Share this story

Walter Viszolay’s Sawdust Festival mural evokes history

The fine mural which Walter Viszolay is completing on the fence at The Sawdust Festival facing the frontage road is straightforward narrative graphic in style that is surely not motivated by the wish to tell History, but it inadvertently does so anyway. At the far right end of the mural, Walter has included the iconic faux Medieval tower rising up the cliff from the rocks at Victoria Beach. Just to the left of the image of the tower, rendered as in the far distance, Walter has put in the two-story Mediterranean-style mansion which hangs from the cliff at #1 Rockledge. This building is a relic of the highest intellectual culture ever to grace Laguna Beach.

In 1937 an odd quartet of ex-patriot Brit pacifists trying to avoid the rise of Hitler arrived in America. They were the novelist Aldous Huxley, the poet Christopher Isherwood, the savant Gerald Heard, and Chris Wood, the rich Englishman who was footing the bills. They arrived in Hollywood to be lionized by swamis and moguls. Chris Wood decided that he liked Laguna Beach, and built the house at #1 Rockledge. His traveling companions, plus other literati and illuminati of the Southern California Scene, became his regular guests.

letter wright pic

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

New mural by Walter Viszolay provides historical backdrop

Aldous Huxley, being who he was, soon developed a friendship with Swami Prabhavananda, the guru of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Temple in Hollywood. Swami Prabhavananda wanted to build a monastic retreat in Southern California. It came to pass that Chris Wood bought a property in Trabuco* Canyon on the Pacific side of Saddleback Mountain, and then financed the buildings there of the Ramakrishna Monastery, the first abbot of which was Gerald Heard. Christopher Isherwood formally became a disciple of Swami Prabhavananda, while Aldous Huxley, as usual, retained his independence, and just tried to understand everything. Huxley’s closest intellectual friends at the time were Edwin Hubble and J. Krishnamurti.

In 1960 I had the opportunity to visit at #1 Rockledge, which I could see was a beautiful house, but the history of which was unknown to me. I was there to see my friend, David Renacker, who was just then painting a mural in Newport Beach on the wall of a coffee house, that last expression of so-called Beat culture. The coffee house was called “The Prison of Socrates”, and David Renacker’s mural featured Socrates about to drink the hemlock, surrounded by his distraught disciples. In my opinion, David Renacker’s mural was a bit less draftsmanly than the painting on the same theme by Jacques Louis David, but more dramatic. In Laguna Beach at that time there was a smaller coffee house called “The Cafe Frankenstein”, where Bette Davis and Gary Merrill failed to be impressed by the jazz comic, Lord Buckley.

(“Trabuco’ is the Spanish word for blunderbuss. A luckless Spanish soldier with the Ortega party lost his trabuco someplace in the canyon the now bears the name. We can only imagine what the consequences of losing his gun may have been for the wretched soldier. In the first half of the 20th Century the lost blunderbuss was found, and you can go see it in the Santa Ana Bowers Museum…after you have checked out the mural by Walter Viszolay at the Sawdust Festival.)

Dion Wright

Laguna Beach

Share this story


John Christian Watson

February 28, 1972 – July 29, 2018

Obituary John

Click on photo for a larger image

The world dimmed, and the stars became much brighter as John Christian Watson passed away in Laguna Beach, California, on July 29, 2018.

Born outside of Rochester, New York, John called many places home throughout his 46 years – raised in Southern California, he moved to Austin, Texas after graduating from Irvine High School, and then all the way to Costa Rica where he embraced the “pura vida,” a way of life that he naturally embodied. His next adventure was Vail, Colorado where he became a true mountain man and turned his love of surfing and the ocean into snowboarding and conquering the peaks. John eventually settled in Laguna Beach and quickly became everyone’s favorite bartender, capturing the hearts of all who met him with his infectious smile and ocean blue eyes.

His little beach cottage on Cress Street was a familiar place to all in Laguna Beach, locals and visitors alike. John’s home was a place of joy where strangers became friends, and gathered to laugh, dance, sing, and indulge in spontaneous drum circles where he proved that you do not need to be a professionally trained percussionist to shred on the bongos. A gathering at “Club Watson” wasn’t complete without having cocktails and a wonderful culinary creation he would whip up on the spur of the moment, while sharing legendary tales of his many adventures around the world.  His passions included surfing, swimming in the ocean, snowboarding, soccer, Angels baseball, exploring backroads in one of his many VW camper buses and following the Grateful Dead across the country.

