Laguna Beach Looks to a Post-COVID Future

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By Tasmin McGill, Guest Contributor

 

Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce hosted the State of the City Mayor’s Luncheon on April 11. Photo/Clara Beard

Integral members of the Laguna Beach community gathered at the Montage resort for the annual Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce State of the City Mayor’s Luncheon on April 11 to hear from chamber and city officials on current issues relating to Laguna Beach. 

In his presentation to attendees, Mayor Bob Whalen reflected on the city’s uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With California’s state of emergency lifted, Whalen and Laguna’s residents are looking towards the future while acknowledging the forward steps they made over the last three years. 

During the event, Whalen, a 20-year elected official for a variety of boards, organizations, and councils, stated that he often gets questioned about why he has been servicing the community for so long.

“Some people follow up with the question, ‘Why do you do this to yourself?’ But, hearing these questions so often makes me reflect because it really does deserve a thoughtful and honest answer,” Whalen said. “In all honesty, it is because if we as city council members do the job we were elected to do, I think it makes a difference in the quality of life for our residents and all of us who have the privilege of living here in Laguna Beach.’

Whalen said he remembered the reaction from residents once Newsom initially placed California under a state of emergency. Some residents believed the city was doing too much, while others thought more needed to be done. 

“None of us knew what to expect in the days and weeks ahead or what the implications for our personal lives were going to be,” Whalen said. “It was a scary and uncertain time.”

However, according to Whalen, Laguna acted quickly and efficiently. The city’s budget was cut and modified to assist in managing the funds and expenditures amid plenty of uncertainty, much like the rest of the state and country. During the past three years, Laguna was a leader within the county. City leaders enforced state regulations regarding indoor dining.

Beaches were closed in an effort to reduce the number of visitors funneling through the canyon, on Pacific Coast Highway, and to ultimately help increase overall public safety. The City Council also ensured there was a public Zoom link for residents so they could participate in council meetings safely from the comfort of their homes. 

As mayor for the first two years of the pandemic, Whalen said he was proud of the actions the city took together to get through it.

“I’m most proud and actually quite relieved to say that, according to data compiled by the Orange County Health Department, Laguna Beach had the lowest per capita COVID death rate of any city in the county,” Whalen said. “Clearly, there are some socioeconomic factors at play here, but I know that our approach to the city contributed in a significant way to that favorable outcome.”

While carrying out social distancing measures and upholding mask mandates, public safety was a top priority for the city of Laguna. 

Other safety concerns were addressed during the last three years, with $5 million spent on improving the city’s mitigation fire safety plan and increasing emergency preparedness. 

“We had the largest reduction in homelessness in all of Orange County, according to the point in time studies,” Whalen said.

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