Opinion: Musings on the Coast

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The George Weiss Waste Award

Councilmember George Weiss just cost Laguna Beach $500,000, and Village Laguna is celebrating. 

Why? I posit that Village Laguna disliked our city manager, Shohreh Dupuis, because they opposed her policies and wanted her to quit or be fired, and councilmember Weiss was their hitman. To get there, he (they) created such a “hostile working environment” for Dupuis that it became intolerable, and she quit, but not before the city handed her that $500,000 not to sue.   

The after-the-fact, lame, and shameful excuse now proffered by some “insiders” is that Ms. Dupuis wasn’t up to the job; she didn’t get things done. That is nonsense. She accomplished more than the last three city managers combined.  

Her accomplishments: Ms. Dupuis opened Hotel Laguna; talked the OCTA into giving the former bus terminal on Broadway to the city for parking; created the downtown Promenade (and built it) in two weeks; created outdoor dining and built parklets for it; bought the St. Catherine’s school site; purchased the downtown library from the County; turned the old Laguna Drug facility into a city-wide COVID vaccination facility; initiated 10-min parking spots for drug pickup by Bushard’s Pharmacy customers; talked the County into giving Laguna $22 million to take over the South Laguna beaches (for years, the County offered nothing); fast-tracked the approval process for Rivian to re-build and re-open the downtown theater (at its own expense); negotiated and purchased a site for a South Laguna fire station; and so on. 

The opponent: Village Laguna (VL) opposed most everything Shohreh accomplished. Until their acolytes were voted out of majority control of the city council, it seemed like they practically ran the joint as their own private fiefdom. Example: The city hired former VL chair Ann Christoph to create landscaping guidelines – a great gig – and spent five years on it. 

I felt like Weiss insulted Shohreh, harassed her, accused her of dastardly deeds and shouted over and down others. He was helped along by three friends and by VL- and they poisoned the well so thoroughly feces, or what appeared to be, was smeared on the front entryway of Ms. Dupuis’ home. To add insult, VL acolytes downplayed it in a series of letters to the editor, with Ann Christoph even writing a column, turning it into a joke. 

Who could have stopped it: Mayor Bob Whalen and Sue Kempf (when she was mayor) could have stopped it but did not. They could have forced public comments about city staffers to be at the end of the meetings, demanded such comments be made in writing or, demanded that the many speakers appoint one spokesperson, or forced speakers to finish within their allotted three minutes, or interrupted the rants. But they did not. They did nothing.  

The rookies: Newly elected councilmembers Mark Orgill and Alex Rougnaghi could have stepped in but did not. Given their rookie status, I understand their thinking: learn first, talk later. But do nothing to stop open bullies? Really? That is the best they could do? 

So, I guess Weiss and Village Laguna should celebrate. But before they do, shouldn’t they consider repaying the city that $500,000? After all, they caused it to be spent. 

Michael co-founded Orange County School of the Arts, The Discovery Cube, Sage Hill School, Art Spaces Irvine and several other area nonprofit organizations. He is a business partner with Sanderson-J. Ray Development and has lived in Laguna Beach since the early 1980s.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Michael, You can keep saying the same thing(s) over and over again. At the end of the day the individuals who keep airing their support of Former City Manager Shoherh Dupuis and calling for the “Head” of George Weiss are all cut from the same cloth. So let’s see, who are the personalities who endeavor to disgrace and discredit their primary opponent.
    .
    1.) Michael Ray * DEVELOPER * Member/Organizer of the PAC To Re-elect Peter Blake/PAC *
    2.) Cindy Shopoff * REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER * PAC-Member (see above)
    3.) Billy Fried * RETAILER (Renter of Kayaks & Paddle Boards)
    4.) Kelly Boyd * Former L.B. Mayor/City Council Person * Bar Owner

    Michael, the days of the Developer-Friendly * Parking Lot Friendly * Tourist Friendly- At the Expense of Residents City Council are almost gone. The Citizens firmly dismissed 1/3 of the trifecta with the trouncing of Peter Blake (recipient of $ 20,000.00 campaign contribution from Your PAC) in the last election. The mere fact that Your PAC funded Blakes’ re-election campaign speaks volumes with respect to the Who, What and the Why of Your PAC and its objectives.

    Please understand that Us, the Residents of Laguna can see the forest for the trees. We will not be misled by the erroneous, inaccurate, false narratives written by (see list above) individuals.

    We all know that, Developers Develop, Retailers and Bar Keeps need the Tourists to Rent their Kayak’s and Drink in their Bars. Duly noted, however, the time of, RESIDENTS LAST, DEVELOPERS AND RETAILERS FIRST will, and should come to an end in the next election.

