By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Candidates for the Laguna Beach City Council made their final arguments for why they should be elected in November during an Oct. 22 candidate forum at the Laguna Playhouse.
The forum was hosted by the Laguna Beach Independent and Firebrand Media to educate voters on what the candidates think about important community issues including, how to fill vacant storefronts, whether to add pedestrian-friendly plazas downtown, and whether to reform the Design Review Committee’s role in protecting views and neighborhood compatibility.
The candidates who attended the forum included Ann Christoph, a landscape architect and former city council member; Lorene Laguna, a community activist; Cheryl Kinsman, a certified public accountant; Judie Mancuso, nonprofit CEO; Allison Mathews, a visual artist and member of the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force; Paul Merritt, a trust administrator; Peter Blake, owner of Peter Blake Gallery; Councilwoman Toni Iseman; Planning Commissioner Sue Kempf; Sue Marie Connolly, a former spa owner; and write-in candidate and artist Jorg Dubin.
Kempf said she likes the idea of exploring the temporary installation of bollards on Park Avenue and Forest Avenue to create pedestrian-friendly spaces where people can relax and mingle during special events. These trials are important for seeing how popular the street closures are among downtown residents, she said.
“When you change the traffic flow in a very compact downtown it really affects a lot of residents, so I think it’s worth a try,” Kempf said.
Before the City Council thinks about creating pedestrian-friendly plazas, it should really consider how it can create more housing downtown for people who can patronize the businesses, Mathews said.
“I don’t really see the point in putting a walking avenue down if the shops are going out of business anyway,” she said. “What I would like to do is get people living downtown. Then we can decide whether we want to pave it or grow grass.”
Lorene Laguna said she feels it’s important to reform the Design Review Board so its process is not as much of a burden on homeowners who would like to remodel.
“We really need to streamline the process and really get qualified individuals to really speak to what’s important to the community,” she said. “I don’t want someone controlling our process and our property rights to that degree.”
Although Dubin feels the Design Review Board was created with good intentions of preserving residents’ views and neighborhood character, he also says it’s strayed from its original intent over the years.
“The Design Review Board has definitely overstepped what I consider their authority or their mandate,” he said. “Aesthetics is an interesting thing…it’s subjective. One person’s idea of what’s good and right for a neighborhood can be completely different from someone else’s.”
Iseman pointed out that it’s important for residents to remember that it’s not just an individual property owner that has property rights when remodeling their home but also their neighbors.
“One of the magic aspects of design review is the architects need to talk to the neighbors and they need to figure out if they’re taking away someone’s privacy or are they taking away someone’s view,” she said. “These are details that wouldn’t be addressed if we didn’t have design review.”
If she’s elected, Mancuso would like to see the data on why businesses have closed downtown but she also acknowledged that part of the problem is outside the City Council’s control.
“There are a lot of out-of-town landlords who don’t care if it’s vacant or not and they’re just jacking up the rent [until] whoever moves in can afford it,” she said.
She added that reforming the Design Review Board would help make the process of opening a business less burdensome for business owners.
Kinsman is one of the candidates who believes that it was a mistake for the City Council to decide against incorporating a parking structure into the Village Entrance project.
“I’m totally opposed to what is now called the Village Entrance because it’s reducing our parking,” she said. “Anything I can do on the Council to reverse that I will do it, and I firmly believe there should be a parking structure that can be terraced up against the hillside.”
To view a recording of the forum, visit youtu.be/yFrQv5eFIfwor watch the video on the Indy’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/lagunabeachindependent.