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Plant Man Column

“Today as in the time of Pliny and Columella, the hyacinth flourishes…” –Edgar Quinet

The arrival of bulb catalogues in both my physical and virtual mailboxes remind me that it is time to select hyacinths to ensure best selections. Understanding from experience that I will need to “chill” (but not freeze) the bulbs for a period of 60 days prior to planting, I will make room in the refrigerator beginning in September and then plant the hyacinths in November for prolific spring blossoming; this yearly rite also transports me to the myth of Prince Hyacinthus.

The ancient Greek legend of Hyacinthus is a passionate story of friendship, jealousy, treachery, and remembrance. An extraordinarily beautiful youth who was adored by Apollo, Hyacinthus was murdered by Zephyr, a jealous rival. The myth recalls that wild hyacinths sprang and flourished from the blood of the slain boy. These plants always bend toward the ground, as a reminder of Apollo’s eternal grief.

The hyacinth was introduced in the 16th century to Europe from Turkey. It quickly became the latest continental bulb craze and has remained a popular garden plant over the years. The original four colors of red, blue, white, and yellow were soon joined by two thousand named cultivars. Hyacinths are a colorful and fragrant presence in the spring; they can even be forced to bloom in the winter if one is in need of cheering.

When purchasing hyacinths, be aware that the size of the flower spike is directly related to the size of the bulb (in other words, size matters). The largest bulbs should be reserved for use in containers; smaller bulbs are fine for use in the garden. Flowers tend to be smaller in succeeding years but will maintain their same color and fragrance. Bulb food is the answer to regain maximum flower size, as hyacinths are very greedy feeders.

Hyacinths look best when planted in clumps in the garden, not in a huge mass of color. They may be planted amongst low-growing perennials or bedding annuals; bulbs of a single color beneath a specimen tree are spectacular in the spring. Since hyacinths have heavy and delightful scents, their location may be dependent on your reaction to the possibly cloying scent. Plant larger bulbs six inches deep, smaller bulbs four inches.

Hyacinths planted in containers should be grown in a quality potting soil, with the tip of the bulb near the surface. Initially, the bulbs should be kept in the shade and covered with thick mulch. When the first leaves show, place the plants in full light. Hyacinths also force well in water in special hyacinth glasses, the bottom filled with pebbles and water. They mustn’t be hurried until well rooted; keep them in a dark, cool place until roots fill the bottom of the glass. Once the top growth appears they may be moved into light and then placed in a sunny window when the leaves are uniformly green.

Like many bulbs, hyacinths have tiny barbs on their outside surfaces that can be irritating; always wash your hands after handling. Plants growing in wet soil may occasionally wilt and die from either bacterial soft rot or a fungus rot. If the bulbs become soft, they should be discarded when bulb rot become widespread after several years of continuous planting; do not replant with hyacinths for several seasons in that area. 

Apollo’s love for Hyacinthus was based on the boy never achieving “ripeness.” In other words, the god desired the impossible for a mortal – unchanging youth. As for me, I try to accept the things I cannot change, which means I will be older today than yesterday, but hopefully a little wiser. See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani 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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Hotel Laguna questions for City staff

 At the August 10, 2021, City Council meeting, it was unseemly for Mayor Bob Whalen to cross-examine Councilman George Weiss and Councilwoman Toni Iseman. But being a lawyer and Harvard educated, maybe this newfound skill can be used to get straight answers from City staff.

Mayor Whalen should ask Community Development Director Marc Wiener:

In a May 5, 2021, letter to Mr. Mo Honarkar, Mr. Wiener wrote, “As I requested when we first met last summer, 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.”

--Has this comprehensive plan been submitted?

--Is it still required?

In a July 19, 2021, letter to Mr. Wiener from the California Coastal Commission, they requested his assistance in obtaining from Mr. Honarkar, “an update on the resolution of the violations and submittal of a complete application” to the California Coastal Commission office.

--Has this been done?

Update on Hotel Laguna agenda bill staff report states, “Mr. Honarkar has been making a good-faith effort to work with the City on obtaining required permits.”

--Who wrote this sentence?

--And is it accurate and true?

Questions for the City Attorney Phil Kohn:

--At the June 29, 2021, City Council closed session meeting was Hotel Laguna litigation discussed?

--What is your legal opinion on whether it’s appropriate to discuss lifting a stop-work order at a City Council closed session or is it more appropriate to do so at a City Council session open to the public?

