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Letters to the Editor

Could the removal of the fire rings be the demise of the drum circle?

A sad day for Laguna Beach, the supposed supporter of cultural events; the Full Moon Drum Circle (might be) dying!

The City of Laguna Beach recently (took control of) Aliso Creek Beach. They immediately removed the fire rings. Thus the center and focus for the monthly drum circle is going, going…almost gone.

In recent years you may hear a didgeridoo and flute music, alternating with the hand percussion of African djembe beats, while others look on and sing and dance. Joyous and happy times around the center focal point: the fire. Without the fire, the decades-old drum circle may die out or leave to go elsewhere and Laguna will sadly continue its descent into mediocrity, just another bland yuppie suburb. 

I will go elsewhere.

Stephen Blackwell

Laguna Beach

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Letters to the Editor

Village Laguna members claiming that “Laguna Beach Mission Hospital is closing!”

Village Laguna members are shocked to learn that the Laguna Beach Mission Hospital is closing!

Several of our board members have been told on recent doctor visits that the hospital is shutting down services. The laboratory is already operating only irregularly – patients are being advised to make sure it will be open when they arrive. The emergency room may be the next to go, and eventually even the doctors’ offices on the hospital campus will close and most of our doctors will no longer be local.

All of this has been happening without any public announcement. The reason we’ve heard – that the hospital isn’t profitable – seems absurd when the corporation that owns it is a very wealthy not-for-profit.

Our hospital began as a community venture. When a policeman was shot in attempting an arrest and died before he could reach the nearest hospital, Lagunans raised money to help his family (as Lagunans do) and then went on to collect funds for the construction of South Orange County’s first hospital in 1959.

Since then, although the hospital has been purchased by a series of big corporations, the community has raised millions to support and improve it. A new emergency department and a behavioral health facility have been built with community dollars. The City Council has a liaison with the hospital management to maintain the close contact that is appropriate to a highly valued community service.

Past City Councils have vigorously defended keeping the hospital local. We need you to get involved immediately to ensure that we don’t lose it. Please consider holding a public hearing on the hospital’s plans and then the preparation of a plan of action for persuading the hospital to stay.   

Anne Caenn, President

Village Laguna

Providence Mission Laguna Beach officials deny rumors of hospital’s potential demise

I’m writing to you to address rumors circulating about the future of Mission Hospital Laguna Beach. As chief executive of Providence Mission Hospital for Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo, I want you to hear the truth directly from me.

When I joined the Mission family almost four years ago, one of the first questions I received from community members was regarding speculation that Mission Hospital Laguna Beach would be closing. I’d like to set the record straight.

Our commitment to this community holds us to be good stewards of resources, and like every non-profit hospital we are constantly examining the programs and services that we provide. Last year, we made a commitment to dedicate considerable time in 2023 to discern the services that we offer on our Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach campuses. We are in the very early stages of gathering the data that will inform our decisions.

Two recent examples of how we balance resources and positive impact include decisions about our outpatient laboratory and gastrointestinal (GI) services on the Laguna Beach campus.

For the past year, we have diligently searched for qualified phlebotomists, but like other hospitals across the country, the shortage of phlebotomists has created short staffing challenges on our campuses. To protect laboratory services for our hospitalized patients, we made the difficult decision to close outpatient laboratory services at Laguna Beach. Before making that decision, we made sure to confirm that there are several available outpatient laboratories located within four miles of Mission Hospital Laguna Beach.

We also decided to relocate inpatient and outpatient GI services from Mission Hospital Laguna Beach to our Mission Viejo campus. In 2021, we opened an incredible, state-of-the-art GI lab in our new Mission Health Center. By caring for all our GI patients in this new advanced center, we are able to centralize our specialists and technology, and ensure that our patients truly receive the highest level of care and an exceptional patient experience.

Based on these changes, I think some community members have concluded that the hospital’s closure is imminent. That is simply untrue. While we have begun a process to discern the services that we offer on our Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach campuses, no decisions about programs and services have been made yet.

Ever since we welcomed Mission Hospital Laguna Beach into our hospital family in 2008, we have been blessed with abundant community and philanthropic support and deep community engagement. We treasure our partnership with the communities that we are entrusted to serve and will continue to provide exceptional care to our South Orange County communities.

Thank you for your partnership and patience as we move forward.

Seth R. Teigen, Chief Executive

Providence Mission Hospital

District’s plan just doesn’t seem to make sense

The recent LBUSD high school Facilities Improvement Plan reflects lack of foresight, and consideration or prioritization for our community and students’ education by district leadership. It smells of “shiny object syndrome.” 

