Forum Focuses on Safety Needs in South Laguna

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

Ten City Council candidates addressed a full house at the South Laguna Civic Association forum at the Ranch on Sept. 24. Photo by Daniel Langhorne.

The South Laguna Civic Association hosted 10 candidates for the Laguna Beach City Council at the Ranch at Laguna Beach to talk about how they would improve quality of the city’s southern quadrant.

The candidates who participated on Monday, Sept. 24, were Ann Christoph, a landscape architect and former city council member; Lorene Laguna, a community activist; Cheryl Kinsman, a certified public accountant; Judie Mancuso, a CEO and animal rights advocate; 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; Council member Toni Iseman; Planning Commissioner Sue Kempf; Sue Marie Connolly, a former spa owner; and Jorg Dubin, an artist and write-in candidate who has made a splash wearing Soviet-era costumes.

Among the issues candidates were asked to address was how to improve what some residents perceive as an economic imbalance between the amount of tax dollars South Laguna Beach contributes to the city’s budget and the quality of city services residents see in return. Chief among South Laguna Beach residents’ concerns is that there is only one police officer dedicated to their neighborhood at any time.

“We need to reallocate our budget so we can improve our public safety and improve our infrastructure,” Kinsman said.

Lorene Laguna advocated for city staffers to explore sites for the construction of a police substation in South Laguna Beach. Mathews also called for the hiring of more police officers.

Mancuso said she would like to see data on this inequity in city services before making any suggestions on how to fix it.

Part of the problem facing South Laguna Beach, according to Iseman, is that the city never annexed the beaches and instead left them under the county’s domain. She added that although the county lifeguards are good, city lifeguards are great and could help improve issues with trash and visitor conduct.

Another topic of discussion was whether the candidates support the addition of a sidewalk on Pacific Coast Highway through South Laguna Beach

Mancuso said a lack of code enforcement of property’s encroachment on the highway by installing landscaping and mailboxes over the years complicates the sidewalk proposal.

“Even though it seems pretty easy that everyone wants a sidewalk it’s really not,” Mancuso said.

Lorene Laguna said that although she’s supportive of extending the sidewalk in South Laguna Beach, it’s important for the sidewalk to be on the ocean side of Pacific Coast Highway so pedestrians don’t need to make the dangerous crossing. Kempf also agreed that building a pedestrian-friendly environment would benefit not just South Laguna Beach but entire the city.

Christoph added her voice to the group of candidates in support of the new sidewalks, saying the city should take a more aggressive approach on citing property owners who encroach onto the highway.

“I’m hoping we could put a stop to this and save every space that’s walkable,” she said.

On the other side of the debate was Merritt, who said he’s firmly opposed to adding sidewalks in South Laguna Beach because it would detract from the neighborhood’s rural character. Instead, he’d like to work on adding biking and hiking trails that can connect visitors and residents to the beach.

Christoph’s idea to add a public restroom in South Laguna Beach drew quite a few groans from the audience at Monday’s candidate forum. She suggested the city could strike a deal with the local 7-Eleven store to open its restrooms to the public or build one in the parking lot of Mission Hospital Laguna Beach or on Virginia Way next to Fire Station 4.


Upcoming Forums:

The Laguna Beach Arts Alliance will hold a free forum on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road.

StuNews and KX 93.5 will hold a forum Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the Women’s Club of Laguna Beach, 286 St. Ann’s Drive. Admission is $20, and proceeds benefit Tune In, Drop Out, and Vote. Shaena Stabler and Tyler Russell will moderate the discussion. For more information, visit

The Laguna Beach Beautification Council and Transition Laguna will present a forum from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, in City Council chambers, 505 Forest Avenue, about Measure P, which asks voters to approve an increase in local sales tax to 8.75 percent from 7.75 percent for a period of 25 years. The funds raised would be dedicated for utility undergrounding and fire safety projects. Panelists in favor of the measure are Councilman Bob Whalen and Tom Gibbs of Underground Laguna Now. Panelists in opposition are Mike Morris and Jennifer-Welsh-Zeiter of S.T.O.P. (Stop Taxing Our Property).

Laguna Beach Seniors and the League of Women Voters Orange Coast (LWVOC) will hold a free forum on Monday, Oct. 8, from 6-8 p.m. at the Susi Q Senior Center, located at 380 Third Street. The forum will be moderated by LWVOC’s Armida Brashears. Questions will focus on issues such as senior housing, aging in place, traffic and transportation, and local initiatives. The event will also be live streamed at For more information, contact Kris Thalman at [email protected] Free parking is available in the underground structure.

Rounding out the election season, the Laguna Beach Independent will host its own free forum and town hall on Oct. 22 at the Laguna Playhouse. The forum will begin at 6 p.m. and will be moderated by Ben Simon, former Design Review Board member, and Allison Jarrell, editor of the Independent. The event is sponsored by Firebrand Media and the Laguna Playhouse.

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