend trash pickup in underway, he said. 

Q6. Do you feel Laguna has done enough to keep us safe from the dangers of wildfire? What have you done to keep our city safe or what more would you propose?

Dicterow: He cited the three-phase Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Plan as a safety measure. Upcoming is the second phase, which will take time because of the $100 million cost, and he is not sure about the funding. 

Nokes: The big thing is enforcing the plan, Nokes said. He is alarmed about box canyons in Laguna Canyon. “They should be a priority,” he said.

Weiss: The plan is good, he said, but he would like to see better goat management.

“Hardening our homes is the best thing we can do,” said Weiss. 

Whalen: The city has expanded fuel modification zones and is working on more, said Whalen. The “big ticket item,” he said, is undergrounding, and the community has to decide if it wants to fund that in one of two ways. There are two ways, he said – a tax increase or a bond.

“If we have to pay another couple of hundred bucks a year, which is what I think it would take to do a decent size bond, the voters will decide,” Whalen said. 

Weiss rebuttal: “I support undergrounding,” he said. 

Flores: Why not make a bigger effort to clear by hand, said Flores. He also recommended hydroseeding – envisioning a hillside of wildflowers behind City Hall. The city is only telling people to chop things down, he said.

Q7. What is your approach to homelessness in Laguna’s commercial zone?

Nokes: The most successful technique is where the community outreach police officers get to know people – where their families are – their particular needs – and try to get them help, he said. Some are violent and should be redirected to services and relocated in mental health facilities, he said. 

Weiss: He supports federal grants. Housing is the first solution and should be a county, state, and federal effort. Some homeless may not be able to be rehabilitated, he said, but they should be off the streets. 

Whalen: Housing is of first priority, said Whalen. With the county’s Project Room Key coming to an end, a lot more homeless folks will be back on the streets, he said, and the city has committed more police and resources to manage and assist them.

Flores rebuttal: He said he used to see more homeless than he does now.

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Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow

Dicterow: Pre-COVID, Dicterow would join Judge David O. Carter at 5 a.m. and walk through town to see what they could do.

The city needs mental health professionals, he said, but some homeless are violent criminals. He worked with the county District Attorney’s office, which assigned a single Assistant DA to Laguna Beach and the repeat violators are now getting longer sentences. 

Q8. Would you support the creation of an economic redevelopment zone in Laguna to encourage commercial property owners to renovate their properties in exchange for property tax incentives? Why or why not?

Weiss: He suggested it was up to the business community to take action. A bigger solution than a tax incentive is needed, he said. 

Whalen: He does not favor the proposal. Owners of expensive buildings should maintain their property, he said. 

Weiss rebuttal: Landlords could create an assessment district. 

Flores: We paint and landscape, why shouldn’t they, he queried. Owners should be required to provide a modicum of maintenance, he said. 

Dicterow: “I am a market-based person,” said Dicterow. “I think the best thing – in general, but not always – the government can do is get out of the way.” 

Nokes: Revise regulations and allow better uses, advised Nokes. He supports The Promenade and favors more outdoor dining.

Dicterow rebuttal: Regulations should be revised throughout town, he said. 

Weiss rebuttal: The Downtown Action Plan is too ambitious for his taste, he said. 

Q9. Do you feel attracting younger generations and future generations to live and work in Laguna Beach should be a priority? If so, how?

Whalen: Yes. It is important to reinvigorate the community, but it is a challenge because of the cost of housing, Whalen said. He recommends more affordable housing. 

Flores: He said older people are more interesting and young people are here already on our beaches, but buyers? “Hum?” he speculated.

Dicterow: “I have never seen so many young families with children in town,” said Dicterow. “But we want to have aging in place. I don’t want to chase old people out of town,” he said. 

Nokes: He said he and his wife are the old folks on their street, but they are the folks with a swimming pool, so they are popular.

Both seniors and young families will benefit from Accessory Dwelling Units, he said. 

Weiss: He said affordable housing should be built, funded by public/private partnerships. Rezone to build housing, he said. 

Rapid Fire Round

Candidates were limited to yes or no, one-word, or one-sentence responses.

Question 1. Do you support continuing to allow residents to participate in Zoom council meetings post-COVID-19?

All five candidates said yes. 

Q2. Do you support keeping the Forest Avenue Promenade permanent?

All five said yes.

Q3. Do you support Laguna College of Art & Design efforts to build student housing in Laguna Canyon?

All five said yes – to appropriate scale.

Q4. Do you support second-story housing in the downtown?

Whalen: Yes, on a limited basis.

Flores: Yes, on a very limited basis.

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Candidate Ruben Flores

Dicterow and Nokes: Depends on where it is.

Weiss: Depends on where and how much.

Q5. Do you support defunding the police on a local level? 

All five said no.

Q6. Do you support rent control for commercial properties?

All five said no.

Q7. Do you support petitioning the [California] Coastal Commission to allow resident-only permits in certain areas of Laguna (like South Laguna, provided we can provide enough alternative parking options)? 

All five said yes. 

Q8. Where do you think is the best place in town is to create new housing options, which the city is mandated to create? 

Whalen: Ganahl Lumber to El Toro Rd.

Flores: Laguna Canyon.

Dicterow: The city is not mandated to create the housing, only to permit it, so this is not a fair question, he said.

Nokes: Inside residential structures.

Weiss: If mandated, Ganahl to LCAD.

Q9. What do you believe is Laguna’s number one challenge right now?

Whalen: Managing visitors.

Flores: Correct development for the future.

Dicterow: Impact of day-trippers on residents’ the quality of life.

Nokes: Managing the influx of visitors. 

Weiss: The impact of tourists and lack of parking.

Q10. What do you believe is Laguna’s number one success right now?

Whalen: COVID management.

Flores: Yeah! 

Dicterow: COVID.

Nokes: Outdoor dining.

Weiss: Fire safety.

Candidate Specific Questions

For Whalen: What could you have done differently or what can you better do to extinguish the anger in Council Chambers?

Response: I could have been more firm on occasion with Peter [Councilman Blake].

For Flores: How can you reassure your supporters you will fight development on council, despite not being able to vote on several projects [due to past litigation with Laguna Beach Co.]?

Response: “It is no different than for Larry, who represents people in town,” said Flores.

For Dicterow: What can you add as a council member that hasn’t been addressed in the past 20 years [as a council member]?

Response: He said he questioned himself about whether he still had energy, enthusiasm, and effectiveness, and the answer was yes. He said his experience is what is needed to meet new challenges.

For Nokes: Are you a member of Liberate Laguna? Did you hang a Liberate Laguna banner on your law office building? And do you support these campaign ads [in his favor and defamatory to other candidates]?

Response: He said he is not a member of Liberate Laguna, did not hang a Liberate Laguna banner on his office building, and does not support negative ads. 

For Weiss: Does a recently surfaced email from you to Councilman Peer Blake [quoting you as calling him a whiney little b-i-t-c-h] and suggesting he has a composted brain] go against your ability to work with all sides in a fair, honest, and civil way? Would you like to clarify?

Response: “I shouldn’t respond to anything Peter says,” said Weiss. “I think he should get some help.”