--Since the City owns the Irvine Bowl Park where improvements to the Terra restaurant are located, can the City assist subcontractors who had not been paid by Mo Honarkar?

Question for City Manager Shohreh Dupuis:

The questioning that Mayor Whalen did at the August 10, 2021, City Council meeting of City Manager Shohreh Dupuis where he asked her to verify that no new permit was issued by the City Council at the closed session may have misled the public.

--Did the City Council support modifying a stop-work order at the Hotel Laguna?

Gene Felder

Laguna Beach

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A letter from Village Laguna to the City Council regarding the Hotel Laguna

At the last City Council meeting, Village Laguna provided the City Council with a letter demanding that it cure and correct what we believe was a recent Brown Act violation by conducting an open and public meeting on the Hotel Laguna. Village Laguna’s letter pointed out that in our view the Council had violated the Brown Act at its June 29, 2021, meeting by holding an illegal closed session on the Hotel Laguna and by conducting an illegal secret vote. Village Laguna therefore is pleased that the Council is acknowledging our letter and its contents by acting promptly to cure those possible violations by holding a public hearing on the Hotel Laguna.

We hope that the Council’s acknowledgement of our letter and its holding of a public meeting will lead to the Council becoming more transparent and open to public involvement. Up until now the only public review that has taken place on the Hotel Laguna is an administrative design review hearing on February 25, 2021, which has now been invalidated by the appeal to the California Coastal Commission. We also note that the only parties notified of that hearing were those within the 100’ noticing area of the hotel. Village Laguna was not notified. We submit that this is an inadequate public process for a project as important as this one.

Since providing you with our cure and correct letter, we have been informed of other instances where the Council has met in closed sessions under the litigation exception where the focus of the closed session was a matter that should have, in our view, been heard in public. We are hopeful that this current incident will cause the Council and its advisors to refocus on their obligation to conduct the public’s business in open and public meetings and to rely on closed-session exceptions only in those very limited instances where the law so provides. Also, we would remind you that the day before the June 29, 2021, meeting when we believe the Council violated the Brown Act, we sent you a letter urging you not to conduct deliberations on the Hotel Laguna in closed session. Had you heeded our request, much time, energy, and anguish would have been avoided, and the Council’s reputation would not have been tarnished by hearing an important matter in secret. Our hope is that this unfortunate incident leads the Council to recognize and acknowledge that the public is an important partner whose admonitions and advice merit serious consideration.

Now, it is crucial that the Council apply the lessons learned from this recent incident about the legal requirements for transparency, regular process, and public involvement and apply them to the Hotel Laguna’s renovation. First and foremost, this means conducting an open and public process for the hotel. That process begins with Planning Commission review. For some reason, the Council has completely cut out the Planning Commission from reviewing the Hotel’s renovation, denying itself and the public from the benefit of the Commission’s expertise. Second, the Council should stand by the staff’s insistence that the Laguna Beach Company submit a comprehensive plan for the Hotel’s renovation. A comprehensive plan is not just good planning. It is a legal requirement. So far, the City has been conducting a piecemeal review of the hotel’s renovation. It is clearly foreseeable, however, that the entire hotel will be renovated. The California Environmental Quality Act therefore requires that the Council conduct an environmental review of the entire project, not just the individual pieces that are under permit.

Regarding the content of the staff report on the Hotel Laguna, there are several topics we raise now that we would have brought to the Council’s attention if we had had a proper public process.

The staff report mentions the historical report which has not been publicly reviewed, and therefore its recommendations have not been vetted nor validated. The interior remodel has been done without public review, and we have no assurance that the changes that have been made are in compliance with the Secretary of Interior Standards and with the recommendations of the historical report. This is a critical component of a CEQA evaluation noted above. There has been a commitment that the Hotel will remain eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and it is critical that that eligibility is not compromised.

The public is relying on the City to enforce its own directives, the most important of which has been to require Mr. Honarkar to provide “a comprehensive plan for the Hotel Laguna property” before stop-work orders are lifted. Disappointingly, the City backed down on this requirement even though Mr. Honarkar has had over a year to produce that plan. This betrays the trust of our City’s residents.

We look forward to continuing to work with you on this important project and hope that you will strongly enforce the city’s regulations and standard processes going forward.

Anne Caenn

President, Village Laguna

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Chief of Police Jeff Calvert

Congratulations to our new Chief of Police Jeff Calvert for his well-deserved appointment.

I’m really happy to see what I’ve been bugging City Hall about recently: Remove the “interim,” just make him the Chief, ok? 

