Mayor touts Laguna Beach’s resilience during pandemic in State of the City address

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Mayor Bob Whalen

Mayor Bob Whalen offered a message of resilience and gratefulness during his 2020 State of the City Address on Tuesday, speaking from his home via Zoom.

The virtual event was hosted by the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Whalen likened the challenges posed by COVID-19 to those the nation faced after the Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. In Laguna Beach, Whalen recalled, the City Council confronted the unpopular decision to close city beaches but was also the first city in the state to obtain state officials’ approval of an active recreation plan.

“Nobody planned for COVID-19 to hit,” Whalen said. “While the lack of preparedness can’t be overlooked it’s our response that matters.”

Laguna Beach cut its Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget by $12.5 million to adjust for an anticipated drop in transient occupancy and sales taxes. To support local restaurants’ struggling from a state ban on indoor dining, the City Council created the Promenade on Forest and piloted a parklet program to temporarily allow tables and chairs on city streets.

Whalen expressed gratitude to first responders and city management for stepping up to meet the unprecedented challenges of stemming the spread of the coronavirus in a city that annually attracts 6.5 million visitors.

“We’re not out of the woods yet either on the public health front or the economic recovery,” Whalen said.

Among the issues on Whalen’s plate if he’s reelected to the City Council on Nov. 3 is whether the Promenade on Forest should become a permanent landmark. Councilmembers extended the closure of Forest Avenue between Coast Highway and Glenneyre Street until January and have asked city staffers to return with a roadmap for it to remain long after the pandemic ends.

“I think it’s a great addition to our community and we’ll try to see what we can do to make it permanent when that option comes back in January,” Whalen said.

City Manager John Pietig chimed in during a question-and-answer period moderated by Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, executive director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.

City leaders will revisit whether to restore trolley service in January and make a decision based on the recommendations of public health officials at that time, Pietig said.

Unfortunately, Laguna Beach has decided to cancel the 2020 Hospitality Night scheduled for December over concerns that it would be unsafe to attract thousands of visitors to the Downtown, Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said.

In lieu of the annual event, city staffers plan to decorate the Promenade on Forest in a holiday theme- complete with a Christmas tree and surfboard menorah. City officials are looking to invite Santa Claus onto a trolley that will drive thru Laguna Beach neighborhoods and greet families.

“We still want to celebrate the holidays but we want to do it safely,” Dupuis said.

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