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Trolley service this summer is an insult to visitors and residents alike

This summer’s trolley service is an insult to visitors and residents. It is hard to believe the Transit Department is under the supervision of the Public Works Director & Assistant City Manager.           

There is no trolley service to north Laguna to and from the bus depot. Imagine if you have parked and paid at city lot #16 & 17 in Laguna Canyon & take a trolley to the bus depot & want to go to the northside galleries, antique stores, beaches, parks, restaurants and the art museum etc. To get there, you must walk to Laguna Avenue to catch the “short coastal” trolley north. If you are staying at a northside hotel and want to leave your car behind and travel to the three festivals by trolley, you can take the short trolley south to Main Beach park, cross Coast Hwy, walk South to Laguna Avenue and catch the “long coastal” trolley to the bus dept. or walk to the bus depot and catch a trolley to the festivals. Northside merchants should call city council members and demand trolley service from the depot now.

Trolley and bus departure and arrival areas are constantly changed, leaving visitorsand& residents in the dark.

No “trolley stewards” seem to be on duty, to add to the confusion.

There are people waiting very day on the bench in front of the Hotel Laguna, which has been a trolley, city bus & OCTA stop for decades. A permanent sign needs to be installed telling riders the stop has been moved 300 feet north to Main Beach.

The trolley routes are very confusing for resident and visitors. Speaker systems on many trolleys are broken which means drivers must speak with each person boarding and make certain the trolley is going where they thought it was going.

Trolley drivers are the first who will tell you that this summer’s trolley service is one of the most mismanaged in history.

Roger Carter

Laguna Beach

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Peter Blake responds to Armando Baez

Armando, in your most recent Letter to the Editor you state that, “I surprised you with the tone of my response” to your letter dated 8/24. You accused me of “attacking you because of your membership in a local nonprofit civic association.” That “civic association” (Village Laguna) happens to be a political action committee of which you’re a board member. Both of your letters addressed my candidacy therefore it’s only fair that I referenced your affiliation with politically active groups in my responses.

In your letter you “analyze” my response and then attempt to discredit my character as a result of my solution regarding solving Laguna’s crime problem. A direct result of our transient community, which I consider a serious and existential problem. You state, “He is obviously emotionally committed to a purely palpable police only response to the homeless issue.” You’re correct! I believe that aggressive policing and strict ordinances are necessary to protect the safety and well being of our residents. A palpable police presence will deter the criminal transients from committing crimes against the residents and visitors of Laguna. Sorry if that triggers your sensitivities for these vagabonds who are roaming the streets of Laguna, breaking into our homes and cars, openly administering dangerous drugs, masturbating, defecating, urinating and vandalizing our property. A scroll down to this or any issue of the Stu News crime blog will confirm an exponential rise in low-level crime since 2009 when we opened the ASL. Armando, for the record, I am compassionate towards homeless people and am eager to provide assistance to anyone who requires and requests it. You and the homeless advocates in town are desperately trying to paint me as uncaring towards homeless people. Your assertions are based on falsehoods and are politically motivated. No resident who knows me or has taken the time to speak with me regarding my solutions to this issue would agree with you. This is a blatant attempt to discredit me in order to further your failed homeless agenda.

You continue: “He uses a crystal ball or psychic hotline to guess what people who do not agree with him are thinking.” Actually, in your case, I didn’t need either. I used Google to find other Letters to the Editor you’d written throughout the years. Your own writings took the guesswork out of my equation. I read through all of your politically charged commentary. Your letters revealed a passive-aggressive approach, luring your opponents into debate and then attacking them when they respond unfavorably to your agenda. 

You state: “He uses fear of the unknown rather than logic to debate civic issues.” Armando, you and Village Laguna have mastered “using fear of the unknown” to discredit any ideas that go against your stance on issues facing Laguna. Now you’re attempting to use it against my candidacy in the hopes that one of your endorsed candidates will prevail. Please stop acting like you’re just a concerned-citizen. You’re not fooling anyone! Especially 100 days before an election.