And hello? It really shouldn’t have ever been mysterious or even the result of a sublime, rocket scientist talent search. 

After lengthy watches by former Chiefs Purcell and Spreine, it seemed to me as if we went in the wrong direction regarding leadership in the department, over a decade of wandering.

Hiring from without was, in my opinion, a slippery slope and rife with choices who seemed to be the type of personnel that were only passing through: Chiefs Sellers, Farinella, and Thompson, all gone now and finally, a man who has sunk his roots in deeply here these past 25 years.

That expression, shop local? When you’ve got excellent in-house options, committed men like Jeff who know and understand Laguna’s quirks and foibles, who lives here embedded in the community he serves and protects, why look over the hill?

I hope he stays at the helm until he decides to hang up his badge and gun.

Roger E. Bütow

Laguna Beach

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I find the behavior of Councilmember George Weiss unacceptable

As a three-time Mayor and three-term Council member, I want to share my thoughts and reflections on the current behavior of Councilmember George Weiss. 

--When a resident is elected to the City Council, that person becomes a member of a five-person body, focused on the betterment for all of Laguna. To be an effective Council member, it takes three people to agree on any given topic. The way a Council member garners votes from other Council members is by being thoughtful, collaborative, professional, trustworthy, and community- focused.

--When an issue is brought forth to the City Council on appeal, for example a Design Review Board appeal, both parties deserve a fair hearing. These sort of neighbor versus neighbor issues are almost always emotional for both sides of a dispute. I ask the public: how would you feel if you were a party to such an appeal and you hear Councilmember Weiss, on an open microphone, not only speaking disparagingly about you as a person but deliberately trying to sway Councilmember Iseman (during a meeting break) to join him in defeating you? 

--When a Council member decides to “go rogue,” it diminishes not only that Council member’s effectiveness but the Council as a governing body. If a Council member has a question, there is an easy way to solve a dilemma: you can simply ask the City Attorney, City Manager, the Mayor, or other professionals that understand City government. You don’t go running around with information from closed session as if you are somehow a savior or a “man of the people.” In all my years serving this City, I have never witnessed such a blatant disregard for both the law and respect for the position as I have witnessed from Weiss.

--Disclosing closed session information violates the law. It is that simple. George Weiss seems to fashion himself as some sort of whistleblower. But what he either fails to understand or chooses to ignore is that closed session discussions are intended to protect the City. The topics that can be discussed in closed session are extremely narrow. Why? Because of the specter of litigation. Lawsuits cost the taxpayers money. Cities are always targets for litigation. In one’s personal life, don’t you want to avoid lawsuits? Of course you do. Serving as a Council member and participating in closed session meetings is no different. All other discussions must be noticed and deliberated in a regular city council meeting. This is also the law.

--I have resumed watching Council meetings after a long hiatus. Weiss’s complete lack of experience with City government is clearly on display. Moreover, his attitude and demeanor indicate to me that he lacks the temperament to serve our City. I find his behavior unacceptable, and I think the residents of this community are noting the same.

Elizabeth Pearson

Former 12-year Council member and three-time Mayor

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Trump and FDA on the same page

Despite the surge in COVID-19 cases, both here in Orange County and around the nation, I believe we are on the cusp of a new beginning in the war against the virus. Here’s why:

First, even though he was booed in Alabama Saturday, former President Donald Trump stuck to his script when he told a crowd, “You know what? I believe totally in your freedoms. I do. You’ve got to do what you have to do. But I recommend, take the vaccines. I did it. It’s good. Take the vaccines.”

And second, yesterday the FDA granted full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. My hope is millions of Americans, especially in states like Alabama where the vaccination rate is below 40 percent according to Johns Hopkins University, now will voluntarily roll up their sleeves and take the shots. If they don’t, then I’m guessing vaccines will need to be mandated in their communities.

So, kudos to Mr. Trump and the FDA. I truly hope the combination of their efforts will have a transformative impact in the war against COVID-19.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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Lower Victoria Drive sewage pump station rehab’s darker side

The dark, historical record of City sloth and the abuse of lower Victoria Beach residents affected by this project haven’t been divulged. Many of us on lower Victoria Drive (Vic) constantly expressed outrage, complained to the City, and demanded for at least 15 years the repairs of this sewer station, and as a package, the adjacent dilapidated stairs.

In our zone, this wastewater infrastructure rehab package includes the larger North Coast Interceptor relay station up on PCH at Nyes Place (transporting ≈1.5-2 million gallons daily), far past overdue for action – these should have been top priorities years ago. The City had repeatedly delayed work until last fall. 

