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Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative is worth supporting

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Weil about the importance of reading. While it appears that he has read reports of Malibu’s Measure R, it seems that a close reading of the Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative didn’t occur. It is well worth reading…and, supporting.

Rather than looking as far away as Malibu for comparable initiatives, we Laguna voters need look no further than our neighboring cities – Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, and Dana Point – for similar initiatives to Laguna’s. Why did our three neighboring cities find it necessary to pass initiatives to provide their residents with the right to vote on big commercial developments? Well, because their city council majorities were voting them in despite the will or input of the residents. In fact, the Dana Point City Council rushed through approval of those large box developments overhanging PCH just days before the residents’ ballot measure took effect. The people may have voted for a voice and control, but Dana Point’s City Council squeaked those concrete boxes through at the very last minute. How’s that for representation of their voters?

Laguna Beach can learn from their neighbors and pass a ballot initiative that enshrines our current development standards that produced such beautifully crafted developments as the Pottery Shack renovation – complete with shops, restaurants, public spaces, and parking. Jumbo-sized commercial developments bigger than the Pottery Shack go to a vote of the residents with this ballot initiative as do developments that produce more traffic trips or try to weasel through without sufficient parking. (Does anyone out there really believe that there were as many car drivers in the 40s and 50s as there are today?) We all recently heard how long it will take to evacuate Laguna in case of a fire, earthquake, or other disaster on a normal day. The time increases with more people in elephantine commercial developments. 

As for city council members supporting ballot initiatives, it is as much a part of America’s noble democratic process as voting is. Mayor Whalen had as much right to promote and collect signatures for his undergrounding initiative as other council members have to collect signatures on this ballot initiative.

Laguna residents are as smart and savvy as the residents in our neighboring cities – and we certainly know how to read. Read the ballot initiative and don’t be snowed by those who say we don’t have to protect ourselves like our neighboring cities did. Sign the Initiative, and vote for smart development.

C. Deborah Laughton

Laguna Beach

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Remembering 9/11

I remember exactly where I was when the 9/11 attacks occurred 20 years ago. One of my Woods Cove neighbors called to tell me something horrific was happening in New York City, which was where my 21-year-old son was attending college, and that I needed to turn on the TV. After watching a plane crash into the second World Trade Center Tower, I quietly told my wife and two young children there would be no work or school that day.

I tried calling my son several times in NYC but couldn’t get through to him. That night, as I watched the news, endless waves of bewilderment and grief kept rushing over me. How could this have happened? What does this mean for America? And where is my boy? Finally, around 9 p.m. our time, my son called. He was safe but shaken. His entire neighborhood had been evacuated after the second World Trade Center Tower crumbled to the ground.

Looking back over my lifetime, some events or dates are seared into my memory. The Soviet Union’s launching of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, comes to mind first. That was followed by President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show ten weeks later on February 9, 1964.

Next were President Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin speech on August 7, 1964, the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, Apollo 11 landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, and the first Vietnam-era draft lottery held on December 1, 1969 (which I “won”). I also remember being glued to the TV the night Richard Nixon announced he would resign the presidency on August 8, 1974, and when Barack Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009. Clearly, each one of these events will be remembered 100 years from now; but I dare say none of them compares to the long-term impact 9/11 will have on America.

Following our recent retreat from Afghanistan, some people worry there will be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. I have no way of knowing if this will happen or not, but I do know this: Just as I worried about my children 20 years ago, I worry about them today. I wonder which days or events they will remember on the 40th anniversary of 9/11?