You end your letter by stating: “So, to earn a seat on the council, one must be fair, honest, open to all residents and respectful of all points of view. Imagine what someone who is none of these things would do on our council. The ideal candidate should be measured for a civic leadership position by the way he treats his fellow citizens and the level of respect he shows different points of view.” Armando, I am fair, honest and open to all residents and respectful of all points of view. I will however not allow political activists like yourself and Village Laguna to bully me and influence my decisions. I will represent the silent majority in town who are sick and tired of being ignored. Once elected, I will see to it that the residents of Laguna will no longer be at the mercy of Village Laguna’s cronies on City Council, Design Review Board, Historical, Planning Commission and behind the counters at City Hall. 

Armando, I love Laguna and will serve its residents passionately. If you’re concerned with the “tone” of my responses then you’d better prepare yourself for even more rigorous discourse in the future. I will continue to defend myself and my constituents without concern for what you consider unstatesmanlike. I’m not swayed by your comments and unlike you, I’m beholden to no political entities!

Peter Blake

Laguna Beach

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Million Dollar Quartet was worth every penny

My wife and I took our adult son out for dinner and a show last night hoping that Million Dollar Quartet would prove worthwhile. We saw the show in Las Vegas a couple of years ago and were hoping the local version would live up to what we saw in Tinseltown. As it turns out the local production was far better then what we saw in Vegas in every regard. 

The cozy Laguna Playhouse provided the perfect setting and the performance was off the charts spectacular. We felt all the performers were great but the standout was Billy Rude who played the part of Jerry Lee Lewis. His enthusiasm combined with his athleticism was worth the price of admission alone.

Ron Marshall

Laguna Beach

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Next tree to topple over: Where’s the common sense?

Photo by Pat Galez

letter pat tree

Click on photo for a larger image

“Safety should be the City’s first priority,” says Pat Galez. “What are we waiting for? This tree on Coast Highway is about to topple over.”

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There is an alternative to undergrounding

I was very disappointed at last Tuesday’s Council meeting when for the second meeting in a row, the Council declined to react to my suggestion that there may be an existing alternate to undergrounding, and a $30 million City debt.

My understanding is that the Council never asked for investigations of alternatives, but focused from the beginning several years ago on undergrounding as the only solution to removing transmission poles along Laguna Canyon Road.

The alternative I asked to have investigated already has an overhead transmission line from the NW into the city transformer station on Laguna Canyon Road opposite the Sawdust Festival. Could this be upgraded at a fraction of the cost of undergrounding? Let’s at least have a utility consultant investigate.

Robert Reed

Laguna Beach

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Undergrounding is for Warlocks

The City’s urgency in undergrounding utilities is the mitigation of risk from wildfire caused by SCE utility poles, yet nothing in the schedule or execution of this project actually mitigates fire risk until project completion. That’s because the project duration is so long the town remains under threat from fire while you are busy replacing poles – for 51 years. It’s like a moon-shot project, first you subsidize a spaceship for twelve years and $25.4 billion, but you land a man on the moon at project end.

The undergrounding project plan calls for removing Laguna’s threatening utility poles. City Undergrounding Supporting Documents show four wildfires occurred in 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2015 associated with SC Edison utility poles. One pole was located along a main evacuation route (LCR), one fire started by a fallen tree, one by a car impact, two caused by SCE equipment failures.

Taken in sequence the projects LCR, Evacuation Routes, and Residential Assessment Districts would take 51 years to complete (6+15+30) for $200 million ($90M+$45M+$65M). Fifteen years into the project our traffic will increase by 167 percent and the threat from wayward drivers will also increase. Fifty-one years in, the project will finish and the Warlocks below ground rejoice (H.G. Wells: The Time Machine). Above ground the power delivery technology has changed, the buried utility is now obsolete and the Eloi are screwed. Apollo 11 doesn’t go to the moon anymore because the purpose for going and technology are both obsolete.

