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U.S. Aircraft Carrier to Visit Vietnam

The irony of the following announcement hasn’t been lost on this long time Laguna resident and father of three. Last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed that a U.S. aircraft carrier will visit Vietnam soon. It will be first time since the war in Vietnam ended more than 40 years ago, that a ship of this size and magnitude will port in Danang. Many speculate that the presence of the aircraft carrier will be welcomed by several countries nervously eyeing China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea.

Because I was an undergrad at USC from 1966 to 1970, I remember that today marks the 50th anniversary of the bloody Tet Offensive in Vietnam. In many ways, Tet was the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in the war. The coordinated attack by 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese targeted dozens of major cities and towns in South Vietnam. To say that it caught US-led forces by surprise is an understatement.  

Named after the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, Tet was a holiday the North and South had previously observed together. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces eventually regained control of the areas they lost during Tet; still, it became a wake-up call for Americans back home who, by now, were watching the horrific news about the war unfold before them daily on TV. After hearing famed CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite declare the war unwinnable, President Lyndon Johnson told his aides, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, then I’ve lost Middle America.”  

More than 58,000 U.S. troops died in the Vietnam War. No telling how many North and South Vietnamese were killed during the war. I often have wondered what life would have been like for the tens of thousands of young Americans who died there had they lived. Two who came home, John McCain and John Kerry, ended up running for president. My hope is, in an odd way, this impending visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier will help heal the many wounds of that terrible war.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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Is no smoking law killing business?

With numerous stores closing and retail spaces for rent all over town, I heard one manager say they had the slowest day in history last week. Five dollars. Is the new no smoking rule partially killing business in Laguna?

Roger Carter

Laguna Beach

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Disenchanted with quotes from Harley Rouda campaign about the pre-endorsement delegate meeting – I was one of the “83”

I was disenchanted and surprised to read the quotes by Michael McLaughlin, who released statements about the pre-endorsement delegates [in Tuesday’s edition of Stu News Laguna].

Yes, there is still a race to determine who will be the Democratic Congressman for the 48th. But Mr McLaughlin’s assessment is not accurate, since it is slanted, and intentionally tries to undermine the integrity and gravitas of the pre endorsement vote. Hans Keirstead won this vote by a margin of 67 percent. I am quite certain his views differ from Mr McLaughlin’s.

A “pre-endorsement meeting of about 83 people meeting in a gymnasium...”

This vote “has nothing to do with anything that happens at the convention...”

I was one of the pre-endorsement delegates. The language used by Mr McLaughlin demeans the significance of my role, and is dismissive at best, to other citizens who take on political responsibilities.

I was selected to be a pre-endorsement delegate by the LBDC. All general members were asked to participate.

I attended many forums to hear the candidates debate and sat through many presentations.

I know for a fact that every candidate running for the 48th was determined to win this pre-endorsement made by “about 83 people meeting in a gymnasium.” I personally received many emails, and phone calls, by many candidates, soliciting my vote. If my vote were of no consequence...why? Why was I asked to participate in something meaningless?

If in fact this vote “has nothing to do with anything that happens at the convention,” as articulated by Michael McLaughlin, why would Mr Rouda and other candidates be so anxious to win the pre-endorsement delegates’ votes?

“Falsely claiming Democratic Party recommendation,” as written by Mr. Rouda’s campaign, is equally circuitous.

What Mr Keirstead did win, undeniably, and truthfully...was 67 percent of the pre-endorsement votes. Democrats. Who DID recommend that Dr Keirstead be recommended by the Democratic Party.

Dr Keirstead won by two-thirds of the pre-endorsement votes...a clear majority. Mr McLaughlin’s attempt to demean and undermine Dr Keirstead’s character and campaign seem to be an early example of what all Democrats fear...splitting the vote and opening the door to the Republican party.

Jahn M. Levitt

Laguna Beach

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Trees and charm in Laguna: We have to do something 

I grew up in Corona del Mar, but I began working at age seven for my Dad who was building single houses in Laguna Beach. Our family loved the artistic community—the old, European-style historic buildings that had been carefully protected over the years. We also loved the trees that had been planted by an artistic group led by Harry Lawrence, a man interested in preserving Laguna’s history as a place characterized by groves of trees—eucalyptus and others. 

