By Charlie Warner, Special to the Independent
This year, state and national trends buffeted Laguna Beach and helped reshape the town’s landscape.
In Orange County, over 800,000 people voted in the general election this year, 48.9% casting ballots for the Clinton-Kaine ticket, compared to 44.9% for the Trump-Pence slate, the first time in 80 years that a majority of county voters endorsed a Democrat.
That voting trend was strongly mirrored in Laguna Beach, which voted for Clinton by an even wider margin, 52.8% to 31.9 percent for Trump. Local voters also rejected Measure KK, preventing medical marijuana dispensaries from setting up shop, while approving Measure LL, increasing a hotel bed tax.
Laguna was not scandal free in 2016. A lawsuit was filed against the Urth Caffe of Laguna Beach by seven women who claim they were subjected to religious discrimination when they were asked to leave the premises in April. In June, Urth Caffe filed a counter lawsuit of trespassing. The lawsuit has yet to go to trial.
And Mayor Steve Dicterow won re-election despite an attack on his character, which criticized him for a lack of transparency over his personal finances. A Fair Political Practices Commission investigation of the matter is underway.
Late in the year, Laguna, along with other cities including Newport Beach, filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration. The lawsuit argues that new departure and approach patterns by planes at John Wayne Airport were imposed without a full assessment of their environmental impact over Laguna.
Laguna Beach also prohibited short-term rentals in all neighborhoods, but allowed them to continue in commercial areas and imposed new regulations for existing legal ones. Elected officials flip-flopped on this issue while it was under discussion throughout the year, finally settling on the current ban. It, too, is being contested in a lawsuit.
After an undercover alcohol-citation operation by the Laguna Beach Police Department on a recent Art Walk, police cited seven businesses for serving alcohol without a license. A backlash ensued. City officials now expect galleries to obtain one-day permits to offer libations to patrons.
The city wasn’t afraid to spend money this year, either. The largest grants ever received by two cornerstone art institutions in Laguna Beach — $1 million apiece over the next four years — were approved by the City Council. The grant promised Laguna Art Museum and the Laguna Playhouse $250,000 every year for the next four years if the organizations match the money.
Two concepts were presented by a design team headed by well-credentialed consultants for the village entrance project. The concepts called for trees and native landscaping with bike and pedestrian paths leading to town and canyon art festivals. One concept again suggested a parking structure to increase the parking spaces available for the downtown area. No official decision has been made on the two proposals and the project’s completion is forecast for 2020.
A five-year construction project in South Laguna will yield a $70 million sewer tunnel. The South Coast Water District project has undergone years-long environmental and planning reviews and public hearings. The project is set to begin as early as January 2017.
The city again disappointed local skateboarders this year, officially stating that land scarcity, lack of parking, safety, noise and nuisance issues, out-of-town crowds and potential detrimental impacts to habitat make a skate park a pipe dream in Laguna Beach. Skateboarding has been banned on many of the big Laguna hills popular with downhill skaters for several years.
Laguna also absorbed a bit of the global spotlight shining from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Two locals, sisters Aria and Makenzie Fischer, played a role in Olympic water polo team’s convincing win. Aria became the youngest U.S. woman to win gold on a team sport in the Summer Olympic Games, and Makenzie ended up scoring a total of seven goals in the Olympic tournament.