By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Affordable senior housing, assisted-living centers, and public transportation were among the topics debated by 10 candidates for Laguna Beach City Council at an Oct. 8 candidate forum dedicated to seniors at the Suzi Q Center.
With just a few weeks left before the November election, the candidates sought to stand out from their competitors on critical issues such as making sure Laguna Beach seniors can stay in their homes for as long as possible and building alternative residences when that is no longer possible.
Planning Commissioner Sue Kempf said Laguna Beach needs public-private relationships with developers and property owners to build senior housing, which will likely require someone to donate land. She would also like to add more housing in downtown by allowing property owners to convert second and third story office spaces into apartments.
“That way seniors could walk around, go to the grocery store, there’s going to be a Hoag medical center, there are restaurants, and it’s a good pedestrian environment for seniors,” Kempf said.
When asked by an audience member how she’d make sure these units were accessible to people who can’t climb stairs, Kempf said she’d support installing elevators.
Former mayor Ann Christoph said the new state law on accessory dwelling units will be helpful to those who want to downsize and rent their home or have a caretaker live on their property. Her only disappointment with the new rules is that they bar cities from restricting accessory dwelling units to seniors.
“We would like to find a way to make sure that the additional units that are created are really for the neediest of the people who could use them,” Christoph said.
Art gallery owner Peter Blake said other candidates pay lip service to the need to build affordable housing for seniors and young people but ultimately vote against projects when faced with community opposition.
“I intend on building affordable housing in the canyon. I’m not going to stand back and watch two generations disappear from this community, while the Canyon [residents] stand strong on no building,” Blake said.
Some candidates were also asked to address how they would help seniors get around in light of the stalled agreement between the city and Uber to reimburse seniors for half of their rides up to $5 within Laguna Beach and up to $8 outside of the city limits.
Judy Mancuso, an animal rights advocate and former information technology manager, said she pitched building a parking structure at the Act 5 parking lot where the city could store electric vehicles for shuttling visitors into downtown.
“These vehicles could be dispatched to our seniors as well so we could use them in our neighborhoods,” Mancuso said. “Right now we have the big blue trolleys and they’re too big and lumbering.”
As a senior citizen herself, accountant Cheryl Kinsman said she already enjoys using Uber to get around and doesn’t understand why the city needs to supplement the ride-hailing service.
Candidates were also asked how they would help add assisted-living facilities in town. Trust administrator Paul Merritt suggested that the private sector is better equipped to solve this problem.
“I think the critical need could be solved without Mission Hospital in South Laguna,” Merritt said. “I understand they have tons of unoccupied space for other services other than drug rehab or urgent care.”
Despite all of the discussion on problems facing Laguna Beach, Merritt said things are going pretty well for the senior population and he’s focused on the positive work being done at the Suzi Q Center.
“There’s this misnomer that the government of Laguna Beach will solve everybody’s housing problem, every homeless problem, every downtrodden artist: it doesn’t work that way,” he said.