Witty, spirited, kind, playful, unapologetically direct and devastatingly handsome (fact, not opinion), John was impossible not to love. Fiercely loyal, he relished every opportunity to help a friend, setting a new gold standard for “ride or die”. His soul radiated love and compassion, he was happiest when those he cared for were blissfully living in the moment – something we all learned from watching him. He lived like he surfed, riding every wave with abandoned passion. 

John is survived by his father, brothers, sister-in-law, nephew, niece and extended family, as well as countless loved ones whose lives are richer for having known him. As he often said, there was nothing a bad day of surfing wouldn’t cure. The ocean was his remedy for everything, in celebration of his life a paddle-out is scheduled for Saturday, September 29 at Brooks Street Beach in Laguna Beach (please see further information updated on his Facebook page).

Share this story


Martha Jean Clark

February 13, 1932 – July 20, 2018

Obit Clark

Click on photo for a larger image

Martha Jean Clark, known to her friends as Jean or Jeannie, passed away at the age of 86 on July 20, 2018 in Torrance, California. Jean lived most of her adult life in Laguna Beach, California and vicinity, although her last few years were spent in Torrance.

Jean was born on February 13, 1932 in Antioch, California to Harry and Lucille Bender. She was graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1958 from UC Berkeley. After graduation, she married Dr. Elbert Warren Clark IV, DDS, MS in August of 1958. She worked as a nurse before her children were born, and again after they had left the home.

She is survived by her husband Elbert (aka Bert, or Doc), her daughter Heather (Clark) Baker, her son Elbert Warren Clark V (Cinco), two granddaughters, Jasmine and Ginger Baker, and her sister Harriet Mattheis. She will be remembered for her beauty, her kindness, and her perseverance in the face of adversity.

Her memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, September 8, at 11 a.m. at Little Church by the Sea. The church is located at 468 Legion Street.

The family may be reached at 1216 Date Avenue, Torrance, CA 90503-6104 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to: Christian Stewardship Ministry, P.O. Box 636, Laguna Beach, CA 92652.

Share this story

Laguna Beach’s character has been preserved because of Village Laguna

It occurred to me that many of the recent arrivals in Laguna and many local millennials are unaware of the past citizen-led efforts to preserve Laguna for future generations. Let me share one example I received after my last letter appeared in your Stu News. From a millennial:

“My boyfriend works at a local business. He hears negative things about Village Laguna from one of the Managers, who falls into the “more development” camp when it comes to local politics. He asked my Dad (a long-term resident) why a few people complain so loudly about Village Laguna.”

My dad said: “Find someone who’s been around this area for 30 years and ask them if they remember what Corona del Mar used to look like back then. It had a really cool, old cottagey-small town village charm. That’s gone now. Every third house now is a soul-less rectangular box that is the maximum possible size that the lot will allow, going right up to the setbacks. Corona del Mar has lost its soul. The reason that Laguna doesn’t look like Corona del Mar is because of Village Laguna and residents that think the same way about preserving village character.”

And think about what Dana Point is doing to look just like Laguna: Planting lots of trees, offering free trolleys, developing quaint shops and pedestrian areas…yet some here want us to let uncontrolled growth proceed, cut more trees, bring in more hotels and restaurants, get rid of our charm houses by turning them into rectangular living spaces, etc. Think about this next time you drive outside our city limits.   

Residents First! A good way to describe and remember what the effort of the past 47 years by Village Laguna has meant to our town. 

Armando Baez

Laguna Beach

Share this story

Locals’ needs aren’t being met

I keep hearing this same complaint over and over from neighbors and residents here – this City is catering to everyone but the locals who pay the taxes. There’s dozens of homeless people gathering and setting up camp on the grassy areas of Main Beach every single day, there’s trash and cigarette butts littering the gutters, sidewalks and landscaping along Coast Highway, there’s dog urine streaming down the walls, posts, sidewalks and streets everywhere you look, and there’s chronically the stench of sewage at Calliope at Bluebird, McAulay at PCH, Crescent Bay and The Montage. There’s not a single Porta Potty to be found at Sleepy Hollow, Thalia, Brook Street, Moss Point, Victoria Beach, etc. (OMH, where do all these beachgoers go to the bathroom?) 

The traffic has grown massively due to the relentless urban sprawl up the 133, and there’s rarely anywhere to park to do business in town. Since few can afford the rent to run a business here, our downtown looks blighted with so many empty buildings, and if a tree grows through your million dollar view you’re pretty much out of luck unless you’re willing to shell out a large sum of money to prove you lost your view to some obstinate, tree-hugging neighbor who probably has a beautiful, unobstructed view of their own. 

