Guest Opinion: PhoneGate

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Billy Fried

I just returned from a month-long trip, which is the very best way to appreciate how good we have it here in Laguna. No snow to shovel. No humidity to swelter in. And now the rains, glorious rains. Is there anything more refreshingly beautiful than Laguna after a rain? Well, yes. Laguna after several rains. The mentholated, crisp air, gushing green canyons, overnight explosion of flora, the roiling, whitecapped waves of a winter swell, and the electric cloud-shrouded sunsets. I can’t even conjure more accolades to express how special it is here.   

And now we are in for a delight of spring wildflowers, those dormant seeds finally primed to pop and spread their glorious pedals. If you get up in the hills, you’ll already get a sneak preview: Encelia’s, deerweed, monkeypods, lupines… all peaking from behind the curtain before it is raised on a symphony of colors.

Then there are the improvements to our town itself. Never have we birthed more tantalizing dining options. There’s Kebab Kurry, Finney’s Crafthouse, The Taco Stand, Laguna Fish Company, and the about-to-open Red Dragon. Even our nightlife has improved with lounges like Ahba and Seahorse and electronic dance nights at Suenos and Brussels Bistro. Like minnows swimming upstream, we’re tempting young people back to our ossified environs.

We continue to master our destiny, buying St. Catherine’s school, taking over our library and southern beaches, and have thus far avoided catastrophic fires and floods. We did all that and still generated a budget surplus of $17 million. That alone would be reason enough to shower City Manager Shohreh Dupuis with accolades. After all, it’s her number one responsibility. Instead, she gets a heinous attack on her home and continues to get abused by the Cabal of Complainers, who, instead of celebrating their good fortune living here, spend their days wallowing about how miserable it is and how corrupt our leaders are. Sheesh!

This time it’s the ridiculous waste of oxygen expended on whether or not our city manager tried to use her influence to wiggle out of a $20 violation for holding a cell phone while driving. Holy Hunter’s laptop! Bend over Benghazi! Hold the pepperoni, PizzaGate. This must be the most wicked, over-the-top abuse of power since Watergate.

The animus towards Shohreh seems to be because of her competency. And perhaps gender (no one ever dared challenge her male predecessor). When three members of council vote to do something, she gets it done. Pedestrianize Forest Ave overnight in the face of looming economic disaster caused by the Coronavirus? Check! Help businesses open to fill our empty storefronts or rescue struggling restaurants with outdoor dining? Check! Expedite the hasty purchase of Ti Amo without a proper appraisal at the behest of two council people who developed amnesia after their South Laguna constituents turned on them? And then let Shohreh take the heat? Check and check!

One of those council persons, who finds himself time and again on the wrong side of the majority, now wants to punish our city manager by disgracing her, having the temerity to accuse her of a crime, and most petty of all, ignoring her while carrying out his responsibilities as a public official. In every meeting Shohreh has attended with him, she’s been completely ignored. He won’t even look at her. In his present term of over two years, he hasn’t spoken a word to the chief administrator of our town. This is like a board member of a corporation pretending their CEO doesn’t exist. Does this sound like a mature, stable person fulfilling their obligation to the community?

Now he is the lead prosecutor in a campaign that is designed to get rid of her on something so trivial it boggles the mind that anyone could believe this was worth the public’s time. At last week’s council meeting, he began his public comments by saying, “I’m not vindictive. I think the law was broken — an attempt to obstruct an officer. We still don’t know what the facts are. I’m going to press on to see it on my own.” Excuse me? Vindictive? About what? Is there a tell here?

While he “presses on,” he abrogates his oath to serve the public good by mitigating the threat of fire and floods, making our streets safer in the face of ongoing pedestrian deaths, devising a more progressive and sustainable transportation grid, upgrading our failing infrastructure, and on and on. But yes, let’s focus on what happened in those two minutes of ticket writing.

“Transparency is rule number one in government,” he said. But wait, wasn’t he sanctioned for violating the Brown Act by secretly meeting with perpetual litigant-against-the-city Mark Fudge? How does that square with transparency?

And then there’s his angry citizen supplicants, the Cabal of Complainers, who somehow believe that Shohreh is beholden to developers (as opposed to the three council votes that dictate her actions). Perpetually outraged Michele Monda publicly insisted on knowing why the city has thus far spent $12,468 on legal fees to defend Shohreh after Michele’s relentless campaign demanding the release of information and phone records. That’s like an arsonist asking why the fire department came after setting fire to a building. To see her parse theories of when Shohreh called whom and why is to see a real-life Columbo in action.

This is a nothing burger. It has no merit or impact on our daily lives. So I propose we heal the Complainers by gathering them together in our open space, stripping off our clothes, and dancing ecstatically while being soaked by yet another rain storm. This will wash away all that misplaced anger. Followed by a sumptuous celebration at one of our tasty new restaurants.

It’s great to be home. 