Ten years later, in 1963, my family and I moved to the village we loved. And we’ve continued to love it just as much ever since.

Thankfully, about 25 years ago, a group of Planners, Architects, and Artists gathered together to create Laguna’s Downtown Specific Plan. They worked hard to describe the desired look, feel, and function of our Downtown area, a place where we locals wanted to protect forever Laguna’s charm. That plan called out for “an abundance of well-cared for flowers, trees, and shrubs.” It says, “In Laguna’s Downtown, large Eucalyptus, Date Palms, Pepper, and Sycamore trees combine artistically to make a pleasant pedestrian environment.” In fact, Peppertree Lane is singled out in that plan as “the example of Laguna Beach’s village character.”

The City Council has approved this plan ten times over the years—and it is a plan that shows trees placed every 30 to 40 feet on both sides of the downtown streets to provide a canopy of shade for all us locals to enjoy. I’m sad to say that about 25 percent of those trees are yet to be planted! None of these trees would block views of the ocean from hillside homes or downtown residences.

This approved plan has been our town’s guideline of beauty and charm. And now, a committee is updating the plan—but something has changed in Laguna in the past 25 years. Today, there is a war on trees and, to some degree, a war on charm. Part of this is driven by the fact that a lot of our artists have moved away, so there are fewer artistic types to say, “Hey, that looks ugly!” 

So, is there a way to save Laguna’s charm? Can we hire a “Commissioner of Charm” to work with John Pietig and his staff? What if our active group pays half the salary for ten years? Whatever the solution, we have to do something, as our town’s trees and charm are the reasons that my family and many others have settled here. 

Greg MacGillivray

Laguna Beach

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Are we headed for a constitutional crisis?

As a bona fide member of the Baby Boomer generation, I witnessed two constitutional crises in my 20s. Both happened during my earliest days living in Laguna. 

The first, over the vehement objections of the Nixon administration, was the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Washington Post and New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. If you need a primer on this topic, then go see “The Post” in a nearby theatre. 

The second was the Watergate scandal beginning in 1972.  For those who have forgotten or never knew it, Richard Nixon tried to eviscerate the Constitution in order to remain in office. His efforts went down in flames and he was forced to resign the presidency in August of 1974.

Now, with the publication of what rapidly is becoming known as the House Intelligence Committee’s Nunes Memo, America appears to be on the precipice of another constitutional crisis. 

Don’t take my word for it. Here is how legendary reporter Carl Bernstein who, along with Bob Woodward, not only stuck with the initial story about the Watergate break-in, they steadfastly followed leads that eventually took readers straight into the Oval Office:

“A real slaughter by an obstructive, irresponsible, partisan gang in the House of Representatives has put the interests of their party and the president of the United States and his personal fortunes above the national interest,” he said.

Asked whether he thinks the U.S. is heading toward a constitutional crisis, Bernstein replied, “Yes, if the president continues down this road, and if his enablers in Congress continue down this road, it could become a constitutional crisis in the sense that the system may fail us.”

I’m not surprised how quickly people lined up for or against President Donald Trump’s decision to release the Nunes Memo. That was expected. What I didn’t expect was how contentious the relationship between the White House, the FBI and Department of Justice truly has become. 

So it’s a little like deja vu all over again. In Nixon’s day, he authorized the FBI to surreptitiously enter private offices, as well as allow the CIA to gather internal information about U.S. citizens here at home. Both were so politically toxic and obviously illegal, most of the president’s Republican supporters in Congress were left with little choice but to cut and run.

Which brings me full circle to Bernstein’s comment about our current situation. I wonder how Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have reacted had they been in office during Watergate? It’s a question that no one can possibly answer with any authority, but certainly worth contemplating given today’s hyper-partisan landscape. 

Why? Because it only is the future of our democracy that is at stake. I hope I’m wrong but, based on their current level of support for President Trump, I am fearful the actions of the Speaker and the Majority Leader could lead to fewer freedoms for the next generation of Americans now coming of age.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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Just add water?

