Laguna Beach council candidates talk development and decorum

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Candidates for Laguna Beach City Council squared off Monday about development and the lack of civility at public meetings during the first forum of the 2020 election.

The candidates for two council seats include Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, Attorney Larry Nokes, Laguna Nursery owner Ruben Flores, and Laguna Residents First co-founder George Weiss. Village Laguna and the Laguna Beach Community Summit co-hosted the virtual forum via Zoom.

Redevelopment has become one of the leading issues of this year’s election, especially following the City Council’s decision to advance components of the Downtown Specific Plan to the California Coastal Commission. Although there was widespread community support for loosening requirements for the majority of new businesses to obtain conditional use permits, some advocates argue that allowing new ventures to open without providing off-street parking will add to traffic gridlock and other undesirable outcomes.

Whalen and Dicterow defended their long-held stance that Laguna Beach should require new development to be compatible with existing community character.

“I’m not going to comment on specific projects that are going to come in front of us but I strongly support the idea that projects that come through need to be of the right scale,” Whalen said. “They need to be consistent and compatible with the scale of the community that we have currently.”

As a real estate attorney, Nokes has helped clients navigate the design review process and was an outspoken supporter for reforming the historic preservation ordinance.

“I think one of the things we lose track of is there becomes a contest between having to preserve something in total amber and never change a thing—which has its own difficulty for homeowners, property owners, and life safety issues— and … maintaining an eclectic mix of development and architecture in neighborhoods,” Nokes said.

Nokes also argued that voters should know the facts before making their choices for the City Council.

“I’m not in favor of bulldozing Laguna,” he said. “I don’t believe there are $2 billion in pending projects. I don’t believe than 30,000 barstools can be accommodated in Laguna restaurants.”

Flores argued that efforts to preserve Laguna Beach’s uniqueness should be extended to maintaining the city’s mature trees and continue planting new trees.

“I would work more closely with the landlords to not come forward with a property scheme that isn’t in line with the architecture and feel of Laguna Beach,” Flores said. “We would make sure there is some sort of a subsidy for people who want to maintain their house in a historic manner.”

The City Council has faced heated criticism from a group of residents, including Weiss, who argue councilmembers should have required the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce to name who contributed to its $20,000 grant for a parking structure study.

“Are we going to give Laguna to big money so they can monetize it or keep the Laguna that we moved here for,” Weiss said.

Many residents have grown exasperated over beachgoers parking in neighborhoods when street parking close to the beach is oversaturated. Dicterow claims building parking structures in strategic locations in both North and South Laguna could encourage the Coastal Commission to allow permit-only residential parking districts that would limit on-street parking on certain streets to residents and their guests.

“Parking is going to be a necessary part of the solution to people feeling like they have their neighborhoods back,” Dicterow said. “But the only way we’re going to get the neighborhoods back is through probably multiple parking structures in town which will allow us to have permit sticker programs throughout the neighborhoods, which we are not permitted to do right now.”

The candidate forum’s discussion also turned to the topic of a lack of civility during city council meetings, specifically from Councilmember Peter Blake. In May, Whalen said Blake violated a code of conduct email by sending an email to city leaders claiming that Councilmember Toni Iseman was unfit for office because of an alleged medical condition. Whalen and fellow council members stopped short of censuring Blake.

Weiss criticized the incumbents for their decision not to hold Blake accountable through an official censure vote.

“This is unconscionable and both Mayor Whalen and Councilmember Dicterow—and the city manager—all three of these officers are responsible for enforcing the city’s own ordinances and they don’t,” Weiss said. “I’m very disappointed. It’s created a hostile environment and if elected I won’t allow it to continue.”

Whalen defended his response to Blake, saying that he has interrupted Blake several times for comments he’s made on the dais.

“The night he attacked Toni, I did respond to that specifically and said, ‘I think it was inappropriate,’” Whalen said. “Could I have done more? Perhaps but Peter is entitled to his opinions.”

Dicterow pointed out that Robert’s Rules of Order, a parliamentary procedure widely used in the United States, show that only one person can run a public meeting. The City Council majority tapped the sitting mayor with that responsibility.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be reelected and to be mayor next year, those of you who remember me during my terms as mayor remember I’m from Brooklyn,” Dicterow said. “I know how to handle people. It’s not going to happen on my watch.”

A recording of the entire forum is available at facebook.com/VillageLaguna.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. “I’m not in favor of bulldozing Laguna”
    Why thank you, Mr. Nokes. I too oppose leveling the town— And always have.
    Is there somewhere I can get a bumper sticker that reads: Larry Nokes 2020: I Don’t Want to Bulldoze the Entire Town

  2. ^^There’s no question based on that comment that Mr. Nokes is pro-development as also suggested by him being a land use attorney..most tend to be pro-development since that is their source of income.

    Weiss or Ruben seem like the natural options for responsible development. My worry is that they may split the responsible development vote….

  3. ^^It’s all so profound. You can see why the developers headquartered their “Liberate Laguna” PAC at his office.
    However, I’m unclear if his “not bulldoze the town” plan comes before or after his “not put 30,000 barstools is restaurants” plan.

  4. George and Ruben are Village Laguna and LRF’s candidates. That’s all I need to know to NOT vote for them. Looks like they are attempting a hostile takeover of the council and city clerk like they had for 4 decades. Maybe they should dig a little deeper into Ruben’s financial past before pushing him onto the community. As for George Weiss, the fact that he is a founder of Laguna Residents First should be enough conflict of interest to stop him from running. Wonder how people would react if Michael Ray ran for council? Talk about hypocrites!

