Big Donations in Final Days of Council Race

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

With less than a week to go before the Nov. 6 election, candidates for Laguna Beach City Council continue to see contributions enter their campaigns’ war chests, but one local political action committee stands out because it’s invested more than $150,000 in supporting and opposing candidates.

So far this year, the Liberate Laguna PAC has accepted more than $152,000 in contribution. In just the last month, it has received $50,099 from Mo Honarkar’s 4G Wireless, Dornin Investment Group; Michael Ray, principal at Sanderson J. Ray Development; and Sam Goldstein, a musician and businessman behind the Heisler Building’s renovation, according to campaign disclosures. Cindy Shopoff, principal at Shopoff Realty Investments, personally paid $30,000 for “general election communications” and consulting by a Los Angeles marketing firm.

Liberate Laguna endorsed art gallery owner Peter Blake and planning commissioner Sue Kempf, and since Sept. 23, the PAC has independently spent more than $24,000 supporting Blake and Kempf with newspaper and web ads, mailers, and video production. In the same period, it’s spent more $12,000 on mailers opposing the reelection of Councilwoman Toni Iseman.

Ray said Liberate Laguna supports Blake and Kempf because they’re most closely aligned with their beliefs that historical designation of homes should be voluntary, the Design Review Board shouldn’t be as powerful, there should be eight-year term limits on all city commissions and committees. The PAC’s members also believe the City should build parking structures within existing height standards to serve the increasing number of visitors.

“All of these problems have become steadily worse over the course of the last 20 years,” Ray said. “The city needs to change direction, honestly address these issues, and move to solve them.”

A local nonprofit that’s championed keeping Laguna’s small-town charm, Village Laguna, has endorsed Iseman and landscape architect Ann Christoph. The group spent more than $7,800 on print and web advertising, mailers, and social media services since Sept. 23.  

The nonprofit arm of Village Laguna recently returned $4,100 that was overpaid by the PAC. Johanna Felder, board president of Village Laguna, said Village Laguna’s members came up with a plan they believed would best support their candidates at its endorsement meeting on Sept. 24. Afterward, there was $4,100 left over, and they decided to return the money to the PAC because they didn’t believe there was anything else they needed to accomplish.

Felder said she’s troubled by all the money Liberate Laguna is investing in a city council for a city as small as Laguna Beach.

“They have a vision of Laguna that Village Laguna does not share,” she said. “We moved here for the ambiance of the town and downtown that has grown organically not built by one builder and erected in months.”

The Laguna Beach Police Employees Association is also making its voice heard this election cycle by spending $22,147 on mailers supporting Iseman, Kempf, and CPA Cheryl Kinsman.

Judie Mancuso, nonprofit CEO, took in $3,065 over the last month from a list of contributors, including $350 from O’Donnell for Assembly 2018, $360 from I Love LA, $360 from State Senator Ed Hernandez, and $100 from Santa Ana City Councilman Jose Solorio.

Community activist Lorene Laguna accepted $3,869 in contributions in the last month, which included sums of up to $360 from contractor Lance Goulette, banker Ernest Auger, banker Amanda Silver, and client relationship executive Carl Kikerpill.

Broker Paul Merritt accepted $1,009 in contributions since Sept. 23, including $360 from Vogel Properties, $99 from landscape consultant Bryan Menne, and $100 from Michele Monda. Merritt has largely funded his campaign by loaning his election committee $4,000, according to campaign contribution filings.

Blake received $2,245 in the past month with donations up to $360 from retiree Pamela Banks, Telogis president Newth Morris, and retiree Bruce Bates. Notably, he received $100 during this same period from Jonathan Burke, president of the Laguna College of Art and Design.

Kempf took in $5,919 since Sept. 23, including contributions of up to $360 from retiree Betsy Jenkins, business owner Stephen Samuelian, salesman Louis Rohl, saleswoman Laura Rohl, artist Suzi Chauvel, and retiree Anita Rosenstein.

Iseman accepted $5,145 over the last month which included donations of up to $360 from Sindi Schwartz, owner of Muldoon’s of Newport Beach; David Dicesaris, Kathleen Dicesaris, Sara Lowell of the Marisla Foundation, Nathan Jurczyk, Anne Krizman, owner of Fresh Produce; Richard Weisberg, Patricia Collision, and Kay Jones.

Christoph received $3,890 in contributions during the last reporting period, including donations of up to $360 from Dan Satterthwaite and Diane Keplinger.

Kinsman accepted $1,517 since Sept. 23 which included $360 donations from Kent Russell and Christine Russell and a $300 donation from Ilse Lenschow.

Iseman said she expects a couple more Liberate Laguna mailers to hit voters’ mailboxes in the last days of the election, adding that the claims of hiked housing costs and increased traffic are meritless. 

“It’s discouraging on many levels that our town has this kind of campaign happening,” she said. “It’s not the kind of town we’ve had in the past. We hope that we’ll have people wanting to run for council that won’t be discouraged by what they’re seeing.”

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  1. Thanks to the Indy for this excellent report. I would like to add some other information. Village Laguna has a long history (see previous 460s) of transferring money from the non-political arm of VL to the IRS 527 PAC. Other than the government filings, this practice is not disclosed when donations are accepted. It appears the LB Police Employees Association is doing the same thing. I will let others comment on the legality of this practice. There is no evidence Liberate Laguna is doing this.

    Note also that the reported amounts are just the most recent reporting period. The total contributions for this election cycle are not reported by Indy. Sue Kempf and Peter Blake did not ask for Liberate Laguna support and have not endorsed Liberate Laguna. Ann Christoph and Toni Iseman have long been supporters of Village Laguna PAC and welcome their support. Ann is board member of Village Laguna.

  2. I think anyone tuned into the city council election has a pretty good idea by now of what’s going down.

    Mega developers have pumped more than $150,000 to get two candidates elected to the council who are best aligned with their goals.

    They collected and spent this unprecedented money to promote them through a PAC called Liberate Laguna. And it’s 100 percent legal, sadly.

    One mega developer, Mohammad “Mo” Honarkar,” has plans before the city to build 2 large resort hotels near downtown. Another is the mega developer, Chris Dornin, whose $25 million plan to renovate the historic Coast Inn was rejected by the city in January.

    It’s not difficult to see what they expect from their PAC’s two candidates.

    Those in town who like this and share their goals, vote for Peter Blake and Sue Kempf.

    Those who don’t, vote for anyone else. #Vote


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