Laguna Beach public safety employees enjoy evening at The Ranch

(From left) Fire Engineer James Lin, Fire Engineer Chris Ornelas, Fire Capt. Chip Gilmore, and Kristy Ornelas at a public safety appreciation dinner at the Ranch at Laguna Beach on Monday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Laguna Beach police and fire employees were treated to a round of golf and a buffet dinner at The Ranch on Monday, starting what event organizers say will be an annual tradition to show appreciation for first responders.

Police officers swapped their Kevlar for Hawaiian and golf shirts for an afternoon on the links. But Laguna Beach Firefighters Association members were victorious over the law enforcing counterparts, earning a slightly lower swing average to take home the trophy.

“Literally, this town cannot thank you enough. Words can never express how much you mean to me, the Ranch, and the town,” Mark Christy, principal of the Ranch at Laguna Beach, told employees and their spouses.

Christy shared stories from when the resort and Lost Pier Cafe were shuttered in the pandemic’s early days. With only a single security guard working at night, Christy pitched in with the patrols. He recalled motorcycle gang members rolling in off Coast Highway and a disheveled transient man pulling on doorknobs. Christy deeply appreciated Laguna Beach police officers’ quick response in these tense moments.

Mark Christy, principal of the Ranch, speaks during a public safety appreciation dinner on Monday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Kurt Bjorkman, general manager of the Ranch, also praised Laguna Beach firefighters for their roles in extinguishing the Emerald Fire.

“You guys stomped that right away,” he said.

Bjorkman also raffled off a free overnight stay for two people at The Ranch. A Laguna Beach fire employee was the lucky recipient.

“It’s nice to have our guys get recognized for their hard work and it was very generous of Mark to do that,” said Tom Padden, president of the Laguna Beach Firefighters Association.

Fire Chief Mike Garcia and Police Capt. Rachel Johnson showed up in their civilian clothes and were the most senior brass in attendance.

During a social hour on the Ranch’s patio overlooking Ben Brown’s Golf Course, a crew of uniformed Laguna Beach firefighters rushed back to their waiting engine after receiving a call for service. They returned later in the evening with Division Chief Api Weinert to enjoy a meal before heading back to their fire stations.

At least one uniformed Laguna Beach police officer also stopped by between calls to get some food.

“The LBPEA would like to thank The Ranch for hosting such a wonderful event. It was truly a unique experience to attend an event that was all about thanking First Responders alongside our brothers and sisters from the Fire Department,” the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association’s Board of Directors said in a statement.

Councilmember Peter Blake said it’s wonderful that local businesses reach out to those who keep our community safe and supports The Ranch’s plans to host the event annually.

“Any way we can do to show support for the people in the community who don’t make a lot of money and who protect us and keep us safe—anything we can do to make them feel more wanted—I’m all for it,” Blake said.

Mark Christy, principal of the Ranch, speaks during a public safety appreciation dinner on Monday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
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