    The fact that You continue to continue to attack Council Person Weiss is demonstration and testament that he should be retained as a deterrent to prevent any further damage be done to our community by Your Developer/Anti-Resident Agenda.

  2. Wow….so there is not one of the five devoted elected City Council members you have anything positive to say about in your “Opinion”. Super, continue on down your path while many are feeling a positive rebirth and renewal in town. I simply cannot understand why the Indy continues to publish your “Musings”. Yuck.

  3. Every time Michael goes off about Village Laguna they get 3-10 new members, keep it up Michael, you are the best free advertising they can get.

  4. Wow Claude, “the citizens trounced one third of the trifecta.” Let’s do the math: two thirds still makes a majority. And two thirds of your trifecta got trounced: Pudwell and Flores. And who did we add? Orgill, another developer haha. And Rounaghi, who rejected your endorsement.

    And then there’s Measure Q, the most embarrassing rebuke of your shared values that our government can’t be trusted. But the majority spoke, and they do.

    Interesting that you attack the messengers, but not the core message of Michael’s column: that Shohreh got more done in three years than her predessesors combined. And those projects were all voted in by a majority of council.

    I suggest you awaken from your alternative universe and jump on the reality train.

    And lastly, since when is having a job evil?

  5. Many who write columns or LTE posted here emphasize that it’s the LBCC that makes the decisions, the CM’s job is to implement their agendas and goals with legal advise from counsel.
    That we’ve now hired a much more savvy and skilled advisory firm, BBK, is an upgrade to me, a ray of light and hope.
    I’ve observed BBK up close in San Juan Capo, San Clemente (when I worked for the NO TOLL ROAD campaign), Santa Margarita Water District and several regional, water supply-related projects.
    As a profession consultant, in my 26 years of SOC community engagement, my experience is that the CM is theoretically the lens or portal (ditto for GM’s of utilities), the membrane between staff under the CM’s direction/guidance and not dispositive: The LBCC PROPOSES, the CM DISPOSES.
    It’s ZERO SUM.
    We can’t have it both ways regarding ultimate responsibility/accountability: Either the LBCC should take the credit, or the “buck stops here” blame, whatever happens is a function of their elected positions and votes.
    Hence CMs or GMs are extensions of political will and interests, has everyone forgotten the debacle of The Montage, when our CM and CA bungled the frontage park and southerly public parking structure planning expenditures?
    Reported heavily at the time, a scandal really, apparently neither legal counsel’s firm nor did our CM read the fine print, if memory serves there was a clause that read that the CLB would have to underwrite the excavation costs “down to grade.”
    We were prepared to earmark ≈$2 million or so.
    Conspiracy theorists alleged it was intentional, that our LBCC wrote a blank check, delegated and just yawned—who knows? It’s lost in the fog of time but 20+ years ago it was a big, shocking sticker price $$$ burden, our budget then much much smaller.
    That cost us around $7 million extra back around 2001, didn’t it, all over very clever contractual wording?
    Do I blame The Montage developers, The Athens Group? No.
    They were smart, knew what they were doing. This is where/when/how developers have an advantage, they’re in business to make profits, maximize their investments.
    Demonizing them isn’t where the rubber meets the road—but residents trusted out staff & LBCC to look out for us, protect us from tabs like this.
    In a sense indemnified, TAG protected themselves because that hardened soil had lots of unpredicted issues, many related to huge, dense amounts of not just boulders but I think large swaths of granite deposits?
    I remember dynamite being discussed, special permits, as the ground there for the future subterranean lot under the resort couldn’t be broken up by huge jackhammers. More aggressive methods intuited.
    So when I read things giving credit to our CM, I cringe: “……..talked the County into giving Laguna $22 million to take over the South Laguna beaches (for years, the County offered nothing)….” I know that I’m in OZ or Wonderland.
    The County had a huge collection of managerial, vendor and infrastructural white elephants it wanted to unload. Basically, we got paid to take over what the County didn’t want, they divested via taxpayer’s $$$, the OC BOS cut a clever deal too.
    Now, with a dual level parking structure planned for the inland side parking lot of Aliso, the estuary restoration shelved, our LBCC having affixed its signature to a petition made to The Coastal Conservancy to no longer fund the rehab as proposed by Laguna Ocean Foundation, so where does the “Fickle Finger Of Fate” point?
    The projected costs in todays $$$ for that parking lot? In the tens of millions.
    And didn’t the LBCC vote to approve it as part of a parking management plan?
    So much for environmental stewardship—Money is ALWAYS important as a criterion, I don’t see the habitat from the PCH Bridge upstream to the Ranch a very high priority.
    What good is protecting a sand berm if the estuarine, the next 1/2 mile has no viable, ecological function?

