By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Steven Goldman, a Laguna Beach resident with 35 years of experience in the hotel industry, was appointed Tuesday to the Planning Commission by a majority of the City Council.
The Council also unanimously reappointed landscape architect Susan McLintock Whitin to the Planning Commission for a third term. She’s served on the five-person panel since 2015.
Mayor Bob Whalen, Councilwoman Sue Kempf, and Councilman Peter Blake supported Goldman’s appointment. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow recommended Karen Marten, a member of Laguna Beach’s Affordable Housing Task Force, and Councilwoman Toni Iseman recommended public policy consultant Steve Chadima.
“I’m excited to contribute,” Goldman said after his appointment. “I think hotels are important for the city and I think it’s important that they’re looked at seriously.”
Goldman represents a striking contrast to his fellow junior commissioner, Jorg Dubin, who was appointed in January to fill a vacancy left by Kempf’s election to City Council. The local artist turned heads during the 2018 election by wearing Soviet military uniforms during his campaign as a write-in Council candidate.
“In any organization, it’s better to have people with different perspectives,” Goldman said.
According to his application, Goldman has owned a home in Laguna Beach since 2010 and moved to the city full-time last year. He’s been the CEO of two Real Estate Investment Trusts that owned between $2.7 to $3 billion in hotel properties. He’s also held senior executive roles at Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corp., and Starwood Hotels.
Goldman also led the Walt Disney Co.’s efforts to buy and master plan $125 million worth of land in Anaheim to build California Adventure.
During his presentation to the City Council, Goldman said good hotels are the key to attracting high-caliber visitors who will spend more money and encourage business owners to invest in revitalizing Laguna Beach.
Goldman will replace Roger McErlane, a veteran of both the Planning Commission and Design Review Board, who withdrew his application for reappointment on Tuesday because of the increasingly political nature of the panel.
“The politics of this job are such that I didn’t want to play the game,” McErlane said in an interview Wednesday.
City staffers expect the Planning Commission’s workload to grow in the next few years as the Laguna Beach Company proposes a slate of commercial and residential developments. McErlane said this didn’t factor into his decision to withdraw.
“I was actually looking forward to helping shepherd those along so the town gets the best results out of them,” he said. “I think it will get done with or without me. It was a tough decision to make.”
Whalen said McErlane’s decision to step down from the Planning Commission is a major loss for the city.
“Roger has served this community in a lot of capacities and has really done a great job for the city and I want to publicly thank him,” he said.
Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, executive of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, said she expects that Goldman has the best interests of not only the business community, but also the residents, at heart.
“It appears to me that the has a very even temperament,” she said. “It’s hard to do anything in town because everybody has got their heels dug-in and can’t see the other side’s perspective. I think it will be a refreshing new vision.”
Johanna Felder, president of Village Laguna, said her organization wants to learn more about Goldman in the coming weeks.
“We’re concerned because we don’t know him but would love to meet with him and even have him come and speak at a Village Laguna meeting,” she said.