When Paul Freeman moved to Laguna Beach from Washington, D.C. in 1987 he professed no interest in local politics, but soon became entangled in local issues, including aiding the effort to block the Irvine Company from developing Laguna Canyon with 5,000 homes, two golf courses and commercial areas.
“I still feel good every time I drive through the canyon now,” said Freeman, who was involved in negotiations in 1990 that succeeded in sparing the open space from bulldozers and in promoting a property-tax bond measure to buy the land from the developer. Close to 80 percent of local voters ultimately approved the $20 million bond issue.
Those successes prompted former Mayor Kathleen Blackburn to urge Freeman to seek public office. He was elected to the City Council in 1994 and would eventually serve two, four-year terms, including two stints as mayor.
While his resumé brims with other professional accomplishments, Freeman now brings to fruition a personal ambition as a novelist with the publication of, “Stop, Go Murder: A Steven Crane Go Mystery.” At 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8 at Laguna Beach Books, the first-time novelist will discuss his book and its protagonist, a detective passionate about solving crimes and obsessed with the ancient Chinese game of Go.
The character Steven Crane investigates the murder of a mid-range gangster, an inquiry that shifts locales from Washington, D.C., to Florida, California to Georgia.
“Paul has been talking about being a novelist for years; I can’t wait to read his book,” remarked Michael Ray, an Indy columnist and real estate developer.
The novel partly mirrors its author’s professional and personal interests.
In the nation’s capital, Freeman worked as a lobbyist for trade groups and served as a policy advisor and speechwriter to former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who recruited him to work on his presidential primary campaign in New Hampshire.
Over the years, Freeman honed his investigative knowledge and skills while monitoring elections in Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan and Zimbabwe for the U.S. Agency of International Development.
Another Freeman avocation involves Go, a game that he finds simple and complex and requires mastery of strategy, space, logic and intuition all at once.
His friends, including Ray, entrepreneur Sam Goldstein and gallerist Peter Blake describe him as an intellectual as adept at listening as at speaking.
Goldstein, a co-founder of the music presenter Laguna Beach Live!, worked with Freeman to win approval of an extra hotel bed tax to benefit the city’s promotion arm and local arts groups. “We finally got a voting majority in 2001. It was the first time that money was given to the arts in an ongoing and continuous basis,” Goldstein said. “Without Paul being mayor at the time, it would have never happened,” he said.
At the time, arts groups were struggling, Freeman recalled. “We were the self-proclaimed arts colony, but beyond the summers the area was dark.”
Freeman also gained praise and scorn for supporting redevelopment of the Treasure Island mobile home park, which became the Montage resort in 2003. “Paul led the parade for all that and it changed the nature of Laguna Beach,” said Ray.
“Paul is complex, intelligent and culturally knowledgeable,” said landscape architect and former council member Ann Christoph, who opposed the resort development. She noted his campaign skills and ability to network with people on “many sides of a question.”
“I wanted to see a world-class hotel surrounded by a park and a modest amount of residential there,” said Freeman.
Though Freeman conceded to experiencing burn-out during his last two years in office, he nevertheless resumed local advocacy for special cases. He championed a mixed-use proposal for the village entrance, which included a relocated Laguna Art Museum, parking, condos, a park and creek restoration, but that concept fizzled. “My ideal was to have a constellation of art activity, an integration of arts venues and downtown,” he explained. “All that mattered to me was to have synergy between visual and performing arts and the public.”
Freeman’s resumé includes stints as a media manager for the Dalai Lama after the Tibetan leader won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and 14 years at C.J. Segerstrom & Sons / South Coast Plaza Partners. He worked closely with the late Henry Segerstrom on cultural and philanthropic projects, including expansion of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. He secured land entitlements for retail and hotel projects and served as secretary of the Segerstrom Family Foundation.
Freeman lives in Dana Point and owns Shibumi Strategies, a consulting firm he founded in 1989. Currently he is working on redevelopment of 20 acres in Carson, near the 405 freeway.
Blake critiques Freeman’s political service as effectively persuasive and one open to new ideas.
Now, Freeman awaits a different sort of critique from fans of detective fiction.
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