  5. “Wonder how people would react if Michael Ray ran for council?” – Charles Johnson

    That’s pretty hilarious, Charles – Michael Ray already did run for city council when he and the other developers and commercial landlords formed the Liberate Laguna group and spent $153,000 to get Peter Blake and Sue Kemp elected. If you want to talk about hostile takeovers, sit through one of Peter Blake’s lunatic fringe temper tantrums during City Council meetings, where he freely belittles and berates residents without any censure from Mayor Whalen.

    The fact is, the city council has been thoroughly taken over by these business interests, with Mayor Whalen and Councilman Dicterow consistently caving in to business interests and not representing resident interests. Indeed, residents are routinely harangued or outright ignored at city council meetings, where residents are never allowed to review, discuss and/or cross-examine any of the major decisions being imposed upon the community by city council fiat.

    Note that unbiased citizens are never allowed to participate – much less be allowed to offer their opinions – on these issues. Instead, backroom deals are secretly being cut by business-friendly insiders and then foisted on residents who have to foot the bill for things they’d never vote for.

    Things like the city council recently accepting a $20,000 donation from secret Chamber Of Commerce donors for a parking study is yet another example of lack of transparency and siding with business. (Any guess about how “independent” that study is going to be?)

    One look at the proposed Downtown Specific Plan, the Downtown Action Plan and the elimination of height restrictions will clearly reveal just how catastrophic the city council’s business-friendly plans will be to the unique, charming character of Laguna Beach – including the permitted demolition of historic buildings, increased view-blocking building heights, the combining of properties into strip-center type buildings, and the removal of 114 mature downtown trees. All for the glory of the downtown business area, not for all of Laguna’s residents.

    As for Laguna Residents First, if anything that should be enough to compel voters to vote for Mr. Weiss – it’s an organization dedicated to restoring some balance to the business-only, insiders-only, free-spending politics that’s running roughshod over city hall. The group’s goal is to make city government focus on issues that represent the needs of all of Laguna’s residents, not just the well-heeled power brokers currently perverting city politics.

  6. Charles Johnson: Ray, Mo, Shopoff and the rest of Liberate Laguna don’t need to run for city council. They already have their handpicked candidates in the city council i.e. Kempf and Blake. And with support from Whalen and Dicterow the mega developers have a lock on the council and hence leave the majority of the people voiceless. In case you have forgotten please look at the financial filings of the LL PAC and see how much they spent not only on these two candidates but also on what is euphemistically public service information or what we call attack ads on other candidates. Many and we believe most people in Laguna Beach who are now effectively voiceless would like to have an input as to the direction the city is going to take. It may seem odd to a few people but residents would like to maintain the character and charm of one of the treasures or the California coast. People that support George Weiss and Rueben Flores are not against all development but against developments such as the concept design of the Museum Hotel that we were given months and the mushroom proposed for the village entrance. Neither is in keeping with the scale or the character of Laguna. The drawing of the block long hotel reminded me more of a Motel Six in Arlington Texas than something that would add to the character of our city.

    And as to the Laguna Residents First initiative all it does just like the first democracy which began over 2,500 years ago gives the citizens a voice. What is wrong with that? Democracy literally means ruling by the people not they few. Costa Mesa has such an initiative because the people were tired of having developments rammed down their throats by the rich and powerful. And so are we.

    And then there is another just as important issue. That is civility by elected officials to those whom they should serve. To have Blake demand twice that Toni Iseman resign and not have the mayor and the mayor pro tem have a finding of violations of our municipal code is an affront to the citizens whom they represent. And to watch Blake psychologically assault Meg Monahan during the selection process for DRB members is truly astonishing. Not only did the two sit as dumb as the Sphinx but Pietig whose took an oath to enforce the laws of the city should have immediately excused Blake from any further participation as is clearly stated in the municipal code section 2.14.070 Conflict of Interest-General, section (e) paragraph 3. Yet the troika did nothing. I guess telling lies about a person and calling her “ a pawn of Village Laguna” made Blake feel superior by the psychological assault but shouldn’t any or all three have stood up to this bully? If anyone is interested in that exchange go to the video for the meeting on February 4, 2020 starting at about minute 28 of the meeting.

    So you see Mr. Johnson there are issues that we think need and must be remedied . The fact that George and Rueben are “stepping up to the plate” is a patriotic duty that many of the residents admire. Their candidacy is not for benefit the few as is the case, in my view, of the other three candidates but for the benefit the many residents whose taxes after all account for 60% of city budget.

  7. Sorry… while so much of the candidates answers were highly debatable, especially the incumbent’s records and performances, I just can’t get past the real ZINGER of the evening when CC Steve Dicterow said. “I know how to handle people. It’s not going to happen on my watch.” SERIOUSLY? What hasn’t happened on Steve Dicterow’s watch? The overwhelming and growing infrastructure and quality of life problems we are experiencing in our city TODAY are the direct result of his inability to address problems and his fiscal irresponsibility and incompetence. Just how many terms does he need to get something right? He has served too long and accomplished too little.

    And as for his ability to handle people…is this a joke? He has sat for two years completely silent directly next to the the self-expressed Bully Councilmember Peter Blake and allowed our civic meetings to turn in to childish outbursts and aggressive and intimidating public gatherings. He has failed the residents of our city on multiple levels. Clearly he cannot handle people and he won’t ever be able to correct the un-rest that has evolved in our city since the last election and yes..under his watch.

    A vote for Steve Dicterow is a vote for more of the Peter Blake Bullying and his far-right Bulldozer Club.
    Vote for CHANGE in 2020! Laguna cannot survive financially or emotionally under the special interests only leadership we have been subjected to endure.

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