The City admitted these two pump station’s imminent potential to catastrophically fail, and discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated waste onto the beach and into the ocean. Remember the catastrophic Thanksgiving Day spill in Aliso Creek?

1. The eye-watering, gut-wrenching stench of the sewage odors have been horrific during my nearly 16 years of residency in this zone. Prominent odors have reigned supreme along PCH, from Rockledge down to The Montage, early morning the worst because gases lay down due to lower temperatures.

2. Official notices promised a post-Labor Day launch, done deal, and the port-a-potty, multiple storage/vendor devices blocking circulation removed before the Memorial Day window (nine months), the City alleging ample time for glitches. It was a very mild winter, yet the vendor inexplicably ran ≈25+ percent over the vowed timeline. Human waste gases, their health, and noxious impacts are obvious. In lower Victoria Drive, we went through both the Memorial Day and 4th of July tourist hordes without the historical drop-off and pick-up points available or gases unabated.

3. Besides the stairway, the other major drop-off/pick-up is on the ocean side of the Dumond and Victoria underpass, where it’s wide and there’re no vehicular view restrictions. A humungous cargo storage container for the project’s vendors was unceremoniously, and without warning, ensconced contemporaneously with the stair closure at that underpass. It, along with the other temporary, hindering storage devices at the top of the stairs, became choke points for traffic, eyesores, and led directly to lower Vic homeowners complaining vigorously to the City, thus triggering a cascade of myopic City decisions.

4. This fiasco led to the Parking, Traffic, and Circulation Committee (PTC) ratifying the elimination of three previously unrestricted parking spaces up on PCH in June 2021. They were turned into 24/7/365 10-minute loading zones, which, by my daily observations through today (August 18, 2021), morning, midday, and late afternoon, aren’t being used.

Letter Butow

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Submitted photo

I wrote a professional level parking, traffic, and circulation study myself, but it was ignored by the City. I suggested at least let the signs read 9 a.m.-6 p.m., allowing overnight parking. I proposed to the PTC that it be a pilot/temporary project; as soon as the two drop-off/pick-up points used by visitors were available, I knew people would go back to their habits. 

Which after the stairs reopened, followed closely by the removal of the cargo container on Wednesday the 4th, they have.

Did the pump station/stairway rehab also go 25+ percent over budget, holding us hostage, and if so, how far past contingency budgeting?

Why didn’t the City at least agree to monitor the new loading zones, and if people (being lazy or just plain overloaded) aren’t going to schlepp their junk up and down my alley, McCauley, Sunset, or Victoria, where’s the contingency plan?

The City affixed a permanent tourniquet around a temporary scratch. Three less unlimited spaces for residents without off-street parking or residential guests, three less for Dizz’s As Is and/or The Drake thus affecting commerce, three less for beachgoers.

For many of those not interviewed, it was the end of an 11-plus-month neighborhood siege with serious disruption and dislocation fallout, i.e., another typical City project!

Roger E. Bütow is a 50-year resident of Laguna Beach. He is a retired general contractor. His current profession is that of a land use and regulatory compliance consultant plus he offers environmental and construction advisory services.

Roger E. Bütow

Laguna Beach

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Looking at how we treat our immigrants and refugees

About 15 years ago I visited my family in two small German towns near the Dutch border. I was surprised to see newly constructed apartment buildings and I saw many women wearing coverings called thawb or hijab, which are worn typically by women in the Middle East. My cousin explained to me that small villages throughout Germany are building housing for immigrants/refugees. They are providing German language classes as well as opportunities to learn and exchange cultures. The children are provided with tutors until they are proficient enough to attend classes in local schools and women and men are going to classes to learn trades or ways of earning a living. Many were working as housekeepers/caregivers and in the local grocery stores or gas stations. These folks were welcomed and embraced by the locals. I was very impressed.

Earlier this month, certain villages and towns in Germany were drenched/destroyed by unusually heavy rains resulting in rivers overrunning and flooding these towns. Homes and business were destroyed – some were 100 or more years old. The locals were devastated and much to their relief and surprise, many of these refugees from across Germany were showing up to help with the cleanup and providing help. They spent their own money to travel to these villages and pay for lodging while many spent the night outdoors; they also brought what they could to help. Some were using their vacation time to do this – none were asking to be reimbursed. That to me is the ultimate in neighbor helping neighbor and paying back.