Does a project of this scale and expense really make sense? Is this really a starting point? What was the study session of St. Catherine’s in September? It examined required TK and District office space. There were follow-up instructions from the board to evaluate existing property and to Superintendent Viloria suggestions that it was too early in the process to involve surrounding property owners. Why did this board support that?

This project likely foreshadows the potential litigation neighbors could file against the District regarding property value impacts that a project like this will create. We certainly don’t need more litigation fees under this leadership. 

Have all options been explored, exploited, examined and presented? Why such a big pool, district office and parking? Improvements to the schools are always needed, including pool repairs given the pool’s age and current needs, but did the board consider remodeling to become CIF compliant? No plan was presented which is surprising as it’s only an extra five meters to bring our pool into compliance. While it may require a repositioning, existing neighbors purchased homes next to this high school, with this impact. Maintaining that is how our District, 87% of which we directly fund, maintains “good neighbor status.” This megadevelopment project’s scope and scale, relative to its neighborhood, is best suited for community development or a regional park, not nestled amongst million-dollar homes with ocean views with a School Board, and it’s controversial Administrative District leadership, most who live out of town, determining it’s reasonability. 

Perhaps a better solution would be to build a second community pool elsewhere. Was it considered or studied? A 50-meter pool “shiny object” is concerning. The pool is the distraction while district leadership deceives the community and, by their own admission, swiftly pushes the project along reexamining the excessive parking, with elevated and well-lighted tennis courts, and district office space with pretty ocean views. These monolithic structures will certainly give a “claim to fame” for leadership involved while feigning respect to the water polo legacy.

With respect to that legacy, and our own national level, and LBHS 2015 CIF Championship winning swimmer, weren’t we known as “Artists?” Shouldn’t its legacy, the Artist Theater, be “Broadway quality?” We have a very nice high school by some high school standards, but that isn’t the point. What about the high school’s own legacy? Shouldn’t the “Artists Theater” and its programs be top notch, expansive, community inclusive? AV upgrades are in this new plan, but what about new seats, stage upgrades, ticket booths, upgraded stages, orchestra sections, etc.? 

Laguna has generated Olympic, pro, semi-pro, major league, D1, D2, D3, community college athletes playing volleyball, baseball, basketball, tennis, ice hockey, figure skating and equestrian. All trained out of town, as did many water polo players. Why the pool? Why now? 

Reports state that in Laguna Beach, property occupancy is around 50% full-time, meaning almost 50% of our real estate are second homes. Student enrollment is declining slightly ahead of projections and test scores indicate that our students meeting standards in Math and English dropped 10% overall district-wide last year – 18% at the high school. This is not attributed to the site-level leadership and teachers; they can only make work what they are given to work with. It’s directly related to this same district leadership’s inability to open our schools despite districts such as Capo Unified, for example, opening and only seeing a 4% decline in meeting education-ready standards. 

At the last school board meeting, Board Clerk Kelly Osborne reminded the panel that renovation of the district office was not met with much enthusiasm when the plan came to the board in 2021. She embraced the idea of the pool being a “linchpin” for the facilities master plan. Does this mean that they will hold hostage new turf on the baseball field and an upgraded AV system for the theater until we pass and pay for an unnecessary and an insensitive massive aquatic center, district office and two-story parking structures? The first plan showed  district offices could be redone where they stand, and could be scaled down, a smaller second 25-meter pool could be put elsewhere for “community needs” like club polo and lap swim. 

Leveraging neighborhoods’ existing quality of life for tourist parking and major weekend events and tournaments is unacceptable. When do the needs of the residents and our students take priority? Parking fees and community events generate funding it is understood, and with an aquatic center like this, you can guarantee that Laguna will become a “destination event” location for the water polo, swimming and diving community, generating increase in meets, weekend whistles, traffic, noise and people.

There are other ways to generate funding through lifestyle and community improvements – with the varied and quality shops, restaurants and galleries. Create more year-round local entertainment and varied resident and rental profiles with excellent schools. A creative and positive solution could be working with the city and residents to embrace and facilitate development, improve views and safety with underground utilities in town and the canyon. Improve our schools and its facilities, but also embrace small enrollment, lean into small classes and excellent academic options, rather than it be the constant excuse for limited options. Working with all interests, change the community tone with a community center with a long-needed second 25-meter pool and skate park, encourage reasonable commercial property refurbishment or a manageable compromise for new development. Any or all of this seems a better use of community-funded education dollars and taxpayer bonds than this plan and its 75 meters of pool.

This “starting point” should be the “end of the road” for the plan and anyone that proposed it. 