I am not a trained firefighter but I am a skilled waterman. Strategically applied, water puts out fire.

Sometimes we can combine a few problems and synergistically develop a creative solution. What happens if we take the 1.6 million gallons of secondary sewage discharged by Laguna Beach into the ocean each day just over one mile offshore and upcycle this wasted wastewater to provide a citywide perimeter “new water” wildfire pipeline? Our biosolids and sludge in wastewater can be harvested as bio-coal to feed thermal oxidation of wastewater contaminates like pharmaceuticals, microbead plastics and similar guck that otherwise ends up in the ocean. Heat generated feeds a steam turbine to power wastewater filtration. Alternatively, fuel cells can operate from our natural biogas.

By combining the problem of expensive utility undergrounding to include a space in the trench for a new water line in Laguna Canyon, trenching costs can be supplemented with generous State recycle water grants. Laguna would have an independent source of “green” energy and new high purity water for wildfire prevention and suppression as long as we continue to flush our toilets daily.

The estimated cost of a new water system for Laguna is $30 million over the 30-year pipeline life cycle or $1 million per year. Less secondary sewage offshore, more new water for wildfire protection and State funds for Laguna Canyon utility undergrounding is possible when we combine multiple problems to create new, smart, sustainable solutions. 

When do we get started?

Mike Beanan

South Laguna

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Sian Poeschl, thank you

I just had to write and say thank you for:

The heavenly rainbow consolation memorial art installation next to the artistically cut pepper tree remains.

The amazing movie last night at Friday Night Flicks at the Forum, “Loving Vincent,” amazing! 

Supporting the wonderful fallen concrete mural on the beach.  

You and your commission are such a gift to our town. More, please?

Jheri St. James

Laguna Beach

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Mighty Telephone Pole

I was watching the movie To Catch a Thief a few days ago that was made back in 1955. As many of you know the film was made in Cannes and Nice, France along the French Riviera. The views of the countryside reminded me very much of our Laguna Beach. The climate there is very similar to the climate we so appreciate here. Flora of the hillsides looks very similar to our hillsides as well. 

Both of these French cities are destinations for millions of tourists, again very similar to Laguna Beach. When the camera filmed scenes of the countryside many telephone poles were noticed lining the winding roadways of the area. Some of these poles were located very close to these narrow roadways. What is seen reminded me a great deal of the many telephone poles that exist in our fine City. 

Yes, the film was done years ago and yet one could just bet those very same poles still exist today. Folks in that area of the world do the same as folks here in Laguna Beach, they have learned to live with their poles and we all have to until there comes a time when technology can eliminate the poles completely. The French are not attempting to underground their poles most likely because of the cost to do so and with no demands being made by the citizens or their government. 

Additionally, during my drives to various locations close by, that many of us have been to, such as Glen Oak, Arrowhead, Big Bear, Mammoth, Julian and other highly forested communities that are tourist destinations [which] would be considered high risks for fires as is Laguna Beach, I see that the poles are there. The transformers are there. The roadway through many of these communities is even way more dangerous then our Canyon Road. 

So, why the alarm in our town about the fire risks we face that are so similar to many other communities? Why this race to underground? How are similar communities dealing with their poles? One must admit however, do these poles add any beauty to our town? Absolutely not. Try getting a telephone pole included in your landscape planning. The pole in your garden covered with morning glory vine will not be allowed. Have any of you ever seen a pretty pole?

However, at this time, in our community, we must learn to live with our very own telephone poles just like hundreds of thousands if not millions of others must do the same for the decades yet to come. What has been expressed in the news media about causes of fires the telephone pole is ranked way down the list. Those businesses that are responsible for the maintenance of all poles in our town take extra caution to be sure the poles remain safe and good repair. If poles are neglected these companies will be held accountable. 

The fear that is being generated by those citizens in our city and those in our government who support this costly undergrounding is both unfounded and unnecessary as well as a poorly laid tactic. Many of us are waiting to be more and more informed about this costly project and how it dictates such a rapid decision. 

In the meantime...let’s continue to live with the poles as best we can. We have been doing so for many years. 