But…we are building a multimillion-dollar Village Entrance so all these issues can continue to be swept under the rug, while even more people flood into our town. We need a city council that actually works for the residents paying their salaries. I think we need to flood a City Council meeting some night and make them take notice instead of ignoring us.

Marsha Bianchi

Laguna Beach

Share this story

Pin-tailed Whydah…so that’s what kind of bird it is…

I want to thank Dianne Russell and Maggi Henrikson for clearing up the mystery of the bird we saw in the afternoon of June 23 this year in our backyard in upper Bluebird Canyon. After we saw the bird we looked at all of our bird identification books to no avail – they only dealt with North American birds. Little did I think we were looking at a bird originally from sub-Saharan Africa. 

I am attaching copies of two photos I took – not as good as Maggie’s though – for your information. We have only seen that bird once and has not returned to our yard to our knowledge. 

letter coffin profile

letter coffin another

Click on photos for larger images

Thanks for the paper as well, we enjoy it.

Hugh Coffin

Laguna Beach

Share this story

City’s Money Tree Is Us! Or “City Reaper”

Here’s one more reason to oppose the City’s proposed 12.9 percent sales tax increase in November. Look at the City Council’s approval last week of the $11.1 Million Village Entrance, at 30 percent over budget. Council members Rob Zur Schmiede and Toni Iseman, both up for re-election this year, approved the over budget expenditure without blinking an eye. Over budget? No big deal, there’s a money tree.

Most telling was Councilmember Toni Iseman’s statements when speaking about where the “over budget” money was going to come from. Toni Iseman was not worried about the Village Entrance cost, stating “We will recapture this money if a couple people in this room sell their houses…get new property taxes…Each time one of those houses sell…anytime there is real estate turn over, we are going to find whatever this number is, this $7.6 million or even $9 million, we find it in a hurry.” 

Voila! Just like that, the City “finds” the money. The money tree is us! That’s their fiscal plan, keep taxing and spending because the money tree will provide. Just need a few of us to sell our homes or die. No big deal.

letter zeiter money

Soooooo, if the money is so easy to find for multi-million dollar projects, why is the city council asking residents to approve a sales tax increase in November to underground soon to be obsolete utility poles we don’t even own, and that won’t keep us safe from fires like the last two big ones in Laguna, both caused by humans, not those sneaky utility poles? Exactly. The City doesn’t need this money, because, whatever the number is, the City can “find it in a hurry.”

Something to think about at elections in November. Vote no on the second tax increase in two years, it’s not necessary. We should “pay as we go.” The City should budget for the undergrounding and use those budget surpluses from the money tree. It should partner with Caltrans and the power companies, and seek more Rule 20A undergrounding credits and more grant money like the $4 million just received. And think about those city council members running for re-election this year, and ask yourself if your money is safe in their hands, and will there ever be enough to fund their incessant spending?

Jennifer Zeiter

Laguna Beach

Share this story

CEQA and Historical Preservation – Homeowners Beware! Response to Catherine Jurca

Thank you, Catherine, for again drawing attention to this issue that has the potential to impact every home in Laguna Beach that is 50 years and older. Under your formulation, owners of homes built in 1968 or earlier are fair game for compulsory, involuntary inclusion on the list of historical resources for the City. Designation as an historical resource imposes a variety of burdens on the homeowner, even for the most minor remodel. The restoration rules for historical resources are much more expensive to perform and require far more City scrutiny than regular Design Review. I don’t believe the property owners of Laguna want to enable the City to deem their homes to be an “historical resource” without their consent.

I understand and respect your passion for compulsory historic preservation. As Vice President and Chair of the Advocacy Committee for the Glendale Historical Society, where you lead efforts to preserve old houses, and as the owner of an historic home in Glendale, your commitment to preservation is demonstrable, and respectable. But this is a path you have chosen, a path you have elected to embrace. Other homeowners who do not share your passion, or your financial stature, might not be as enthused about the scrutiny they will receive when they try to replace a window, or some siding, or a garage door, or a roof. 

Historic preservation should be encouraged, not compelled. I simply disagree that the City should be able to force a property owner into this kind of involuntary servitude, depriving the property owner of the opportunity to develop his or her property in accordance with his or her tastes and wishes, subject to the property development standards of the City that govern properties generally. 

I don’t know about Glendale, but Laguna’s General Plan suggests that historic preservation is to be voluntary and incentive based. That is how historic preservation was sold to the City in 1981, and that is how it remains. I will continue to advocate for property owners – those who seek a benefit through voluntary preservation and those who do not wish to be compelled to preserve a home that they own. I do not believe the City should be empowered to compel preservation against an owner’s will without paying just compensation.

