A political action committee largely funded by Laguna Beach real estate investors has officially changed its name ahead of the 2022 City Council Election, claiming it “achieved” the group’s original goals.
In a June 7 report filed with the City Clerk, Laguna Forward PAC listed committee officers as three Laguna Beach residents: Michael Ray, a partner at Sanderson – J Ray Development; Samuel Goldstein, agent at Radford Ventures, LLC, and Cindy Shopoff, a principal at Shopoff Realty Investments. The trio were also the officers of Liberate Laguna PAC.
Ray is also a volunteer columnist for the Independent.
“As a group, we have been very pleased with the past couple of elections and we feel our principal mission of ‘liberating Laguna’ has been achieved,” Goldstein wrote in an email Thursday. “We now look forward to working with a more expansive and diverse membership under a new entity that will include many groups that are united in moving Laguna Forward.”
Since its creation, Liberate Laguna has been the topic of numerous letters to the editor and public comments at City Council meetings characterizing it as the mouthpiece of a few wealthy households supporting developer-friendly candidates. The committee’s founders argue they’re pushing back after decades of observing city councils that have over-regulated local businesses and deterred real estate investors.
Liberate Laguna emerged as a powerful force in the 2018 election, raising more than $152,000 for political advertising supporting the election of Councilmembers Sue Kempf and Peter Blake to the Laguna Beach City Council.
Last year, Ray donated $57,000, Goldstein donated at least $28,000, and Shopoff donated $18,500, according to public documents. Despite this fundraising, Liberate Laguna didn’t achieve its goals to get attorney Larry Nokes elected to City Council and Mariann Tracy elected as City Clerk. The group supported Mayor Bob Whalen’s successful reelection campaign.
A brief statement in the latest filing describes its activity “to support and/or oppose candidates for office in the City of Laguna Beach and ballot measures in the City of Laguna Beach and/or nearby municipalities.”
Laguna Beach resident MJ Abraham argues the name change to Laguna Forward is a damage control decision to address several political challenges. The last election results showed voters do not entirely support their developer-driven vision for the town, she added.
Laguna Forward’s founders have also closely associated with Councilmember Peter Blake, who was censured under a decorum and civility policy approved by the City Council. The vote hasn’t stopped Blake from using profanity from the dais when responding to his political opponents.
Meanwhile, Laguna Residents First PAC has also submitted a ballot initiative to require voter approval of major building projects. Laguna Forward is expected to strongly encourage voters to reject this initiative as an assault on private property rights.
“Combined these reflect [Liberate Laguna]’s trust and transparency problems which hinder their ability to meet their objectives,” Abraham wrote in an email Wednesday. “This won’t change unless they do. Voters won’t be fooled by a new positive-sounding name by the same PAC founders.”
Laguna Beach still needs to be liberated from the hostile atmosphere on the City Council so residents can return to working together as a community, Village Laguna president Anne Caenn wrote in an email Thursday.
“Village Laguna has not felt it necessary to change our name in 50 years, and our mission of preserving the village character of Laguna Beach still rings true,” Caenn wrote. “We believe that Laguna Beach is unique in this regard. While other cities that have little to save look to create a future for themselves by developing new concepts and promoting new development, Laguna’s ‘forward thinking’ involves developing ways to build appreciation for our character and history and enhancing our beautiful setting, quaint downtown and special neighborhoods.”