City council candidates debate South Laguna issues during Zoom panel

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Laguna Beach city council candidates gathered to discuss key issues over Zoom Sept. 19. Left to right (top): Moderator James Henry, Ruben Flores and Peter Blake. Left to right (middle): Alex Rounaghi, Jerome Pudwill and Sue Kempf. Left to right (bottom): Louis Weil and Mark Orgill.

By Tasmin McGill

The South Laguna Civic Association hosted a two-hour city council candidate panel Monday over Zoom. Incumbents Sue Kempf and Peter Blake, along with new candidates Alex Rounaghi, Mark Orgill, Jerome Pudwill, Ruben Flores and Louis Weil, discussed a variety of issues that plague Laguna Beach community members.

Those issues included the need for bathrooms, land usage, the sand berm and bringing primary control of the beaches back to the city of Laguna.

Due to the increase in traffic from locals and tourists during the busy summer months, the candidates agreed that installing more bathrooms was important. Although it is not a long-term solution, porta potties are provided and managed by Orange County.

“I think we need to carefully look at some of the land, look at some of our beach access points and figure out the most convenient or accessible way for the general public and our residents to go to the bathroom,” Weil said. “I think it’s a human rights element and a health and safety one.”

When asked if the candidates support police officers issuing citations of those who breach the berm, Rounaghi said he supports enforcing the no breaching policy. However, educating people would be the first course of action.

“It should not be the first option, but it should be a tool in the arsenal to ensure that the berm is not breached,” Rounaghi said.

Education was the popular first step to making a difference, rather than writing tickets. Pudwill stated that creating more visible signs in trafficked areas, such as ticket kiosks and lifeguard towers, would help spread the word.

“I’d even consider doing an education program at local schools that can help raise awareness among the younger set,” Pudwill said. “A bit of occasional citation may be enough to alert people that they shouldn’t be bursting the berm.”

The candidates also answered questions about land usage, including one regarding the recently designated land for low-to-middle income residents uphill from the South Coast Hospital, considered a high fire hazard severity zone.

“I love the idea of that site being for housing,” Blake said. “If it’s such a high fire risk zone, then why do we have a hospital there? In reality, it’s a really great place. And every time the housing people come out and bring another site to us, there will be a group of people that don’t want it in their backyard. We have to start getting over that and start moving forward.”

While the proposal of returning control of South Laguna beaches to the city was on the City Council agenda Wednesday, candidates expressed their support for the move during the panel.

Rounaghi expressed his support by saying that it eliminates the potential hoops community members must go through when making complaints.

“You don’t have to go through a bureaucratic maze of different agencies, which is just never what we want,” Rounaghi said. “I think it’s also very important when it comes to safety because nobody is better than the Laguna Beach lifeguards. Right now, the County has a contractor, and they’re good, and we love all the work they do, but nobody’s better than the Laguna Beach lifeguards.”

While the panel touched on a variety of issues, providing South Laguna the city council representation it deserves was a top priority for candidates like Flores, Pudwill and Orgill.

Although South Laguna is in the coverage area of South Coast Water District, South Laguna residents were stripped of their right to vote for the District’s Board of Directors in 1999. Orgill said this is something that should be addressed immediately.

“Sounds like taxation without representation to me,” Orgill said. “I don’t know the details as to why it hasn’t been addressed, but I think it needs to be a conversation as soon as possible.”

However, Blake said he would wait for the Local Agency Formation Commission of Orange County (Orange LAFCO) to bring it up for a vote.

“I’m not going out of my way to make it happen,” Blake said.

Pudwill feels that South Laguna has been continuously mistreated and believes the council needs to start working with other agencies.

“I would certainly be banging on the door at City Hall and twisting arms down there, putting pressure on the city council to act,” Pudwill said. “I also think that if it takes, maybe a public shaming campaign would have to be instituted. Get the residents involved and make a ruckus.”

 

 

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