Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce leader resigns, successor named

Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold will exit her role later this month. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive will move on from her role at the organization effective Dec. 14 after a two-year stint.

Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold will be succeeded by Sandy Morales, a former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce events director who most recently worked for Newport Beach-based CureDuchene.

In a letter to the Chamber Board of Directors, Hornbuckle-Arnold touted that the organization had increased revenue, attendance at events, and audience reach during her tenure. They also rolled out a major marketing campaign called Think Laguna First, dedicated to asking residents to shop and seek services in Laguna Beach.

“I am equally as proud of the reputation that the Chamber of Commerce now enjoys,” Hornbuckle-Arnold wrote. “We have touched our business community. We have fought and will continue to fight for the success of our business community. We have made many strides to improve the process of doing business in Laguna.”

Hornbuckle-Arnold said she decided to resign because she wants to spend more time in Las Vegas with her family, including two grandsons. She’s agreed to stay involved with the Chamber through an advisory board position.

J.J. Ballesteros, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors, said Hornbuckle-Arnold’s work with the Chamber should be celebrated.

“She rebuilt the entire Chamber office to a highly functioning and respected resource for our community,” he wrote in a prepared statement. “She established meaningful relationships with our City Council and clear lines of communications with our businesses in Laguna.”

During her tenure, Hornbuckle-Arnold understood what needed to be done and how to accomplish the mission, Ballesteros added.

“My work in our city is not done,” Hornbuckle-Arnold wrote. “I intend to remain involved in initiatives that are important to me as a resident, like advocating for a much needed and long overdue parking structure.”

In June, the Laguna Beach City Council accepted $20,000 from the Chamber of Commerce to help fund a parking structure study. Laguna Beach contributed another $15,000 for the study. The chamber grant was funded by seven donors, donating $1,000 to $5,000 each. None were chamber members at the time.

This parking study paved the way for the City Council’s vote to solicit designs and environmental review of a 327-space parking structure in the Village Entrance.

Across the country, small businesses have been hit hard by the economic recession prompted by new public health measures rolled out during the pandemic. Laguna Beach hasn’t been immune to these impacts.

The Laguna Beach Chamber transitioned its annual State of the City event, which was held in a ballroom at Montage Laguna Beach last year, to a virtual Zoom call. The annual Chamber Golf Tournament was also postponed until 2021. 

The Chamber deferred membership payments due this Spring to support businesses experiencing financial hardship.

Hornbuckle-Arnold was a regular voice at City Council and Planning Commission meetings during consequential hearings on the Downtown Specific Plan, Downtown Action Plan, Retail Market Evaluation, and Promenade on Forest Avenue. Her advocacy for business-friendly changes to city law often put her at odds with residents concerned about loosening parking requirements, traffic congestion, and sign proliferation.

In her letter, Hornbuckle-Arnold reminded her board members that the Chamber operates exclusively because of its fundraising.

“I would propose a more solidified partnership with the city and/or the visitors center to help fund a full-time CEO so that CEO can raise the dollars to fund staff and an economic development position,” she wrote.

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