Thank you again for shining a light on this subject.

Larry Nokes

Laguna Beach

Share this story


They’ve been playing her music all over LA all week, knowing she would be leaving us soon. I have seen people listening and being moved by her songs. I stopped and talked to a few of them about her impact on our lives. There we were in the aisle at Whole Foods swapping favorites from her unsurpassable song list. I think of her Rock Steady collection with Daydreaming and the virtuoso First Snow In Kokomo, as well as and Young, Gifted & Black.   

Then there was the Lady Soul album with Ain’t No Way and People Get Ready and Chain of Fools, not to mention Carole King’s Natural Woman, also on that record. Then there was her version of Spanish Harlem, and You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart), and I’m Gonna Knock On You’re Door (composed by Stevie Wonder if I recall) and Knew You Were Waiting (with superb collaboration of G. Michael).

Oh, and I guess there was another song, something about RESPECT! Yeah, who she was as a person, her faith and her honesty. I can honestly say not only did I respect her, I loved her. And it makes me happy that she was among the people who got ready, and she surely did get to heaven on this summer day in the year of our Lord 2018...

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach

Share this story

Mindful flushing

This November will decide the next few years for Laguna Beach as we vote on three of the five City Council seats. My vote will go to the candidate speaking the most about one word. This one word defines Laguna and the health of our Greenbelt and Bluebelt. It is the source of the air we breathe, the rainwater and distant snowmelt we depend upon to quench our thirst, water our crops and feed our community. The word also determines our economy, the high cost of rent and mortgages, the driving theme in local art and culture. The word I will be listening for is the “ocean”.

Pretty much everyone loves the ocean. It is beautiful while freely giving us cool coastal breezes as the rest of the country sizzles in record-breaking temperatures. It is both inspirational and meditative, a source of pleasure and restoration. Unfortunately, the ocean is also where we ultimately dump our wastewater after we flush the toilet, wash our clothes or do the dishes.

letter beanan cartoon

Environmental awareness and social consciousness guide us to consider our impacts to our surroundings. Mindfulness can direct our attention to the health of the ocean we love and move us to take sustainable action to protect what is so essential to our community, our health and our wealth – the ocean.

City Council Candidates will have the next few months before the November elections to express their awareness of the ocean’s importance to Laguna Beach voters. They can tell us why all of the city’s 1.6 million gallons of sewage conveyed to the Coastal Treatment Plant just inland of the Aliso Creek Golf Course is never recycled but sent as secondary sewage to the Aliso Creek Ocean Outfall. The city’s water district is the only South County agency without recycled water claiming “we are an old city”…like Dana Point and Newport Beach, both of which have added extensive recycled water programs funded by generous State grants and “new water” revenues.

Since South Laguna is served by South Coast Water District, much of our wastewater is recycled to irrigate the Montage Resort, Village Green Park and, recently, Mission Hospital. More is sent south to Dana Point for citywide use. Every gallon of wastewater “upcycled” as recycled water is one less gallon discharged to the Aliso Creek Ocean Outfall just 1.2 miles offshore. Inland cities and our cousins north of Nyes Place in Laguna Beach, however, add 10 million gallons each day to the underwater “Laguna Poobelt” plume. 

Some City Council Candidates will plead “there is nothing we can do” and get elected to do nothing about local ocean pollution. Others may take the next few months to add meetings to their campaigns with inland water districts and design new solutions to ocean pollution by bringing recycled water to all of Laguna Beach. A few leaders may even present a plan for Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) with smart companies to design, build and operate improvements to the Coastal Treatment Plant and finally bring a perimeter recycled water system to prevent and suppress annual wildfires threatening our community.

Of course, not every City Council Candidate is skillful enough to regularly monitor the ocean’s health but they can have a designated swimmer or diver report to them the ever-changing conditions in local ocean waters. Candidates may come to realize the central role the ocean plays in Laguna Beach and promote an Ocean Commission to attract the world’s top scientists to study and improve the Laguna Bluebelt and recognize the value of a healthy ocean to sequester carbon and mitigate global warming while insuring a thriving and well hydrated Laguna Greenbelt and thriving community.

In this contested election, every City Council Candidate will want your vote so right now, your voice matters. If you care about the health of the ocean, let them know it.

Mike Beanan

South Laguna

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO -

Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

Email: with news releases, letters, etc.


Email: for questions about advertising


*The content and ads in this publication do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the publisher.

© 2023 2S Publishing, LLC - All Rights Reserved.