The supporting documents show one encouraging slide titled City Acquisition of Electrical System, the last bullet reads “Costs and Debt Unknown” but sadly the project has not investigated this option. Another slide titled Harden Existing Utilities System explains how the existing overhead utilities could be upgraded and “hardened” from fire danger in 2-4 years. If we want to mitigate Laguna’s risk from wildfire we should do something effective like turn the power off, or better perform inspections upgrades and install impact barriers around poles while we study replacement utility technologies. 

Les Miklosy

Laguna Beach

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Responding to Peter Blake

I read with interest Mr. Blake’s response to my letter on the homeless issue. I was surprised by the tone of his response. In my original letter I made sure to be respectful and recognize Mr. Blake’s expertise as a successful local businessman. Yet, in his response Mr Blake has elected to attack me because of my membership in a local nonprofit civic association! He then goes on ascribe to me views on the homeless issue that I did not state in my original letter nor in any other public venue. 

I do not know nor recall ever meeting Mr. Blake although I have peeked into his gallery a time or two. So, let’s analyse what his response to my respectful letter says about Mr. Blake:

--He is obviously emotionally committed to a purely “palpable” police only response to the homelessness issue. 

--He uses guilt by association to attack those he does not agree with on city issues.

--He uses a crystal ball (or a psychic hotline) to guess what people who do not agree with him are thinking.

--He uses fear of the unknown rather than logic to debate civic issues.

I have been happily involved with a number of civic, environmental and neighbourhood organizations during the 30+ years I have lived in Laguna. The letter I wrote were my own thoughts and not those of any specific organization. To accuse me of such a subterfuge is unfortunate.

So, to earn a seat on the council, one must be fair, honest, open to all residents and respectful of all points of views. Imagine what someone who is none of these things would do on our council. The ideal candidate should be measured for a civic leadership position by the way he treats his fellow citizens and the level of respect he shows different points of views. 

Armando Baez

Laguna Beach

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City Council is asking residents to vote for the highest sales tax in OC

City Council [gave] 5/0 approval to place their recommended one percent Sales Tax Increase on the November 2018 Ballot. Despite objection by a clear majority of residents, who spoke to provide arguments against the excessive taxation projected to generate $5.6M that would be used to support a 30-year bond debt to underground utilities.

Compelling concerns, the public deserves a cautionary approach:

--Residents will pay to improve Edison’s aging infrastructure improvement but will not benefit or be provided any shares of privately held company stock.

--Many neighborhoods have already paid their fair share and have elected to underground their own street.

--A city debt liability of a 100 million dollar plus Bond may be the unintended consequence for our ability to borrow for any serious catastrophic emergency, think Bluebird Canyon landslide!

--The 2016 Measure LL raised TOT tax, under the main premise of undergrounding, however, the majority of the funds has been paid to other expenses. 

--It is reckless and irresponsible to expect a vote in favor of a Sales Tax Increase when the scope and total bid cost for undergrounding remains unclear and without any certainty. It is of particular importance to know that the City of Fresno’s recent cost estimate to underground PG&E utility went from 40 million to a [whopping] 396 million, in five short years! In short, residents are being asked to tax themselves, for 25 years, to pay for a project of an undetermined amount. 

--At this time a tax increase is especially concerning since Federal Tax Reform has adversely raised taxes, for the majority of California homeowners who may not fully understand the full tax ramifications, until after they cast [their] vote. It is the unintended consequences of a ballot measure that later causes disappointment, regret and stings the well-intended voter.

--The Affordable Housing Tax Force seeks to maintain economic diversity through balance in our city. We have many seniors on fixed incomes, millennials and a challenged middle class who struggle economically to afford to continue to live in Laguna Beach. Increased taxation by local government is a sure way to move toward gentrification. 

