Guest Opinion: Village Matters


Runaway Drain

By Ann Christoph

I remember the halcyon early days of COVID, when, except for the oppressive fear of dying, I had peace. Little traffic, no meetings at City Hall. I was free of the fear of missing out on some important decision. Of course, I was wrong. Lots of stuff was going on, but out of public view.  

The first indication was the emergency closure of lower Forest Avenue and the construction of the Promenade in 2020 guided by a city manager-chosen committee—allowed to meet privately because the council hadn’t appointed them. At our last council meeting, there was a follow-up emergency to rebuild those three-year-old decks at the Promenade because suddenly, staff realized they needed to be replaced entirely—to the tune of $260,000. This expense was authorized with some protesting by council, even though on May 17, the city will be having the second of two public workshops on the future of the Promenade. Last year’s emergency was the replacement of the cobblestone pavement at Main Beach Park—an emergency created by staff because the formerly existing pavement had already been removed before the council meeting where the new pavement was to be approved. Summer events were coming up! It was an “emergency!” These “emergencies” allow the city manager to authorize projects without competitive bids or public review until they hit the Council agenda.

Then there is the proposed parking garage at the Presbyterian Church property at Third Street. 

In a 2019 closed session, the council assigned the city manager and councilmember Peter Blake to negotiate terms of a shared use agreement with the Laguna Presbyterian Church for a future parking structure there. A memorandum of understanding was presented to the council on May 10, 2022. Another surprise to the public. Many objected to the costs to the city—the city pays $1.9 million upfront to the church as rent, pays to build the structure, and pays annual rent. Yet after 53 years, the lease terminates, and the structure becomes the property of the church. 

And is this parking really necessary? City-funded studies have shown that the answer is no.

After the 2022 election and Blake’s defeat, the project was taken off the agenda, but now, it’s back. 

Church members were called to attend a parking workshop on  May 10 with councilmembers Bob Whalen and Sue Kempf, an event that didn’t appear on the city’s calendar or list of meetings.

Last Wednesday, May 3, at the Planning Commission, the Church requested a permit to demolish the historical blue house on the property. Staff told the Commission that a request to remove 11 of the 12 trees in the parking lot would be coming forward as a separate permit request. The Commission rightly continued the matter. 

If permits for removal of the historic building and the trees were granted, two important concerns would be removed from consideration in a future environmental impact report to build the parking structure. 

This is called piecemealing and is not allowed by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Unbeknownst to most Lagunans, the school district has been busy preparing an ambitious master plan. 

Now we will have to respond with concerns—how does the construction of two new pools, parking garage with tennis courts on top, and new administrative complex on the corner of Park Avenue affect the neighborhood? Will it improve the education of our high schoolers?

How is it paid for and is this the best use of District funds?

As I wrote in my last column, the future of the hospital is in question. This is a life and death matter, not only a concern about convenience.

Ownership disputes and armed confrontations at the Hotel Laguna make the prospect of seeing that beautiful building properly restored and open for business ever more distant–maybe unattainable.

How can the mental health of our community tolerate all these potential changes and threats?

Most residents love Laguna Beach as it is. We want to participate in making our town more lovely, but it is draining our optimism and community spirit to continually battle potentially damaging proposals. 

Proposals that appear to be manipulated behind the scenes—while our attention was on isolation, masks and vaccination.  

Next Tuesday at 3 p.m., the council will consider its budget for the coming year in workshop format. 

Have enough courage and undrained love of our community to be there once again to help set positive priorities?

Can we unite behind one message?

Pull weeds, not strings. Plant flowers, not discord.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor. She’s also a long-time board member of Village Laguna, Inc.
















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  1. Ms Christoph hits the nail squarely on the head. Abuse of “emergency” powers to circumvent the normal deliberative/democratic process has become almost the default in Laguna Beach since the Covid pandemic declaration. This city manager and her most ardent supporters on council have embraced this tactic at the expense of fair debate and compromise. Backroom deals, expenditure of public funds for the benefit of private stakeholders; are these the hallmarks of the current state of affairs in Laguna Beach?

  2. Please find an experienced, professional, unbiased and objective city manager to hire.

    We are doomed until she is gone and we get new officials that haven’t sold us out to the highest developer bidders.

    This city manager was selected by Bob Whalen, Sue Kempf and Peter Blake and is beholding to developers.

    Fact is you decide our City’s future. Council you can choose to continue with this unsupported and disastrous city manager or move towards replacing her with an experienced, unbiased capable professional residents can trust.

    In a recent poll by Nextdoor:
    Shoreh Dupuis, Laguna Beach city managers 3 year contract is up in June. Do you want her to be city manager for another 3 years?
    103 votes

  3. It’s sad that residents seem to be surrounded on all sides by manipulations from a small group of bureaucrats who don’t seem to value residents, kids or the beauty of our small town. I’m still dismayed that our current City Council doesn’t question what the City Manager continues to do behind closed doors. The “emergency” at the Promenade is in reality worn floor boards that were NOT inspected by building professionals but staff from the Planning Department. Tell me they are qualified to determine whether or not just replacing a few boards would have been a cheaper fix? But residents get to pay for this “emergency” – restaurant owners were not asked to participate. I wish the City Council would grow a pair and question this wanton spending of our money. And yes, I’m sick and tired of monitoring them. Do your job City Council. Ask the questions.

  4. Exactly, Chris. Nothing like a scientific Nextdoor poll to get the true pulse of Laguna Beach residents’ thoughts. What a crock. Perhaps Ann would be better off taking her own advice: Plant flowers, not discord….after she writes a mean-spirited opinion column intended to stir the pot and have readers draw lopsided, incorrect conclusions. In his recent column, Billy Fried worried about Ann & Co. too – he urged these unhappy people to go outside, step away from the keyboard, experience the trees and flowers and natural beauty of our region.


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