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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Please read before signing…

Dear Laguna Beach Parents and Community,

I am writing to share my concerns as a resident, father of two young boys, and active community member. Recently, it has been brought to my attention that prior to the Music at the Park community event, a council member was actively petitioning residents for signatures on behalf of the Laguna Residents First, Political Action Committee (PAC). This action poses two questions. Is this a conflict of interest due to that member’s official role? What is the initiative? Although wearing a Laguna Residents First PAC logo T-shirt, carrying a clipboard, and recruiting signatures may not be explicitly illegal, these actions should be viewed by the community as a potential conflict of interest bordering the lines of abuse of public office. It is one thing for a council member to show support or endorse elements involving changes in the community, but it is another for that council member to be advocating the agenda on behalf of a PAC. This Founder Emeritus clearly is not Emeritus. Showcasing bias and favoritism to his former PAC should not go unnoticed…and this is not the first time this council member made his decision prior to a public hearing. Could this be grounds for recusal if relevant matters from the PAC fall before City Council?

The Laguna Residents First PAC recently introduced a ballot initiative that recommends further restrictions to the development standards in Laguna Beach for size, parking, daily trip counts, and more. If updates and changes are necessary, these changes should be vetted through the public process. It appears that this initiative is being proposed without public, city staff, or professional input. The proposed ballot initiative has serious implications for Laguna Beach’s vibrancy and vitality. 

I think it is imperative that all take a close look at the fine print prior to signing.

My understanding of Laguna Residents First’s ballot initiative is that a small number of residents who organized the PAC believe the only way to “SAVE LAGUNA BEACH” is to keep life and business frozen in a time capsule…that any evolution of our community may be damaging. The stance of, “build nothing, change nothing” is likely not the correct position…and the PAC is trying to promote their measure by a “Beautifying Laguna” positioning.

To my knowledge, nothing in the document involves beautification, articulation, design, architecture, or even landscaping improvements. The initiative’s intent, in my opinion, is for one PAC to assert unnecessary controls on our community by passing on the input for future development projects by elected City Council leaders, city staff, standing community policy, and public opinion. The initiative also proposes use of an “overlay zone.” Although overlay zones have a place in the town planning toolbox, in this case an overlay zone is not likely to be effective.

This proposal will further complicate our already complex general plan and municipal codes. Today, our city’s current planning documents create code collision, and the proposed initiative would add more complexity to our general plan, specific plans, and local coastal program. It would not fix them. The proposed overlay zone could potentially impact over 7,000 city, public, and privately owned lots and may conflict with state government codes. This could lead to: greater controversy; delayed permits; a revolving door of city staff; taxpayer confusion; litigation; and additional expenses. 

For that reason alone, please do not sign this petition.

Our community should be aware that in 2014, the City of Malibu passed Measure R, a voter-based initiative that would restrict development of large-scale commercial (chain stores), mixed use, and conditional development permits to run solely with the operation by way of requiring specific plans on mixed-use developments of over 20,000 sq ft prior to voter approval. Three years later, the courts ruled against the community’s Measure R, thereby invalidating the voter initiative. This cost the City of Malibu in terms of staff time and legal fees and costs the residents. The residents clearly ended up last in this scenario, not first. 

Most of the iconic properties in Laguna Beach were developed over the last century, each with its own characteristics of the period. Those developments over time have been woven into the fabric that makes our town and its location truly unique. This should lead us to question if this ballot initiative process is the correct tool for sculpting Laguna Beach’s community vision.

In my view, this initiative does not promote Laguna Beach’s evolving character in a manner that honors our past nor does it embrace its future. Instead, it is a permanent barricade or “NO” that will clog our planning process and codes for decades.

Please, let’s not allow a select few with limited or no professional planning experience to copy and paste language from other city’s playbooks. 

I strongly believe that making development changes to Laguna Beach’s commercial and residential properties takes a delicate balance. This balance includes the voices of all property owners, neighbors, staff, and community members. This process must be transparent to the entire community. It must involve the entire community…residents who are generational, long term, short term, new, young, or old. All residents should be heard in creating the Laguna Beach vision. 

Again, please read the initiative carefully. 

What you sign will affect Laguna Beach for years to come.

Louis Weil

Laguna Beach

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Truth not politics in school race curriculum

Instead of challenging disputed merits of “Critical Race Theory” some propose for school curriculum, locally and nationally CRT opponents are missing the chance to advance competing academically validated race justice curriculum.

