Laguna Beach Committees Welcome Returning and Newly Appointed Members 

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By Tasmin McGill, Guest Contributor

Laguna Beach’s City Council convened on Feb. 7 to interview and appoint residents to eight integral committees within the City. 

Throughout the meeting, candidates stepped to the podium to highlight their experiences and how their skills would benefit the committees. Although a handful of residents withdrew from the race, others called in via Zoom, sent letters or audio recordings in their absence. 

“This is an extraordinary group of people who have applied. I think it’s the largest number of people who have ever applied in the 10 years I’ve been up here, which is fantastic,” Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whelan said. “Not everybody’s going to get picked tonight. There are more qualified people than there are slots so I hope if you’re not selected, you’ll stay engaged, stay interested.”

To begin the process, the Council members voted unanimously to extend the terms for the Arts Commission and the Planning Commission members. 

The Audit Review and Investment Advisory Committee welcomed Jolie Eisner, Glenn Gray, and Sasha Talebi. All three appointees have experience in banking, finance, and audits, which is essential since this committee ensures that Measure LL spending is within the guide guidelines. Passed in 2016, Measure LL increased the transient occupancy tax rate from 10% to 12%, and it’s paid by tourists who stay in hotels and other lodging establishments for 30 days or less.

The View Restoration Committee filled four positions during the meeting. The purpose of this committee is to listen to and evaluate the claims of property owners whose views have potentially been impaired by overgrown vegetation or damage.

Incumbents Rebecca Carson and Jennifer Potratz regained their position, while new appointees Blair Contratto and Kelly Brochu were welcomed. 

Before moving to Laguna Beach five years ago, Contratto served the city of Palos Verdes for 30 years. There she was active with private and public boards, and the public health system. 

“I am an excellent listener and I am an active listener. I want to get as much information as possible in every meeting I’m in,” Contratto said. “I’m also very good as a team member. I’m not afraid of conflict. I have good conflict resolution training.”

Brochu has experience in regulatory risk and compliance. She said her primary concern is to provide a fair and unbiased process that ensures the community feels supported. 

Historic preservation is the focus of the Heritage Committee. The committee members advise the design review authority and City Council on situations such as new additions to the Historic Register or changes to historic structures.

Incumbents Clark Collins and Linda Morgenlander were reappointed as vice chair and chair member, respectively. James Ward Henry II and Justin Drucker are the committee’s new appointees, and their terms begin on April 1. 

The Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee welcomed new appointees Jeffrey Roedersheimer, James Danzinger, and Michael Schneider. This committee’s objective is to advise City Council on transit, traffic complaints, parking and overall circulation.

Danzinger, who has lived on Bluebird Canyon and north and south Laguna, and Roederscheimer both believe that many core issues for Laguna residents can be resolved with adequate parking.

“I think we all know or many residents talk about parking almost every day,” Roederscheimer said. “Even when you’re not in your car, because it affects pedestrians.”

The Design Review Board members evaluate development projects to ensure they are within the zoning standards, City’s general plan, the certified local coastal program and the design review criteria. 

Incumbents Louis Weil and Chair Pro Tem Kristine Thalman were reappointed to the committee with the addition of Tom Gibbs.

Gibbs’ experience includes not only 42 years as an attorney in land usage and real estate but experience working on designing and constructing real estate projects throughout his career. 

“My reason for applying to DRB is simply the strong desire to serve and improve our community,” Gibbs said. “I’ve been dedicated to that since I’ve come to this community serving on the EDPC and in connection with various ballot measures.”

The Recreation Committee works to advise City Council members of the recreational needs and desires of the community. The newly appointed members include Lauren Boeck, Elizabeth Hanauer, Gwen McNallan and incumbent Roger Kempler. 

Two applicants, Sarah Durand and incumbent Karl Dumas, were appointed as alternates.

Before moving from Texas to Laguna in 2020, Boeck gained experience for this position by being active with local committees.

“I was involved in our local school district, and I had been appointed by the school board to serve on a capital needs planning committee to assess the needs of the district and to help build a bond package that was passed in 2017. The bond package included a $24 million music facility and a complete renovation of our aquatic center. I worked on an advisory committee afterward for two years, helping to be sure the funds were spent the way the community wanted them to be spent,” Boeck said. “I feel that experience would be valuable to this committee as you’re looking at new opportunities with the St. Catherine site. I believe the recreational needs of all stakeholders in our town can be met, and I’d like to be a part of the process.”

The Environment Sustainability Committee provides recommendations to council members on sustainability and the environment. 

Incumbents John Ehlers, Jacqueline Reed Mutter, Anne Girtz and vice chair Judie Mancuso were all reappointed to the committee. Morteza Rahmatian and alternate Dane Pfluegar are newly appointed members. 

Rahmatian is currently dean emeritus of the College of Business and Economics at California State University Fullerton after working through the academic rank titles. 

“I worked for 35 years, and I serve as a faculty center director, department chair, Associate Dean, Associate Vice President and finally, the Dean of the College of Business and Economics,” Rahmatian said. “I have my master’s and Ph.D. in economics with heavy emphasis in environmental economics.”

The Housing and Human Services Committee members work to identify and address human needs and housing opportunities. 

Incumbent Cody Engle is accompanied by newly appointed members Mary Jo Winefordner, Alexandra Jochim, Adam Redding-Kaufman and Joe Hanauer. Alex Kweskin and Diane Harrison were appointed as alternates during the meeting.

Hanauer described his interest in joining the committee as simple. 

“You know that our city’s in desperate need of rental housing, not only because the state mandates, or providing housing for low-income residents, but also providing housing for younger people who’d love to stay here and also people who would love to move here, but there’s no inventory for housing these people,” Hanauer said. “Then they’re the older people that have lived here for decades, and their primary assets are their homes, but if they sell, there’s no place for them to move if they want to rent and stay in Laguna Beach. Those are the problems, which is why I am interested in this issue.”

Although a few of these terms are effective immediately, most of them will begin starting April 1. 

Additional committees are expected to appoint members again in May. The City encourages residents to submit applications at that time. 

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