By Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent
Dedicated City Council member Steve Dicterow will be feted at the Annual Outgoing Mayor’s Luncheon, a long-standing tradition hosted by the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach, on Friday, Feb. 10. It will be the third time the zealous politician will be honored for his public service, instigated in 1989 while Dicterow was sitting on the couch, watching a City Council meeting on television.
A few years before, he and his wife, Catrina, got married at Tivoli Terrace and had bought a house in North Laguna. With Catrina pregnant, it was clear that Laguna Beach was where the growing Dicterow family would sink their roots. As a stakeholder in the town, Dicterow wanted to help preserve and protect the place his family would call home.
“I felt a duty to participate,” said Dicterow. “We live in a democracy and the only way it can succeed is if ordinary people participate. We don’t want a professional class of politicians and policy makers, especially at the local level.”
Dicterow, who has a law degree from USC, leapt into public service first with the now defunct North Laguna Community Association. He won a seat on that board and was assigned to take the minutes. He also joined the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Association and his local Neighborhood Watch, meeting and learning from “the movers and shakers” in town politics.
In 1994, he felt ready to make his first run at City Council. “Crime was high, we’d just had the worst fire in our history and we were facing a $20 million lawsuit over land use,” regarding a homeowner’s ability to build a home in Diamond/Crestview area, he said. “I felt the city was going in the wrong direction and that I could help get it going in the right direction.”
The center of his campaign strategy was walking and talking, with Dicterow attempting to knock on the doors of all 12,000 homes in Laguna Beach.
“I ask people about their concerns with the city and they get a feel for the kind of person I am. I think that’s important in local elections.”
Dicterow won a seat on the council the first time he ran and was successful in each of his four other runs, spending hours each day during campaign season hitting the pavement and visiting with constituents.
“My greatest public honor is that my friends and neighbors have elected me five times and that my colleagues have elected me four times to be mayor.”
Not all the campaigns have been easy. Dicterow describes his last campaign, during which his financial struggles were made public, as “bullying.” But growing up in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn prepared him for the challenge. “Being a short Jew taught me that the way to deal with bullies is to stand up and fight. And I always fight back.”
At 62, Dicterow has retained his fighting weight. He can be found lifting weights six to seven days a week at a local 24-hour Fitness. “It’s not unusual to find me there at 4 a.m.,” he said.
As for his next four years on the council and beyond, Dicterow said Orange County’s growing population will persist in putting pressure on Laguna Beach.
“Laguna Beach will continue to be one of the prime places to live and the price of property will continue to increase.” Future city councils, he said, could be pressured to change development policies, such as those overseen by the Design Review Board. “We could lose the charm and character we have. We have to be vigilant. I know some people don’t like Design Review, but we wouldn’t have the charming town we have now without it.”
Addressing the burgeoning of visitors, the former mayor said, “We can’t stop people coming in, but we need to manage the situation so it’s tolerable for residents. There is no quick solution. It will be a constant challenge every day.”
Dicterow was 34 years old when he first got involved in local public service and he would like to inspire today’s younger people to now help find solutions to current and future issues. “We’re an aging town and the major movers and shakers won’t be around in the next 20 to 30 years.”
Dicterow, like the other council members, said he averages about 50 texts, emails and phone calls a day from constituents. As mayor, he estimates that he attended 15 to 20 meetings and functions a month. ”It’s like a full time job,” he said. “It has to be a labor of love.”
Besides his duties as a council member, Dicterow acts as a constituent liaison for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, representing him at non-political events. This year he also opened a law office with Bill Levin in downtown Laguna, where the pair specializes in intellectual property litigation.
If he could do his life over again, Dicterow said he’d like to be a history teacher. “I really love American history, particularly the presidents.” He is particularly fond of George Washington. “He wasn’t an idea guy, but he was a hell of a decision maker.”
Channeling our first president as he sits on the dais facing the public, Dicterow said he and his fellow elected officials “are dependent on getting all those opinions so we can make good decisions. We want the citizens of the town determining the direction. I want as much public input as possible.”
The luncheon at the Woman’s Club, located at 286 St. Ann’s Drive, will be held from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 per person, $40 for Woman’s Club members and $320 for a table of 8. Tickets can be purchased online at www.wclb.org.
Local resident Robin Pierson writes about topics that interest her.