Opposing all race studies, blithely insisting the legacy of race injustice is resolved, makes it easier for overpaid outside consultants to spoon-feed politicized revisionist race history to our School Board, viewed by many as ideologically gullible. 

The latest anti-CRT social media buzz here in town and nationally is about a TikTok video featuring a black parent who declares racism no longer exists in America, and the only oppression for his children and other black Americans is their own ignorance, laziness, and bad judgment.

One can’t help but admire this man, who tells his truth based on his experience, describing the freedom and equality we want for Americans of all races. But it also is remarkable that he appears to be the only black person in the large and crowded public meeting.

No other black men or women with different experience are there to tell their truth. What we might have learned from a less simplistic perspective is that most black Americans who have overcome the socio-economic hangover of race segregation do not want their success to be used to rationalize denial of race legacy impact on black Americans.

Also, it is noted the black anti-CRT parent in the video incorrectly asserts racism in America ended “190 years ago,” and that white Americans today should consider racism something their “ancestors did two centuries ago.” Ignorance about a century of racial segregation that ended in our lifetimes didn’t bother all the white heads bobbing up and down in agreement we needn’t teach students accurate race history.

The sea of white faces in the audience also loudly applauded misstatements about Colin Kaepernick’s protests at NFL games in 2016, incorrectly identified as “the genesis” of Black Lives Matter. Just one problem, BLM began three years earlier in 2013, as a demand for community policing reform after serial shootings of unarmed black people by white police and white vigilantes. BLM wasn’t about NFL protests or black murder rate statistics, but rather the indifference and leniency by police and prosecutors in killings of unarmed black Americans.

BLM was an opportunity to change the racial narrative, but white apathy enabled factions with a radicalized ideological political agenda to hijack the BLM brand. Now some CRT critics nationwide and in Laguna are ignoring an unprecedented opportunity to change public school curriculum to tell the true story of racial injustice and America’s never-ending work to realize equality for all citizens in a more perfect union.

A literate history of race in the U.S. includes a candid account of how the abolitionist movement used the Constitution to end in 70 years over 300 years of British, French, and Spanish colonialism/slavery in America. It was the Constitution’s vision of a more perfect future that made possible an uneasy union under the new Constitution in 1789 between abolitionist states and slave states. 

That set the stage for Lincoln’s feat, saving the union from rebellion and ending slavery institutionalized in America by European colonial powers. However, another century of “systemic” racism followed, and Americans need to understand segregation was continuation of slavery era white supremacy by other means.

It took 58 years for the racist separate but equal doctrine of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to be overturned by the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. That case ending racism in public schools made the civil rights movement of the 1960s possible.

Legalized racism and segregation ended in the lifetime of parents and grandparents with children in our public schools. For example, federal law allowed states to make interracial marriage illegal until 1967, the same year I was a sophomore at LBHS and the Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper’s album.

Although racial discrimination became illegal in the 1960s, does anyone really believe four hundred years of white supremacy ceased to impact the social, economic, and political status of black people in America?   

Yet, if CRT critics are merely obstinately opposed and refuse to offer an alternative, then hardcore CRT supporters with a political rather than educational agenda may have more influence on what is taught in our schools.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach

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A simple solution to recent Coast Highway parking alterations In Victoria Beach

The City finally posted enforcement hours below those new instructional ones placed on Coast Highway in early June.

Don’t thank me.

We locals owe a large debt to our Laguna-based media who indirectly “nudged” the City and thus “encouraged” them to at minimum affix the “9am-6pm” sign below the 10 MINUTE PARKING LOADING ZONE (LZ) postings via publishing my recent column. 

The fourth estate is at times our public pillory because unfortunately we’ve become a complaint-driven society exacerbated by deaf governance.

