Laguna Beach City Council opts for status quo after heated agenda debate

Councilmember Toni Iseman (right) speaks as then-Mayor Bob Whalen listens during the Dec. 14, 2021, city council meeting. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

By Megan Miller, Special to the Independent

The Laguna Beach City Council voted Tuesday to reject a new policy that opponents argued would have stymied councilmembers from adding items to the agenda.

The 4-1 vote (Councilmember Peter Blake opposed) followed a heated discussion between councilmembers that prompted Mayor Sue Kempf to mute her fellow councilmembers’ microphones at least twice.

The underlying issue arose in the Jan. 11 city council meeting. Councilmember George Weiss requested clarification on whether the current procedure for adding items onto the agenda follows a 1968 resolution, which allows councilmembers to present an item to the City Council for consideration at any regular meeting.

However, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said that resolution hadn’t been followed for at least 10 years.

The city manager has been in charge of overseeing and setting the agenda process, Dupuis said. Councilmembers can email or personally deliver requests, and the city manager will agendize the item within 45 days, depending on availability.

An already-packed agenda could mean an item might not be agendized right away to keep meetings from stretching more than six hours, Dupuis said.

The resolution presented to the City Council on Tuesday would have formalized this process, overwriting the 1968 resolution. It would also add a cap on the number of items each councilmember could bring to the floor: four per fiscal year.

“Residents learn from agendas but most important, the council hears from residents whose voices we value,” Councilmember Toni Iseman said. “This agenda item is about control. It’s about excluding the public voice. It’s about the future of our town. And I’m very concerned.”

Weiss said the city manager’s duties are “to implement, not to make” city council agendas.

Twenty-three items were agendized by councilmembers in the past three years. Seventeen underwent the two-step process, garnering majority support before staff resources were allocated. Six only came to council once.

Iseman claims she previously asked for an item to be added to the agenda for consideration and Dupuis responded that there were already three votes against it. For example, Iseman asked for an informative presentation on Arundo donax, a reed-like, invasive plant that has a history of choking Laguna Beach creeks and is highly flammable.

“If I’m gonna lose an agenda item, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to put it on the agenda because part and parcel is understanding what the issues are and informing the public,” Iseman said.

“Mayor, can I respond to that because this is an attack on my character and I really need to respond,” Dupuis said. “The items that Councilmember Iseman is asking me… she’s directing me to do research and as Mayor Pro Tem Whalen says I do not take direction from one councilmember.”

Many residents expressed concerns about feeling ignored, citing that a limit on how many items a councilmember can agendize will only make it harder for community voices to be heard. Some even referred to the new resolution as “a power grab.”

“The proposed policy change erodes the democratic process,” said resident Vicki Crowe.

While Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen agreed that there shouldn’t be a cap, he disagreed with comments made against Dupuis.

“I think this is a tempest in a teapot, and I think this is an unfair criticism of the city manager that it’s a power grab,” Whalen said.

“Serving residents is the job for councilmembers,” said resident Penny Milne. “While efficiency is certainly a goal, it’s not as important a goal as democracy, in all its messiness.”

The debate intensified when Councilmember Peter Blake came to the city manager’s defense.

“I’ve really enjoyed watching Village Laguna who have held the majority for 50 years all of the sudden lose their majority and watching them act like wounded animals… trying to somehow or another between initiatives trying to gain power. They obviously can’t stand our city manager,” Blake said.

Moving forward, the city council will adhere to the protocols adopted in 1968, which includes no limit on the number of items councilmembers can introduce. Before staff resources can be committed to researching an issue, items must pass with a majority vote. Additionally, all future agenda requests from councilmembers will go through the City Clerk’s Office.

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  1. On a positive note, the city agenda setting and council authority review process was a public discussion well worth having. It gave the public a better understating of how our city works (or doesn’t) internally as governed by the leaders we elect. It was encouraging to see the level of stakeholder feedback and support to ensure council members authority to bring concerns forward as necessary and without approval from a hired city manager. Thank you Mayor Kempf, Mayor Pro- Ten Whalen, Council Members Iseman and Weiss for your efforts and votes to protect our civic and democratic engagement.

    Sadly, Councilman Peter Blake showed just how incapable he is of looking at any city issue logically. IMO- his constant emotional outbursts on every topic exposes how threatened and paralyzed he is by his deep obsession with just one group in our town. Unfortunately, he will never be able to effectively represent our city with such a serous handicap. Watch the council meetings. Historically, every time he opens his mouth he instigates an argument and the topic- at-hand gets lost in the turmoil and usually ends up with muted mics and a meeting time-out call by the Mayor. I shudder to think of the man-hours wasted over the last 3.5 years that our city leaders, city staff and residents have endured due to this one individual. Voters must ask themselves when is enough – enough? Let’s get someone in office that can actually contribute something beside chaos.

  2. Thankfully the one group I focus on (Village Laguna) is the group that has held power in this community since the early 70’s. These political predators have refused to pass the torch or even attempt to give us, the next generation, a voice. Try standing up to these seasoned activists and see what happens. Slander, libel, character assassination is just part of their way of doing things. I have been undeterred by them since the day I announced in May of 2018 and during every Council meeting, I will be up on the Dias fighting them. I don’t bring a mute button to a gunfight and they know that!

  3. Funny how so many who feel persecuted and martyred can’t see they bring it upon themselves.

    Hmmm. Words like predators, assassination, fighting and gunfight sound like the antithesis of lucid, rational, and constructive.

    Sounds like something you’d read in Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto.

  4. “Persecuted and martyred” Hardly!

    Thanks for your psychoanalysis Jerome Pudwanker! I’m surprised you removed yourself from Nextdoor long enough to diagnose me. Please get back to spewing hate and playing armchair Councilman. Not sure how Laguna could run without your sage and valued advice.

    BTW, have you ever run a town?

  5. No worries, Peter. Always my pleasure to diagnose sociopaths and sandbox bullies. (Wow – name-calling. Now that’s mature!)

    No thanks – I’ll leave all the hate spewing to you while you’re pretending to be a Councilman.

    I offer my sage and valued advice to you free of charge. Glad you noticed it’s been well received on Nextdoor – you know, the local social network app you were banned from twice before being unanimously censured by your own buddies on the City Council for hate-spewing.

    BTW – Have you started thinking about what you’re going to start doing with yourself once you lose the next election?

  6. Thanks Jerome Pudwill. I know what the majority of our community will be doing after the election when voters reject Peter Blake’s battleground agenda….

    Breathing a sigh of relief that Blake’s War on LB Residents reign is over and we are finally out from under such a tyrant with healthier and more stable elected’s in place to intelligently and civilly govern our city. #IhavefaithinLBvoters!


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