Billy is the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an E-bike and ocean sports tour company. Email: [email protected].

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Great column title, and with some lovely sentiments about our beautiful surrounding Canyon hills flush with wild flowers and sans housing and hotel developments. However what is meant by this line: >He won’t even look at her. In his present term of over two years, he hasn’t spoken a word to the chief administrator of our town.<" If a Council Member takes a City Manager out for lunch* to some of our great local spots like the Ranch and Nick's South, can the columnist vouch that these lunches were conducted in silence? It would also seem strange if the two diners were not looking at each other. Where do these nontalking/non-looking fables originate? I adore stories, but we need to know which are invented and which are nonfiction. *No worries that any City expenses were used to pay for these lunches. Some Council members feel honor bound to use their own money to pay for residents' and City Staff meals.

  2. Mr. Fried, first off I agree that the best way to appreciate the city that we are so fortunate to live in is to go to another “tourist destination”. Having said that, I do take issue with you on selected portions of Your column. Your statement, “one of those council persons, who finds himself time and time again on the wrong side of the majority”… The fact that, let’s say his name, Councilman George Weiss has been in your words, “on the wrong side of the majority” is simple, the “majority” was comprised of Peter Blake, Bob Whalen, and Sue Kemph. NOTE: The voters here in Laguna did send Peter out to pasture after one term of his incendiary presence which brought divisiveness, turmoil and tension to the council chambers. . The addition of Councilpersons Alex Rounaghi and Mark Orgill is a vast improvement over Mr. Blake.(no need to expand on that). I am hopeful that the “data based” decisions of Alex R. will be put into practice, I am not so sure after seeing his vote on the COASTAL BLUFF Agenda Item #9 from 03/07/23.

    However, your words, “wrong side of the majority” does not make the majority “right”. George Weiss has over and over been in my experience, and in the opinion of many the voice of reason and thoughtful judgement. Let me give you some examples. The proposed Parking Structure on 3rd Street, (Weiss opposed this). The dismantling of the 25′ Setback from the Bluff Face, (Weiss opposed this). Our City Council on each of these matters had, has, or intend voted the opposite of Councilman Weiss, or, on the side of “development”. There are too many other “votes” to revisit to illustrate my point, but, as I stated earlier having a “majority” does not make it the “right” decision. Additionally, our CC has recently had a history of failing to properly “Notice” residents on multiple occasions when Public input should be first and foremost on the agenda. Is this by accident or design?

    It will be raining this Tuesday, will you be naked dancing ecstatically on main beach in the rain to “wash away” any of your misplaced anger? Please put on some clothes before you go to one of the Tasty New Restaurants!

  3. Wow, so some council person allowed the city to pay for their lunch?? Now I won’t be able to sleep at night. Another crime of the century, and typical of the false equivalencies (whataboutism) that is employed when you have no defense for someone’s scurrilous actions.

    Should we hold up work on our city while we investigate such a scandal?

    How on earth is this relevant to your husband’s persistent attacks on Shohreh’s outstanding stewardship of our city?

  4. Claude, as I asked in my comment to Ms Laughton, how does any of what you are saying justify George Weiss’s behavior towards the City Manager? It’s doesn’t!

    And last I looked, 3 out of 5 votes makes it right. Despite your opinion. Thats how democracy works.

  5. Billy, first, I think there may be a “backstory” to the approval of the Parking Structure on 3RD Street. You may have heard!

    Secondly, I do believe that our council tends to “RUSH” their approvals of Agenda Items without adequate “NOTICE” to interested parties. (I have had personal experience with this)

    Thirdly, If you have an issue with Ms. Laughton, please take it up with her, I made no mention of it or George Weiss’s relationship to the City Manager in my correspondence, please don’t confuse yourself disseminating who says what in response to your column.

    Lastly, see you tomorrow at main beach!

    Post Script: No, Bad, Rushed, Unvetted Decisions, do not make the decision “Right” Sorry!

  6. Claude, your issues seem to be about city Council. The way to address that is by voting them out. But let’s not confuse what this column is about: the harassment and abuse of our city manager by one councilman. Care to stay on topic and shed some light on that?

  7. Thank you for the spot on column. A few things to point out. Deborah Laughton is no other than Mrs. George Weiss. Secondly I had asked these residents after their mission to get Peter Blake out of office clamoring about his incivility (i think it was more attacking back) now that they won, will the civility return? Well look at that. The incivility is worse! Vandalism and constant outrage. They have a mission to get a few of the city council out as well as Shoreh and make Weiss Mayor (yikes!). An apology and a thank you to Peter Blake for what he tried to do. Make Laguna Better. The Monda and Company are on a mission to destroy business and resident quality of life. My advice: take a yoga class and find some inner peace.