Sheri Morgan

Laguna Beach

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Letters to the Editor

We’re not “over-reacting NIMBYs,” we just want our voice and concerns to be heard early on

I attended the recent LBUSD Facilities Study Session and respectfully disagree with Mr. Johnson’s characterization of the high school neighbors as over-reacting NIMBYs. Comments at that meeting were directed toward the School Board as well as LBUSD leadership.

At the September 22 board meeting regarding facilities, the board president recommended that impacted neighbors of the high school be included on the facilities ad hoc planning committee. The superintendent declined that guidance, “It would be premature to have that kind of voice in the room…once we get to actual project development we will reach(?) out.”

LBUSD is exempt from many Laguna Beach codes and city oversight boards. They don’t adhere to the same “good neighbor” lighting codes, building and parking, city noise ordinances, or certain approval processes.

The March 24, 2023 meeting was minimally noticed and actively promoted within a special interest group. The agenda included only artists’ renderings, cost estimates and scope of work descriptions. Importantly, only ONE set of “plans” were presented. No mention of alternatives, input sources, impacts, or methodology. So, with that dearth of information, neighbors attended the session to learn more and, yes, voice their opinion. Public comments were only taken prior to the staff presentation.

A refusal to allow resident input, a single option proposal, no considered alternatives, no impact assessment, all from an entity that enjoys reduced city oversight. Yes, there were individuals concerned about this massive intensification of use proposal, many of whom have been good neighbors for years to the school facilities.

The Core Values for the LBUSD include “responsible to…the community.” Other policy sections reference “two-way communication with all stakeholders,” “surrounding community” and “that district facilities fit harmoniously and attractively into their neighbors.” 

An open exchange of information and participation by ALL stakeholders would have yielded a much better start for the project. I agree with Mr. Johnson, we can’t just sit around and do nothing…let’s do it right. 

Gary Kasik

Laguna Beach

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Letters to the Editor

Kudos to PMMC

I wanted to thank you for the recent story “Pacific Marine Mammal Center breaks ground on ‘The Next Wave’ expansion project.”

I have long thought that the Pacific Marine Mammal Center was one of our community’s most amazing and under-appreciated assets.And while we seem to be in constant struggle to maintain our status as an “artist city,” we will always be a city whose primary identity is actually the ocean and those who inhabit its shores and waters – including our people and our sea life.

We are so fortunate to have had the foresight and commitment of the original founders and volunteers. But we are also now especially fortunate to have Glenn Gray as CEO – who is actually a retired bank president with a unique skill set that seems to be taking the PMMC to even greater heights with an even greater vision of what is possible for the center and our community. Bravo to all of them!

I applaud the PMMC leaders and volunteers and look forward to a day when the welcome signs to Laguna Beach include the Festival of the Arts, the Pageant of the Masters and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center! It is a recognition well-deserved and one that reflects as well on our great little city as our arts-oriented heritage has for so long.

Dean Keller

Laguna Beach 

Appreciating art

Nationally respected columnist David Brooks recently wrote a moving opinion piece entitled, “The Power of Art in a Political Age.” I meant to write a response after reading his column, but political firestorms kept popping up so I wrote about them instead. 

Having first moved to Laguna in 1970, and worked for LAM here in town and two other museums over the years, I couldn’t help but wonder what art means in times like ours. Is it meant to prevent the daily struggle of becoming “a shallower version of oneself” as Brooks claims, or is it meant to “see the world through the eyes of another” – often someone who sees more deeply than most?

As far as I am concerned, art helps me better understand myself. As a young boy, I remember seeing the Chagall and Miro posters my parents hung in our house. As a 20-something graduate of USC, I remember driving several times from Laguna to Pasadena to visit the Norton Simon Museum. And as a 70-something collector, I always enjoy seeing the art on my walls every morning when I wake up. That’s because they are more than pretty pictures in frames. Simply put, they remind me who I was when I purchased them, and who I want to be in the future.

I believe writer Brooks would agree that art, more often than not, speaks to the viewer. I can tell you that is 100% true in my case.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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Letters to the Editor

Impressive financial numbers are a reminder of the good going on inside City Hall

I’m hopeful you all took the time to read a recent news article on how our City Manager, city leaders and city employees reported a $17 million increase in the city’s operating budget. The general fund came in $7.4 million ahead of a 20% reserve requirement, according to a staff report.

Our city outperformed budget estimates in its parking fund by $2.8 million (naysayers say that parking revenue doesn’t pay for itself), the capital improvement fund by $2.5 million and the Measure LL fund by $1.6 million (naysayers don’t like or want any more hotels).

Those numbers were driven, in part, by $5 million in hotel bed tax revenue. The operating budget also benefited from an increase in property tax and sales tax. Laguna Beach collected 34% more in sales tax during fiscal year 2021-22 over the previous year, leading to a $1.8 million increase in the balance with a majority of those funds coming from restaurants and bars. City departments also saved $1.4 million through a combination of cost control strategies and unfilled positions.

