While Laguna vacationed, I believe Mayor Bob Whalen pulled a backdoor end run around Laguna voters. Weeks after Measure P’s defeat, Whalen and Councilwoman Sue Kempf formed a subcommittee, spending seven months, without public scrutiny, collecting the facts supporting their pre-determined agenda, and disregarding the rest.
With just three full days public notice, they ambushed residents with a 123-page agendized “report” proposing $168 million for fire mitigation measures, conveniently omitting any facts or analysis not supporting their plan, like the many ways Laguna is unlike Paradise, with no community aid, vastly different socioeconomic and communication factors, and human actions that cannot be prevention planned or modeled. This report was not fact-finding, it was an agenda.
Rehearsed city employees, led by Shohreh Dupuis, who just received a 10 percent raise, paraded in lockstep. Requests by residents and two councilmembers for more time to analyze the report and massive spending proposals were denied. Without one question, Councilmember Blake insisted no other voices need be heard, elevated city employees to “experts” and disregarded resident voices as immaterial. With three votes locked, Dicterow and Iseman conceded. The heist took just hours, completely ignoring the will of the voters.
The $23 million Phase 1 was like shopping at Fires-R-Us with no consideration of cost, necessity, efficiency or redundancy, including $200,000 for more consultants and city-wide loudspeakers for $1.2 million, with $50,000 annually. Some items were reasonable—increasing fuel modification and defensible space, getting landscape and buildings to fire safe standards. But “free” undergrounding Bluebird Canyon and Glenneyre, at $4 million taxpayer expense? Over $100,000 in freebies for Kempf’s and Iseman’s view improvements and increased home values, a private, not public, benefit? Why not spread those purchased Rule 20A credits to multiple areas 50/50, to incentivize self-undergrounding assessment districts? “Highest risk” Laguna Canyon? Not until Phase 3 – 15 years minimum. Whalen couldn’t figure out how to pay for that since voters rejected Measure P. Bonds and taxes will be coming. To say $23 million is already “partially funded” is a joke – it’s all taxpayer dollars.
Four new city employees at $800,000 annually – Emergency Coordinator, two Undergrounding Managers, and newly approved full time “Defensible Space Inspector.” Government jobs program anyone? City should have been inspecting defensible space for years, but staff has been too busy making PR videos and PowerPoint presentations.
Meanwhile, long-awaited resident-serving projects remain unfunded, pension debt paydown derailed.
Fire safety, yes. Blank checkbooks, no. We get the government we deserve. Good luck Laguna, we’ve been heisted.
Jennifer Zeiter, Laguna Beach