  8. Billy, you and I do agree on a number of things. One, we live in unique and wonderful place. Two, the way to address issues with the City Council is to by voting them out. This is what the voters attained when they voted out City Councilman Peter Blake.(Mission Accomplished)

    Having said that, your quote, “And last I looked, 3 out of 5 makes it right. That’s how democracy works”. Read Your own words, and think about how absurd that statement is.

    The current City Council’s recent decisions have been patently “wrong” not, “right” on multiple issues. It just means that the “majority” with the full support, authority, and influence of the City Manager has the apparent power to mandate a “Pro-Development” agenda for Laguna Beach, with little or no regard for its citizens.

    I understand your motivation as a business owner here in Laguna. The more tourist that we can jam into our little city the more opportunity for you will have to rent someone an e-bike or a Kayak. Billy, you stating that I should “stay on topic” was rescinded when you stated that “One of those council persons, who finds himself time and again on the wrong side of the majority”, then you make the totally bizarre statement that “3 out of 5 votes makes it right”. On this we do totally disagree. Having a majority in no way makes poor decisions “right”.

    I guess I am one of the “Cabal of Complainers”. Proud to be one if it means safeguarding our Coastal Bluffs, or opposing an ill conceived Parking Structure that will benefit no one that lives in this town and costs the city so dearly in the short and the long term.

  9. OK Claude, so what you’re saying is that the councilman in question is justified in harassing and abusing our City Manager because, as the minority in many votes, he is actually right because you agree with him? I get it now. Compelling argument. Thanks.

  10. Billy, I apologize for not being able to comprehend your last comment. No, I do not think that I am “right” because I agree with Councilman Weiss on many of his votes. I am trying to impart to you that having a “majority” does not make all of the “majorities” decisions on matters of public concern “right”. To believe that, because they have the “majority”, they must be “right” is nonsensical.

    I am “tapping out” on the issue of said councilman’s alleged “harassing” of the City Manager. However, while we are on the subject of of harassment…

    I would like take a moment to address the issue of “misplaced anger”. The following are Your words, “he abrogates his oath to serve the public good by mitigating the threat of fire and floods, making our streets safer in the face of ongoing pedestrian deaths, devising a more progressive and sustainable transportation grid upgrading our failing infrastructure and on and on”. Really? None of these Council persons make a ton of money as members of the CC. To charge Councilman Weiss with of all of the above is of course incorrect and erroneous. So Billy, I would like to meet You at main beach. I will bring the “angry citizen supplicants, and the Cabal of Complainers” and we can “wash away all of that misplaced anger”
    You, I and the Cabal’s of both sides! Then we can all go to one of our “tasty new restaurants” and have a good laugh. This has been fun. Out! .

  11. India Hynes, you, Michael Ray and others seem so quick to blame the target of your ire for this vandalism. If you and Ray and the others who are quick to blame VL members and/or their supporters would look at this incident logically you would see that the immediate huge benefit was to a) the City Manager and b) to Michael Ray and his group. And what of Village Laguna? No benefit whatsoever only more lies heaped upon them and their followers. Just look at the sequence of events and you will note that it appears like a well orchestrated series of events. I am sure you are familiar with the dirty dirty tricks played by politicians or their friends. As a Village Laguna member it is very hard for me to believe a VL member would decide the night after the City Manager Manager accused four women of cyber bullying to commit this act of vandalism and have the fishy fertilizer ready to vandalize the CM’s house.

    It is much easier for me believe it is more likely to have been a well orchestrated plan to kill two birds with one act of faux vandalism. The first being to generate sympathy for the CM which was sorely, IMO, needed because of her many poor decisions made. The second, of course, would be to believe that to immediately blame Village Laguna would be the coupe de gras for VL. And who would greatly benefit? Certainly not Village Laguna. At best, IMO, this is the sub sophomoric logic of which we seen seen much in the last five years. And again IMO this vandalism will likely never be solved because the police are likely looking in the wrong direction. Was most of Laguna gaslighted? IMO we’ll likely never know? I’m not saying that the CM was necessarily involved in this plot but only that she benefited hugely which of course would benefit both those in the city government and all those whose benefit by her style of management outside of government.

  12. B Fried you state: “One of those council persons, who finds himself time and again on the wrong side of the majority, now wants to punish our city manager by disgracing her, having the temerity to accuse her of a crime, and most petty of all, ignoring her while carrying out his responsibilities as a public official. In every meeting Shohreh has attended with him, she’s been completely ignored. He won’t even look at her. In his present term of over two years, he hasn’t spoken a word to the chief administrator of our town. This is like a board member of a corporation pretending their CEO doesn’t exist. Does this sound like a mature, stable person fulfilling their obligation to the community?”

    Please advise as to where you are getting such information? Do you even attend council meetings? How about public events like the recent City Council/Staff workshop or the last Main Beach Clean up event? I did and disagree with your accusation. I personally saw the CM and Council member Weiss exchange greetings and conversation. How about offering some facts? If not, folks should consider this merely more unsubstantiated accusations and gossip from you and the City.

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