Lorene Laguna

Laguna Beach

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City has full discretion on Historical Preservation Ordinance

Please attend the July 31 special council meeting to voice support of a new Historical Preservation Program (HPP) that is based on voluntary participation and private initiative. This meeting will focus on the discretion the City has under state laws to implement a new ordinance. 

These facts show that the City has maximum discretion:

--Messages from senior planners at the CA Office of Historical Preservation have confirmed “there is no legal requirement that a city have a registration program or an inventory”;

--Over 400 CA cities have chosen not to have an HPP. They are not breaking any laws.

A survey of dozens of cities with HPPs show that each is starkly different from the others. This demonstrating that each City freely exercised their discretion to design an HPP responsive to
wishes of residents;

--Neither CEQA nor the Coastal Act mandate a City have an HP ordinance.

Lagunans do not want to be forced onto a registry, inventory or survey without their consent. CEQA exempts home building permits unless the home is on the National or CA Registry or on a local registry. The existence of subjective “windshield” survey or inventory has been interpreted by some as a mandate force your home into costly and lengthy CEQA review process. Placing your home on a list of “eligible historic structures”, against your wishes, may be a wrongful “taking” and lead to unwanted litigation.

Other cities have clear ordinances that declare participation in any HP program strictly voluntary. Many cities rely [on] private philanthropic preservation foundations to motivate homeowners to preserve the historic character of their homes. Most cities use high National and State standards to select truly historic homes. Other have created “districts” or “preservation zones” to encourage private preservation initiatives while “immunizing” other homes from CEQA control. Many rely on the Mills Act as the only significant incentive. No other City has the onerous “agreement” Laguna demands of historical homeowners. This agreement is a huge disincentive.

Please speak out on July 31. The Council must accept the fact that we have total local control of this issue. The Council should create a new “committee” chartered with the task of writing a new HP ordinance from scratch, borrowing the best ideas from other cities while avoiding their mistakes, and complying with clear detailed directives. Those should include 100 percent voluntary participation, no surveys or inventories to avoid CEQA entrapment, insist on the CA and Federal high standards, grant Mills Act contracts concurrently with registration, and encourage formation of a private preservation society to drive private initiatives. 

Doug Cortez

Laguna Beach

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Don’t bury our money underground

Tonight the City Council will vote to increase taxes on residents by approving one of two measures increasing the local sales tax from 7.75 to 8.75 percent for the November ballot.  If passed, Laguna Beach sales tax would equal the highest sales tax rate in the County. Here are the two tax measures being proposed:

The General Sales Tax increase ballot measure requires only a 50 percent plus one, a simple majority vote. This measure is deceitfully worded to mislead residents to believe the tax increase will be used for “utility undergrounding” and “fire safety.” But the taxes can be spent instead on any “Other Essential City Services.” In other words, it›s a city slush fund and legally not a dime is required to be used for undergrounding. All the tax money goes into the “general fund.” The City says this gives it “latitude,” but what it really means is “we can spend it anyway we want,” based on the whim of the city council. Don’t be misled and manipulated by the City and City Council. This is a money grab by a city has budget surpluses year after year!

Letter zeiter cartoon

The Special Sales Tax increase ballot measure requires a 2/3rds vote. This measure is also deceitfully worded to mislead residents to believe the tax will be dedicated exclusively for “utility undergrounding and fire safety.” But read the small print. The tax money is not limited to just Laguna Canyon Road and PCH and the initial so called “evacuation routes” – it has now morphed to 14 arbitrary streets and “other areas.” All these streets should be paying to underground their own utilities, like neighborhoods have done for years, not riding on the backs of all taxpayers. But the city wants even more – it wants an open checkbook so this measure as drafted also allows the city to use the tax money for “other fire safety measures and improvements,” whatever the city decides that means, not you! It’s another blank checkbook that the city does not need! 

Stop this taxation now!

Jennifer Zeiter

Laguna Beach

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