The NO VEHICLE ACCESS sign shows that irony didn’t die on 9/11: The City permanently eliminated three of our historically unrestricted 24/7/365 Coast Highway parking spaces, a questionable taking, in an existing, seriously “under-parked” area, yet inscrutably directs them to park on Coast Highway. 

Hello? Is there anybody in there?

I still don’t see anyone picking up or dropping off visitors at the three new Coast Highway LZs located at McCauley, Sunset, and upper Victoria Drive.

As I predicted, everyone has gone back to the intersections of Dumond and Victoria Drive (near the underpass) and/or the top of the stairs at Sunset and Victoria Drive, now that construction is over.

And off-season, visitations plummeting, who in their right mind believes these LZs will even be used at all until next summer?

Achieving this hours of enforcement addition only took them what, 10+ weeks of constant haranguing by yours truly plus media saturation? That’s flank speed for a bureaucracy. A minor, Pyrrhic victory regardless.

The City should exhibit flexibility for residents and locals alike: (A) Paint the curbs green instead of white, and (B) Only put up the enforcement signs on the stanchions on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and take them down after Labor Day. Is that asking a lot, two hours of low-level staff time per year? 

Except for Dizz’s immediate vicinity, the inland Coast Highway parking is dangerous for drivers getting in and out of their cars.

Who wants to bet that the City’s next smooth move won’t entail installing parking meters on both sides of Coast Highway from Moss Street down to the Montage, adding insult to injury?

Roger Butow

Laguna Beach

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Plant Man Column

“Dare to be honest and fear no labors.” –Robert Burns

Labor Day weekend has come to signify the end of summer – although my WWF calendar actually denotes it as September 20th. Gratefully, the weatherperson forecasts clear and beautiful days by Saturday, one last trip to Laguna for inlanders (thankfully), and time to garden for those so inclined. 

Letter Kawaratani 1

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Catharine’s bountiful veggie garden

After a summer of unintended benign neglect, due to seemingly imperative distractions, there’s an extra day this weekend to harvest the bounty from your vegetables and to tend to garden chores like mulching, pest management, and weeding.

And so, my friends, let’s get back to the garden and answer your questions with the Plant Man…

Q. What is Labor Day?

A. Labor Day is a holiday celebration of the American worker – not really the end of summer. We honor the contributions and achievements of all of us who have or are working.

Q. I still have snails in the garden; what should I do?

A. Snails require moisture to thrive, so they are most troublesome during overcast weather. I handpick the ones I see and apply iron or copper pellets to reduce the population. 

Letter Kawaratani 2

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An easy-to-use flea control for outdoors

Q. Plant Man, I’m not tuning my ukulele; I think that “my dog has fleas” from lying in the front lawn.

A. Fleas find the moist environment of an untended lawn an ideal place to hide and breed. Maintain your lawn at three inches high and apply a pet safe pesticide to kill existing fleas and repel new ones. 

Q. Mr. Plant Man, I have empty holes in my flowerbeds. What should I plant?

A. A list of hardy late-summer flowers begins with impatiens, begonias, and salvia. 

Q. I am seeing ants running up the trunk of my tree. Should I be concerned?

A. Follow the ants; they are likely being attracted by plant sap, which is a source of water and nourishment. If you discover that your tree is “bleeding sap,” consult an arborist to ascertain the problem.

Q. How can I grow a dichondra lawn?

A. The soil should be well prepared and perfectly graded. Monthly feedings with a complete lawn fertilizer and plenty of water is necessary to keep the “lawn” green. Limit mowing to three or four times a year.

Letter Kawaratani 3

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Giant Whitefly

Q. The leaves of my hibiscus are covered with a white, fuzzy, and sticky mass. What’s up?

A. Your hibiscus is being infested with Giant Whitefly, which was first discovered in Laguna during October 1992. Although unsightly, the damage is not likely lethal. For aesthetic reasons, I recommend washing the pest off with a strong stream of water and/or simply pulling off affected leaves.

