By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Mayor Bob Whalen expressed his concern about the lack of civility exhibited at recent City Council meetings, speaking to about 220 people during the 2019 State of the City luncheon, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce at the Montage Laguna Beach resort on May 2.
Whalen added that nobody should feel attacked or intimidated for sharing their opinions in the City Council chambers. As the person in charge of Council meetings, Whalen said he tries to prevent this and plans to redouble his efforts.
“I’m concerned about what I see as the unprecedented nature of personal attacks by some to embarrass or intimidate either an elected official or members of the public who don’t share their particular point of view,” he said. “In my opinion, we spend too much time attacking one another and not enough time attacking our issues and problems in town. I believe we can do better.”
City Manager John Pietig recently told the City Council that Laguna Beach is seeing more interest in development than any other time since the construction of the Montage resort. With pro-development and anti-development activists gearing up for a fight, Whalen urged residents to get the facts on upcoming applications and have an open debate that is appropriate and smart for the community.
“This is not an all or nothing choice, it’s about finding the right mix,” he said.
In the coming year, Whalen is optimistic that working with elected partners at the county, state, and federal level will be fruitful on issues important to residents.
For example, State Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) introduced S.B. 584, which would require utility companies to fund a program by July 2020 that would share 50 percent of the cost to underground utility lines. Local government would be responsible for 35 percent and state agencies would fund the remaining 15 percent.
Laguna Beach is also seeking funds to clear more overgrown vegetation near residential neighborhoods to limit the risk from wildfires and new legislation that would allow cities to regulate sober living homes.
Police Chief Laura Farinella also gave a short presentation on the state of public safety in Laguna Bach, saying the city continues to experience record-low violent and property crimes. She attributes this partially to the addition of full-time beach patrol officers at Main Beach and the police information booth manned during weekends at Heisler Park. Within the last year, the department has also hired a full-time school resource officer and jailer.
“I’ve also been given the ability to over-hire personnel so when people retire through natural attrition, we’re not filling a need a when those people walk out the door, we already have those people in place,” Farinella said.
Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works Shohreh Dupuis also updated attendees about the city’s plans to improve traffic flow in downtown Laguna Beach. Among these projects is the conversion of Ocean Avenue to a one-way street between South Coast Highway and Beach Street. The city has also been preparing to install pedestrian scrambles to allow people to simultaneously cross South Coast Highway in different directions at Forest and Laguna avenues.
After consulting with the Laguna College of Art and Design, city staffers also plan to install a new traffic signal on Laguna Canyon Road within one to two years to allow students and staff to cross safely. Dupuis said the existing pedestrian crossing light has unintentionally created confusion for some drivers.
In addition, to improve the reliability of the trolley tracker smartphone app, city staffers recently added a new GPS system to its fleet of trolleys that’s generally accurate within two to three seconds, Dupuis said.