Jim Gothard

Laguna Beach resident and property owner

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Undergrounding Survey necessary?

After attending the council meeting last night and watching the presentation regarding the results of the community survey, I’m convinced these surveys and committees are a waste of time and our tax dollars.  

This survey was directed entirely toward placing the blame of a catastrophe from fire, flood or earthquake on the utility poles. It blames the poles as the cause of our lack of safety when evacuating and congestion when there is an emergency. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t remember the poles being a problem during the evacuation in the 1993 fires.  

The property owners for the last 20 years have been undergrounding their neighborhoods on their own at their own expense to improve their views. The thought of creating a better “evacuation route” was not even considered.  There were neighborhoods currently going through the process when they heard about this bond issue and learned their street was designated an “evacuation route”. Of course they stopped the process with the expectation that the rest of us will now be paying for their properties. Several property owners last night urged the council to extend the evacuation route to include their neighborhood so they can also benefit on free undergrounding.

This survey should have had a fourth option. The property owners should be required to pay their own undergrounding regardless of any arbitrary “evacuation routes”.  Every street is an evacuation route in an emergency depending on which direction the threat is coming from. Those of us that have already paid for our neighborhood shouldn’t be required to pay for those that haven’t.

All the time and money going out for this survey could have been better spent to possibly help offset the costs for the neighborhoods and canyon where there are larger poles. FYI, this survey would have been free if they utilized Google Form or for a minimal charge with Survey Monkey. The council wasn’t happy with how the survey was conducted or the results and wants the panel to do another survey and report back in several months. 

 Of course, at an additional expense from our tax dollars.

Jill Cooper

Laguna Beach

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Good news to share

I have some good news to share. 

The City Council is often bombarded by people expressing concern about the challenges faced by Laguna brick and mortar businesses and expressed in terms of the number of vacant storefronts. And the general message is that “The City needs to do something about it.”

There was an excellent example of that at midnight two weeks ago when a parade of speakers, some of whom even live here, explained to us how Laguna, with 6,000,000 annual visitors and well over $700,000,000 of annual retail and hotel room sales, is blighted and comatose and is on the road to ruin – like La Jolla -- if the City Council doesn’t take extreme measures to reinvigorate the economy through massive injections of alcohol into visitors.

In an era of fake news, it’s important to do some occasional fact checking into just how critical the patient is.

And what better source of information could there be than the Chamber of Commerce website which lists commercial vacancies?

Checking that site, I found there are currently 36 retail, office, and industrial properties available.  Some are vacant and some will become available in the future. 

I checked with commercial property brokers for a Laguna Beach commercial vacancy factor, but being a small market, the larger providers of commercial data do not break out numbers for Laguna.

So, I checked to see how many businesses there are in Laguna. There are nearly 3,900 business licenses in Laguna. 36 vacancies for 3,900 businesses didn’t sound so bad.

But since not all businesses occupy a commercial address, I checked with the post office for business addresses, and there are 1,447 business addresses in Laguna (not counting Post Office Boxes) so, 36 vacancies out of 1,447 physical addresses is about two and a half percent commercial vacancy.  That’s probably a good estimate of commercial vacancies.

For comparison, I then looked for vacancies in Orange County and nationally and found that while the national average for retail vacancy is 6.6 percent, Orange County does much better with only 3.6 percent.  But at two and a half percent, Laguna is far more healthy than either Orange County or the nation as a whole.

I also looked at new business formations and failures and found that nationally about eight percent of all businesses either start up new or fail in any year. 

And, in fact, only 50 percent of new businesses survive five years.

So, businesses turn over. For many reasons.  Sometimes success. Sometimes failure. Sometimes due to growth. Or sale of the business.  And turnover can cause vacancy, but turnover is normal. And that’s the point. And, in fact, Laguna is doing much better than most.

There is no question that this is a trying time for brick and mortar retail. And, while no one wants to see businesses falter, on the other hand, our City Council has no obligation to guarantee the profits of private businesses.

And if an investor pays too much, or promises his investors too much, the City has no duty to bail him out.

John Thomas

Laguna Beach

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