Here in many counties and states, immigrants and refugees are given little or no respect, taken advantage of, and in my opinion treated rather shabbily. How do I know this? When I came to the U.S. as a legal immigrant, my parents were made fun of, and teachers did not think I was smart enough to go into my age/grade so I was put back two grades because I could not read or speak English. Even though within a month I could read/speak English as well as any child in my class, the principal was reluctant to let me catch up with my peers. My parents had to protest after the principal told us that we were “stupid foreigners.” Unfortunately, this attitude is still prevalent – even with those who might be second generation.

I truly hope with all that is going on in the world right now – pandemic, food shortages, wars, and much more – that we look at each other in trust and support the idea of coming together to improve what looks like a disaster facing us soon. Thanks for reading this and hopefully thinking about it too.

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

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Pulling out of Afghanistan

As a USMC veteran, I’m pretty frustrated and angry.

Those cargo plane bellies were dominantly filled by men – so if we’re assisting these people, what happened to the basic American ethical principle of “women and children first?” 

They’re coming here, they should get accustomed to our inherent standards. Like the Titanic, I guess survival trumps ethics, it’s everyone for themselves?

Disgusting.

Horrific.

Deja vu all over again.

My heart goes out to my USMC siblings, those being sent to Kabul on damage control rescue missions. 

It turns my stomach to think that many have already pulled multiple tours and must now go back to a now 100 percent hostile environs…don’t be surprised if the Taliban break their word.

And is it just me? 

In this Muslim extremist, chauvinist society, shouldn’t those American cargo carriers have the innocents, the increasingly harassed liberated women and children, the men’s families on them first?

The men can blend in indefinitely and/or slowly, in stealth, migrate out of the country.

The Chinese, French, and then the USA intervened in basically tribal, internecine warfare and should have stayed out of Southeast Asia.

In Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires” lesson was never learned either, pointedly so in more recent years by the Russians and then the USA.

Semper Fi,

Roger E. Bütow

Laguna Beach

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Plant Man Column

“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (and Mint)” –with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel

Herbs had been long used before the days of recorded history; man may have consumed his first herbal remedy by watching animals. I have always been fascinated that our cats ate a little of Catharine’s dill when their stomachs were upset, used her mint to keep their breath fresh, and took in an occasional spot of catnip for relaxation purposes. 

Early man had various but limited options for injury and disease; herbs were highly regarded because of their medicinal potency. The Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans have practiced herbal medicine for nearly four thousand years, and along the course of time, many remedies and traditions have been passed on to our part of the planet. 

Letter Kawaratani 1

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Isabella contemplating the wonder of it all

It has been said that we have discovered an herb for nearly every malady. Over the ensuing several millennia, our ancestors discovered that herbs were useful for reasons other than medicinal, namely for fragrance and flavor.

During the so-called Dark Ages, the air was considered unhealthful. Little wonder, as the polluted streets served as garbage sites and were arguably similar to Aliso Creek on a bad day. Strewing, nosegays, and aromatherapy, all derived from herbs, provided fragrance to mask many of these everyday aromas. The learned even considered herbs to contain properties that could ward off disease. 

Old recipe books illustrate that cooks used herbs to flavor beverages and season food; of course, without refrigeration, meats were served in some state of decay. Without heavy seasoning, it would have been difficult to stomach most meals. 

Today, the tradition of herbs continues. Modern science allows us to isolate and identify the active ingredients of most plants. Scientists have discovered that certain herbs used for healing have a firm foundation in medicine. One of the best examples is the foxglove, Digitalis lanata, which is used in treating heart disease. 

Letter Kawaratani 2

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Grecian Foxglove, Digitalis lanata

Renewed interest in aromatherapy and landscaping uses represents our continued reliance on herbs. Many of us grow herbs for culinary uses because of their great taste and the pleasure of cultivating our own fresh food.

Letter Kawaratani 3

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And, Mint, Mentha species

One of my favorite uses of herbs is in teas. It has been said that tea can relieve a thousand different ailments and provides a sense of decency and luxuriousness. I have experienced first-hand the hour the English dedicate each day to the afternoon tea, and the richness to life that it provides. 

After much experimentation and consideration, I present my favorite herbal tea:

Catharine’s Herb Tea

11/2 cups cold water
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon mint
1 teaspoon raw, unfiltered wild honey

Combine water and herbs in your tea kettle. Cover and boil about 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer about five minutes. The tea is ready when the liquid is reduced by one-third and darker than a strong coffee. Strain into suitable cup and add wild honey. Cheers and see you next time. 

Steve Kawaratani 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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