I plan to observe this Labor Day holiday by contemplating and practicing gratitude. By doing so, I will find that peaceful, easy feeling, while practicing horticulture in my ever-demanding garden. Be safe and stay well! See you next time.

Steve has been a local guy for seven decades and likes to garden and drive the Baja Peninsula. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (949) 494-5141.

Steve Kawaratani

Laguna Beach

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Merritt and Honarkar responsible for Hotel Laguna delays

Many people wonder why the Hotel Laguna has been closed for almost four years. The facts would point to property owner E. W. Merritt Farms and operator Mohammad Honarkar.

After all, the prior operator of the Hotel Laguna, the Andersen family, wanted to extend their lease and the Hotel Laguna would have continued in operation.

Then a group led by Joe Hanauer and Greg MacGillivray had plans to restore and reopen the Hotel when at the last-minute Mo Honarkar apparently made a higher bid to lease the Hotel. We’ll never know what a wonderful job Joe and Greg would have done and how far along they would be by now.

And clearly, Mo Honarkar cannot get his act together and follow legal regulations and procedures.

Community Development Director Marc Wiener communicated to Mr. Honarkar: “you must provide the City with a comprehensive plan for Hotel Laguna project. Such a plan must include a schedule and description of the future work that is proposed.” In addition, the California Coastal Commission has been trying to obtain from Mr. Honarkar “an update on the resolution of the violations and submittal of a complete application.”

What has Mo Honarkar been doing to the Hotel Laguna? According to the City staff report:

–Stop-work orders were issued to Hotel Laguna due to unpermitted work that was taking place at the hotel.

–For unpermitted electrical and plumbing work.

–For unpermitted work to the kitchen.

–For construction of a new bar.

–For additional electrical work.

–For replacement of windows.

–For exterior work that included removal and reconstruction of retaining walls as well as trenching at the rear of the building.

–For unpermitted installation of a beverage line and associated CO2 tanks.

–A concrete patio had been poured and the southerly portion of property has been backfilled without the benefit of permits.

The Coastal Commission staff found substantial issue with the issuance of Coastal Development Permit (CDP 2020-7925).

City Manager Shohreh Dupuis says Mr. Honarkar threatened to sue the City. The City Council with its legal counsel and others met at a closed session regarding the potential litigation related to the project. The stop-work order was modified, allowing Mo Honarkar’s Laguna Beach Company to complete the Hotel Laguna restaurant.

This isn’t the fastest or best way to restore and reopen a hotel that should be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Gene Felder

Laguna Beach

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Ti Amo purchase

Did everyone else hear what I heard at the last City Council meeting on August 24? The surprising news was that the City was moving forward on the purchase of the Ti Amo restaurant property without an appraisal of the $2.7 million purchase price, and with a rush escrow of 90 days. What’s the hurry? And why wasn’t there an appraisal?

Since many of us were still scratching our heads as to why an oceanside parcel on PCH without any side street egress was being considered as a potential site for a new South Laguna fire station with emergency vehicles, it was jarring to hear the CC shrug off the need for a property price appraisal or any full stakeholder meetings with South Laguna residents. Not consult South Laguna? The same folks who used to man (with women and men volunteers) the South Laguna fire station on Second Ave?

Did I hear accurately that all (87?) of the emails and letters about Ti Amo as a potential site for a fire station were negative? Yes, I did read the City Staff past and current reports on why Ti Amo was their first pick for a fire station site, but it read like confirmation bias as in “oh, this site is available, so let’s see how we can find evidence to support that it’s the best one in South Laguna for a new fire station.”

With a few exceptions, there were also a majority of in-person and by phone testimonies against the consideration of this parcel as the future site of a fire station. This is when surprise number two occurred when we heard from Councilman Blake at the end of all these testimonies that none of the callers or presenters were from South Laguna. What did he hear or what evidence did he possess to support this “no South Laguna residents” label? Or was this another of those infamous telepathic power moments that descend upon residents who become City Council members?