This was all done with the help and direction of our incredibly bright and forward thinking Shohreh Dupuis, our City Manager, and three (3) city councilmembers…Sue Kempf, Bob Whalen and Peter Blake, who were the members of the City Council that you all berated, but were voted in by the balance of our community to keep Laguna Beach in the 21st century.

All naysayers and name callers who seem to love to fight…IT’S TIME TO STOP FIGHTING AND CONTINUALLY FINDING FAULT WITH OUR CITY GOVERNMENT…it’s time tojoin with the rest of our city that want to see Laguna Go Forward!

Sam Goldstein, former PAC member

Laguna Beach

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Letters to the Editor

Doesn’t want any more photos of vandalism incident

Would you please stop publishing photos of the vandalism at our City Manager’s home? We get it.

Bill Anderson

Laguna Beach

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Letters to the Editor

Laguna Beach High School students working on solving water issues on the other side of the world

Last week, Denny Freidenrich and I met with a dozen Laguna Beach High School students working to bring clean water to villages in Africa and Asia where women and children must walk miles each day for this basic necessity of life.

As part of “Walking for Water,” a nonprofit founded by Laguna resident Susan Hough, these young activists’ mantra is “If they have to walk for water, so can we.”

Denny and I were so impressed with these students’ commitment to help others. Last year this group raised $100,000, which paid for wells, a school in a Tibetan refugee camp in rural India and tuition for kids in Africa who otherwise would be unable to further their education. To date, the nonprofit has built 37 wells in West Africa and India and paid 4,174 kids’ tuition in sync with their mission statement: “Water is Life. Knowledge is power.” Their goal on March 26 is to match or exceed $100,000 this year. 

Thanks to Hough and her nonprofit, Laguna Beach High School students are learning early that by expanding their circle of caring beyond themselves, they can make positive changes in individuals’ lives, making the world a more connected and better place for all of us. We invite you to meet and sponsor these teens next month at their high school walk-a-thon and auction. 

To find out more about the group’s goals and how you can help, please click on

Robin Pierson

Laguna Beach

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Letters to the Editor

What will this year’s Pageant bring?

I hope this year’s Pageant of the Masters will be a Pageant of Real Masters as it was for the past 80 years, and not just some postcards from around the world sent by a Ship Master and some unknown dancing from other countries with no master directing them.

Bob Couse

Laguna Beach

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Ruth Willette

January 3, 1934 – February 15, 2023

Obituary Ruth Willette portrait

Submitted photo

Ruth Willette

Ruth Alpha Kinsman Willette was born to Frank Kinsman and Eusebia Maria Davis on January 3, 1934 in Panama City, Panama. She passed away peacefully at 89 on February 15, 2023 at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, following a short illness.

When she was 8 years old, she moved to Los Angeles with her family and attended high school at Flintridge Sacred Heart. At 22, she married Edward Willette and they lived in Rosemead, where they began their family. They moved to their forever home in Laguna Beach in 1973, and owned liquor stores in Dana Point and San Clemente. 

Ruth loved gardening, swimming in her pool and going to the movies. In her later years, she enjoyed various recreation department classes such as water aerobics, memoir writing, guitar and French. She enjoyed talking with friends, painting birdhouses and stepping stones, and playing with her grandkids.

She was preceded in death by her parents, husband Ed, brothers Maurice and Walter, and sister Liz.

She is survived by two daughters and sons-in-law, Karyn and Tom Raymer of Griffin, Georgia and Raquelle and Alaín Basto of Laguna Beach, and son and daughter-in-law John and Virginia Willette of Laguna Beach; two sisters, Alice Kinsman of Laguna Beach and Margo Kinsman of San Marino; seven grandchildren – Victoria, Chloe, Cosette, Giselle, Claudette, Dominique and Eduardo; and two great grandchildren, Levi and Gavin. She touched many lives and will be remembered with love by all who knew her. 

Ruth’s memorial service will be held Saturday, Feb. 25 at 10 a.m. at Pacific View Mortuary, 3500 Pacific View Drive, Corona de Mar.

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Letters to the Editor

What happened at the City Manager’s home

Emil Monda was right to condemn the vandalism at the City Manager’s home (Stu News Letters, Feb. 14). Hopefully, police investigators will find DNA at the scene and quickly match it to the perpetrator or a relative. If not, then I urge the City Council to offer a $5,000 reward to the person whose tip leads to the arrest and conviction of said perpetrator. Surely, that person told someone what his or her plan was or bragged about it afterwards. 

As Monda pointed out, “This cannot stand.” I agree 100%.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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