By Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent
Benjamin Franklin’s observation, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” aptly describes former Laguna Beach Mayor, Bob Whalen, and the work he’s done on behalf of the community over the past 25 years.
Whalen, who just completed his term as mayor and has less than a year left in a four-year term as a councilmember, will be feted by at the Outgoing Mayor’s Luncheon, a long-standing tradition hosted by the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach on Friday, Feb. 12.
Once he gets involved with an organization, Whalen doesn’t just dip his toes in from the sidelines. He gets fully immersed, committing his time, energy and skills. Typically he’s asked to lead the show, leaving the groups in better shape than when he joined them.
Following his children’s lead, Whalen’s first forays into community service began in the arena of youth sports, where he served as head coach in local soccer, baseball and basketball leagues.
Moving smoothly from playing fields to boardrooms, Whalen began forging what has become an entrenched pattern: leading the organizations he commits to while adding other arenas to his palette. Since 1991, Whalen has simultaneously held at least two heavy weight community positions.
When president of Laguna Beach Little League, Whalen joined the board of SchoolPower, ultimately presiding over the nonprofit that raises funds for Laguna Beach schools.
With nary a break, Whalen then ran and was elected to the board of the Laguna Beach Unified School District, serving for nine years, two as president. During that time he spearheaded the 2001 school bond measure that garnered $39 million for renovations at all four Laguna schools, ensuring the facilities are viable for this generation and the next.
Still on the school board, Whalen got involved with the Boys and Girls Club, first as a board member then as president. During his tenure as president of the club, Whalen jumped into city governance, winning an appointment to the Planning Commission and at the same time, sitting on an advisory homeless committee.
In 2012, after serving four years on the Planning Commission, Whalen ran and was elected to the City Council and was elected mayor by his fellow council members in 2015.
Whalen also has a day job as an attorney specializing in public finance. Over the last 30 years, he has procured billions of dollars in bond monies for school districts, counties, cities and water districts.
Asked how he juggles his professional and community responsibilities, Whalen said, “By working a lot of nights and weekends. Sometimes the busier you are, the more efficient you are with your time.”
“We get his expertise in debt issuances and refinancing for free,” said fellow council member, Rob Zur Schmiede. “He brings so much to the table. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather serve with.”
“His input is always valuable,” added councilmember, Kelly Boyd. “Bob comes to meetings very well prepared.” Aside from their professional collaborations, Boyd said, “He’s become a really good friend. We have a beer together every now and again.”
Asked what accomplishments he take pride in while a council member, Whalen noted his work as co-chair of the Laguna Canyon Road Taskforce, which endorsed undergrounding utilities and adding pedestrian and bike lanes. He is currently spearheading working on the Downtown Specific Plan that will update land use, parking requirements and will guide future development. Recently, Whalen was successful in getting fellow council members to agree to million dollar-matching grants for the Laguna Art Museum and Playhouse in celebrations of their 100th birthdays. With his term ending in November, Whalen said that his next major goal is to develop a solid financial plan to underground utilities citywide at a lower cost to residents than the current approach of neighborhood assessment districts.
Whalen’s colleagues applaud his ability to listen, his calm demeanor and his ability to gain consensus amongst disagreeing factions.
Summing up his public service, Whalen said, “I try to take the skills I have and make where we live a better place.”
Besides his professional and community commitments, Whalen has a full family life, having raised three children with his wife, Kirsten, and having recently become a grandparent.
“My wife is absolutely terrific,” he said, “and I couldn’t do half of what I do without her. She has a high level of energy, too. She is very active in local arts and is a LOCA board member and a Festival of Arts exhibitor. With her input and guidance, we’re a formidable team.”
To reserve tickets to attend the luncheon, go to www.wclb.org. The cost is $40 per person, $35 for members and $280 to sponsor a table of 8.