Debates between City Council candidates to express their views on the town’s prominent and pressing issues are gearing up.
The first debate sponsored by Village Laguna is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 29, in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 505 Forest Ave.
It is the first debate of four announced so far, though others are expected.
Incumbents Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen along with challengers Judie Mancuso and Verna Rollinger will face questions on such heated topics as short-term rentals, hotel-guest tax hike, increasing traffic congestion and overcrowded beaches, the potential of medical marijuana dispensaries and high-priced outside consultants hired to solve local issues, said forum organizers.
The kick-off debate by Village Laguna will determine who the group will endorse, Village Laguna president Johanna Felder. Village Laguna works to preserve the town’s beachside village character and fundraises to support local candidates.
“The boat has lost its rudder,” Felder said. Sacrificing the town to encourage increased visitorship is high on the group’s list of concerns, she said. “Short-term rentals are a perfect example.”
After rejecting a ban on short-term rentals in residential zones in favor of stricter regulations, the City Council
reversed course last week, conceding to pressure from residents. Residents logged hours of public comments and hundreds of emails mostly asking council membrers to ban rentals of less than 30 days in residential zones and restrict them to commercial areas.
“Why did they make us go through all of that?” Felder said. “The emphasis has changed from residents to visitors. We’re getting squeezed out. We’re not being listened to.”
The forum will start with questions from Village Laguna members. “We can ask the incumbents the hard questions that we aren’t able to ask at council meetings,” she said.
The public will then be able to ask the candidates questions. Candidates for city treasurer, Laura Parisi and Anne McGraw, and returning candidate for city clerk, Lisette Chel, will also present statements of independent committees, Village Laguna was the biggest spender in the last council race in 2014, donating $27,000 to support two candidates.
The next forum will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, upstairs at Zeytoon Cafe, 412 N. Coast Highway. It will be sponsored by the non-partisan Laguna Beach Taxpayers’ Association, another group heated about upcoming November ballot measures.
“No blank checks, that’s going to be our platform,” said association president Jennifer Zeiter. The association is concerned about a ballot measure that will ask residents to increase taxes that hotel guests pay, known as the Transient Occupancy Tax, from 10 percent to 14 percent without designating where the money will be spent.
“We oppose the TOT increase for the primary reason that it is a general fund measure. If they had approved it to go for a specific item, we likely would have supported it because then we would know where our money is going,” Zeiter said.
The tax increase will purportedly float a bond of several million dollars to fund unspecified city projects, Zeiter said. “We have nothing to say about it,” she said. The council is not required to go back to the people, to the voters, to ask for the funding. The taxpayers are concerned that our dollars are not being well spent.”
The association will present each candidate with the same four questions in advance, she said, adding that the questions will most likely concern the tax increase, high-priced city consultants, medical marijuana dispensaries and the myriad, long-standing plans for a town entrance across from the Festival of Arts grounds.
The Laguna Beach Democratic Club has planned another forum for
council candidates at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 1401 S. Coast Highway, the club’s headquarters through the November election.
Even though the council and school board elections are non-partisan, this forum will invite as many Democratic candidates as possible to participate, including Congressional candidate Sue Savary of Newport Beach and state Senate contestant Ari Grayson, also a resident, said club president Nick Hernandez. Presenting only Democrats at the forum is the club’s preference, said board member Mary Carter. The forum will include council candidates except Mayor Steve Dicterow, a Libertarian, Hernandez said.
“Our success as far as getting tourists here is now starting to hurt the residents,“ Hernandez said. said. Short-term lodging, mansionization and the proliferation of sober living houses are affecting residents, he said. “The candidates I’m backing are candidates who are going to back the locals.”
The 20-member Laguna Beach Arts Alliance
also plans a council candidates’ forum from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept.10, at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd.
In the past, alliance members have asked candidates arts-oriented questions, trying to learn their position on topics ranging from representation of the nude figure in public art to the challenges of parking in the arts district.
The Democratic Club’s candidate forum will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 14,
not Sept. 9, as reported in “Chances to Quiz Candidates Line Up”
in the Friday, Aug. 19, edition.