Opinion: Concerning City Council

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By Michèle Monda

Michele Monda

The City Council has become a black hole into which questions asked by councilmembers and residents disappear—totally ignored, not answered and never discussed.  

This was abundantly obvious at the April 9, 2024 City Council meeting. First, Councilmember Rounaghi commented about a man arrested 15 times over the past year in a Laguna neighborhood. Rounaghi’s remark: he appreciated the LBPD for working with the DA’s office. This is a terrifying situation for residents. Yet there was no follow-up or update from the police department or councilmembers.  

Councilmember Weiss asked numerous relevant questions that were never answered. Why hasn’t the current crime statistics report been provided? The last one was March 23, 2023. Why hasn’t the police chief announced its release date even after being asked? Councilmembers need to know these statistics—keeping residents safe is their #1 priority. So when is the report coming? 

Weiss asked why the council approved a $1 million increase for our legal services without an agenda item or council discussion. This covers a lawyer present at all Design Review Board and Planning Commission meetings and legal services for the Community Development Department. While this may be a necessary expense, Weiss asked for a report detailing “what events pushed this, what lack of due diligence caused this?” Is this necessary? 

Weiss also asked the city attorney her opinion on whether it was proper and legal to ask staff to initiate an action of a bill to take over Coast Highway – an extremely important and expensive policy issue not discussed or voted on by council. Was this OK? The city attorney’s response: crickets.   

Incredulously, no other councilmember commented on any of these issues, and Mayor Kempf did not direct any questions at either the police chief or the city attorney. Apparently, the City Council majority has no interest in addressing these legal, fiduciary and public safety problems. 

Next, it was the residents’ turn to be ignored at the council meeting regarding Agenda Item 8 – the Audit Committee’s report on audit results for Fiscal Year 2021-22. Two years later and we are only now reviewing this?  

Two residents, both CPAs with years of audit experience, asked what substantiates the committee’s audit expertise – pointing out that deficiencies in City audits have been documented since 2016. They also identified serious problems with internal controls, turnover and processes. The city treasurer noted that it’s been three years since the City met the March audit deadline. City Chief Financial Officer Curran claimed the problems were due to high turnover in the finance department. 

Astoundingly, the council did not pursue any of these comments. It’s as if they were never even made. Weiss asked for a forensic audit to fix these problems. Nothing was ever advanced to solve the problems other than asking the Acting City Manager/CFO if he could fix these issues with more staff. Yet, under his watch since 2016, these same issues have occurred without any resolution. When asked about the June 30, 2023 audit reports, he stated that they had just been completed and would be available for council to review in six to nine months! One and a half years later? 

Then Agenda Item 9 – outsourcing the City’s Investment portfolio instead of continuing to have it handled by the City Treasurer. Residents spoke about the necessity for comparing similar cities’ policies, using proper software, and understanding our own investment policies. Residents and Weiss requested a delay in any decisions until the new city manager could weigh in. Ignored.   

While the council admitted that the final version wouldn’t be voted on until the new CM arrived, the condemning comments made by the CPA residents were not considered. Additionally, at 1:14 minutes into the meeting, Mayor Kempf insisted that there was a CPA on the Audit Committee. There is not. As the liaison for this committee, she should know this. Why the deception? 

Where is the due diligence of this council in getting complete information before making critical costly decisions? Why are they not concerned about resident safety? Why are they so eager, with minimal or no facts, to spend resident money? Why is Mayor Kempf ignoring requests to get information for councilmembers and residents? Where is the transparency? It’s all in a black hole. And that’s exactly how this council majority likes it. 

Michèle is a 21-year Laguna resident and actively follows Laguna politics. She is the Treasurer of Laguna Beach Sister Cities and is involved with the local arts scene. She can be reached at [email protected]. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Residential density has grown exponentially in Laguna with so little parking on narrow substandard streets. ADU development does not require parking, but has and will continue to increase residential traffic and illegal parking on all residential streets because there is no parking available. In addition there are additional traffic and parking problems created by ADU construction workers. In 1993 the top
    of Emerald Canyon burned 100 acres per minute. 400 homes were burned. Evacuation time in Laguna is 4-5 hours as was cited in the Indy in 2023. Our city allows ADU’s to be developed without fire and parking impact study. ADU’s are a direct threat to public safety because parking and traffic are
    already impacting residential neighborhoods in Laguna. Now overnight you will have your home devalued and be at much greater safety risk from ADU’s and city council doesn’t hear this either.

    Residents must demand immediate moratorium and fire/traffic study on ADU development. As a warm summer approaches we are all at high risk as the city has put us in a state of emergency. Laguna is a unique small highly dense city. The Governor’s office can support a moratorium. To Michele’s point will this also be ignored? If it is we could all get burned out, and get ready to lose your insurance coverage.

  2. Michele, great information for we the residents..now if the residents just cared…The one employee we need and have needed for years is a CPA..over 300 employees and no CPA..
    We so need management ..The money being spent is getting very scary.
    Thank you for getting this out there.

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