Council on the Menu for Cafe Owner

Jon Madison
Jon Madison

Jon Madison, owner of Laguna Beach’s Madison Square and Garden Café and a longtime member of the city’s Heritage Committee, last week confirmed rumors of his candidacy by declaring his intention to run for City Council.

Two other challengers so far are also vying for the three seats that will be up for grabs in November:  Robert Zur Schmiede, a 12-year appointee to the city’s Planning Commission, and Michele Hall, a yoga teacher and former political consultant. The terms of the Council’s three longest-serving members expire this year. Among the incumbents, Mayor Elizabeth Pearson and Council members Toni Iseman and Kelly Boyd, so far only Boyd has definitively pledged to run.

Pearson, though, did endorse both Madison and Boyd in a Facebook post this week claiming, “They are pro-business, pro-arts – and have demonstrated that they have a heart for our seniors and many of our other non-profits.”

In addition to numerous clients and friends who have informally voiced their support for his campaign, Madison claims Arts Commission member Mary Ferguson and gallerist Peter Blake among his champions.

“You gotta support the city because the city supports you,” said Madison, in explaining his candidacy as motivated by loyalty to a community of equally loyal patrons.

“I live here. I shop here. I work here,” he declared. His dual perspective as resident and successful merchant can benefit the Council, he said.

A congenial cafe owner, Madison greets clients with smiles and cheerful banter, as well as plenty of treats to indulge their four-footed companions. He certainly has the vote of every dog who has crossed his threshold.

Madison, whose café occupies a historic cottage, is more than just a friendly face when it comes to the matters he cares about, which include safeguarding Laguna’s historic structures. He currently chairs the city’s Heritage Committee, now in the process of re-evaluating the city’s entire inventory of historic buildings. Last May, Madison reported to the council on the committee’s progress in noticing about 500 owners of properties on the inventory about their eligibility to place their dwellings on the historic register. He also described holding public outreach meetings to disseminate information about the process and potential benefits of inclusion in the historic registry.

“Everything is coming together,” Madison enthusiastically noted at the time. “We are getting a lot of positive input regarding historic homes in the city.”

The need for such an inventory became apparent last month, after the Coastal Commission approved demolition of a Laguna Beach property whose historic features had been mostly erased by unpermitted remodeling. The inventory’s documentation and a code enforcement officer with knowledge of historical properties could help avoid a similar predicament, Madison said.

His passion for preservation began with his own building. It was nothing more than a drug house slated to be torn down, he said, before he poured his own sweat equity into its restoration and opened his restaurant in 1998. At the time, he said, Laguna’s heritage system was still finding its feet and planning manager Ann Larson encouraged him to serve on the Heritage Committee.

In addition to his 14 years of service on the committee, Madison supports numerous local charities and generously plays host to their fundraisers amidst his café’s verdant enclave of statuary, wind chimes and fountains. Last July, the Assistance League recognized his efforts by naming him businessman of the year.

But he is ready to take his involvement to a new level. His philosophy? Never stagnate or be part of the problem. Get involved and move forward.

Madison’s career path reflects his point. A New York native, he earned a doctorate in plant physiology and botany and taught some at the university level. Itching for more hands-on work, he became a landscape architect. Helping friends out at a law firm, he found he enjoyed the atmosphere and resumed school to become an attorney. Yet again, a renewed yen for creativity prompted his reinvention as the proprietor of his current business.

Madison values listening to all opinions, but also values tapping experts that provide perspective. Seeing the big picture is essential to governing, he said, citing parking as an example. The issue reaches beyond just the downtown. “Laguna is the whole seven miles,” he said.

Madison’s other priorities include supporting the artists and seniors.

Coupling his career turns with his expertise as a local merchant and passion for his adopted home, Madison feels he has a lot to offer if elected. “It’s my time to sing.”


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