No appraisal and no involvement from the very residents who are to be served by a new fire station? South Laguna deserves better treatment as do the taxpayers who fund these unappraised real estate purchases.

C. Deborah Laughton

Laguna Beach

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September song

For many, September is a “born again” month. I mean during the summertime we may have had a joyous vacation at some exotic resort or have been just enjoying some relaxing, do-nothing days at home, lolling in the sun, reading a book, diving into the surf at one of our great Laguna beaches, or just lazily snoozing the days away on a hammock. Whatever, when September hits, it’s time to focus on the rest of the year and what we can do to make the remaining months better and more successful not only for our business or profession but also for ourselves. There is a new energy in the air, and we move on focused and ready to face the world. 

Not entirely so for me. Retired now, while I remain active with our local VFW Post and other organizations supporting the community and veterans in need and actually do feel a surge of new energy as we move to the end of the year, there is also a sorrowful, negative prescience I feel on September’s arrival. 

While back in New Jersey we were conditioned to the reality of losing seasons for the old alma mater, Rutgers University, here in California it has been especially painful. Here I am surrounded by Laguna Beach friends who are graduates from sports powerhouses like USC, UCLA, Stanford, U of Oregon, U of Washington, U of Georgia, Alabama, and even Notre Dame. These schools have smash-mouth teams with impressive histories of winning seasons, big bowl games, and innumerable all-American players. Each has a culture of winning; Rutgers has a history of losing to the likes of Lafayette, Lehigh, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and even Army. 

I recall one year, 1953, having recently returned from service, being persuaded by friends to drive all the way to College Park, Penn., to watch a Penn State/Rutgers game. Rutgers having won its first few games, and Penn State having lost a couple, Rutgers was deemed the favorite. Rutgers had a respected and seasoned quarterback, Frank Burns; Penn State had a new kid starting his first college game, a sophomore (freshmen were not then allowed to play varsity ball), Lenny Moore. None of us had heard of Moore before and did not give him a thought. Well, this was the great future college all-American, all-star of the Baltimore Ravens, and Hall of Famer Lenny Moore. He ended up scoring four touchdowns, Rutgers lost again, and we had what seemed like the longest ride ever home. 

And with their unimpressive record over the years what did they do three years ago? They somehow wormed their way into the Big Ten conference to face monster teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, and Penn State (RU lost 20 straight games to Penn State). I guess the Big 10 needed a “patsy” and they sure found one in good ol’ RU. That first year in the Big 10, losing each game by an average of 40-50 points, they did not win any conference games and the following years were equally as bad. 

So why give a damn after all of those losing years? Look, like I explained, most of my friends here in Laguna attended one of those schools, and each Saturday I was and will be besieged by mocking comments about RU’s ineptness and the superiority of their alma mater. I’ve been out here now for close to 50 years and have not escaped the abuse for all of those years. 

But they are not totally wrong. Rutgers (1766), while a renowned institute of advanced learning – science, law, business, engineering, mathematics, social sciences, art, theater, you name it – has an atrocious sports history. With over 71,000 students at its three campuses – New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden – 

and located between two major metropolitan cities, NYC and Philadelphia, and New Jersey itself being one of the country’s most populous states, you have to ask why they do not attract better athletes. They don’t and that’s the problem. 

There you have it. While I love sports and particularly college football, I dread the start of September and the college football season. I guess hope does spring eternal, however. Maybe this year “we’ll” have a bowl game season and I can be proud of my RU Scarlet Knights. But don’t bet on it. 

Arnie Silverman

Laguna Niguel

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The Bead Shop

Your article about the new owners of The Bead Shop on Coast Highway at Thalia inspired me to go in and check it out and I met them. The store looks fabulous! I especially like the large table where you can sit and string beads or create earrings! It is a really fun and creative shop!

Welcome to the neighborhood!

Love,

Beth Leeds

Laguna Beach

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