  6. Billy, You obviously missed my point. 1/3 of the Trifecta: Peter Blake, 1/3 * Bob Whalen, 1/3, and Sue Kemph, 1/3. Let me explain, when these three CC persons were the “Majority” They were able to pass disastrous decisions AT WILL that negatively impacted Us the Residents of Laguna Beach. This “Majority” regularly took advantage of their “Majority” with the full support and and backing of the former City Manager Shohreh Dupuis.
    Many of the Residents believe that this “Majority” was and has been the reason that there came to be so much disunion with our community. (See Peter Blake former L.B. CC Member) Many Residents believe that this “Majority” was PRO-DEVELOPMENT, PRO-MO, PRO-RETAIL/At the Expense of Residents, and PRO-PARKING STRUCTURES.

    F.Y.I. Billy, the “Majority” noted above does not exist any longer. The two recently elected CC Persons, Mark Orgill, and Alex Rounaghi are a categorical “UPGRADE” in all respects from CC Person Peter Blake. The citizens of Laguna are in far better hands with the the two new CC Members. Remember… Five members comprise our CC. “Let’s do the Math”

    Billy, don’t You think that it is time to put an end to the practice of every time You write something Someone has to “correct” Your words. So, if You believe that somehow the demise of the CM was all due to a “few”, I assure You it is more than a “few”.

    If You have questions regarding Your confusion regarding “facts” there are multiple corrections of Your statements with “LINKS” so You can review reality. (see LTE responses from J. Pudwill)

    In closing Billy, sometimes Your words are just cryptic, I do not know “since when is having a job evil” Not sure. Or, “And Rounaghi who rejected Your endorsement” ??? Who’s Endorsement???

    Lastly, You suggest that I, “awaken from my alternative universe and jump on the reality train”. Billy if Your reality includes a “Train Ride” out of town (one way), I will be on the platform waving to You!

  7. Hey Claude,

    You must hate the promenade, outside dining, parking lots given to us for free, owning our own beaches with a $22 million fee to manage them, and so on.

    Or do you? You never state. You just attack the messenger.

  8. Michael, what “I” like is incidental and has nothing to do with my response(s) in Your column. What many of the residents in Laguna are questioning are the considerable shortcomings of our former City Manager and Your constant and predictable rants. Why do We see so many asking for an “end” to “Musings on the Coast”.

    The unchanging and consistent theme that “Musing on the Coast” revisits is always identical. 1.) You loathe Village Laguna. 2.) You believe that the former CM did a wonderful job. and 3.) You believe that George Weiss is the devil incarnate.

    Just be grateful that the INDY continues to allow You a platform to peddle Your DEVELOPER INTERESTS which is what You are and what You encourage. The INDY is funded by REAL ESTATE ADVERTISING, period. Why do You think they keep printing your mistruths along with Billy Fried’s confirmed fabrications.

    Please notice that it took a PAID/ADVERTISMENT in the September 21ST issue of the INDY to address the falsehoods that You and Billy solemnize in Your columns.

    The truth will in the end prevail. The voters in Laguna Beach have already spoken when in the last election they sent Your disciple Peter Blake packing. The next logical step in the dismantling of the former PRO DEVELOPMENT, PRO-TOURIST (at the expense of Residents) PRO-MO, PRO PARKING STRUCTURE agenda which will be coming to an unceremonious end in the next election cycle.

    Maybe, just maybe, Kemph & Whalen will be forced to release their embarrassing clutch of the Mayor’s office and the Residents will again have a voice in the direction that Laguna takes in the future.

  9. Mr. Morgan, you constantly belittle “developers” as an evil element infesting our hamlet. What development do you speak of? I would like to remind you and others who share your views that the following buildings that we now cherish and love were all built by “developers”. The movie theater, the hotel Laguna, the Heisler building, Coast Inn and liquor store. The list goes on. Living with your eyes focused in the rear view mirror does nothing to help creative and timely progress based on the times we now live in. The developer / business owner ruining Laguna is a tired argument as is blaming the ills of the community on Mr. Blake. Old nonsense getting older by the year. Mr. Weiss just caused Laguna’s tax payers that I am sure you are one of 500K. Austerity? Hardly! If there is a train leaving Laguna anytime soon I hope your myopic ideas will have a first class seat!

  10. Imagine how much better news and information could be disseminated without the endless column inches wasted on Ray’s and Fried’s redundant, angry, immature, fact-free, divisive tirades.

    The Indy is doing the public a decided disservice by retaining them.

  11. Jorg, You had this same “pitiful” argument months ago. I stated then, and I restate for You now, the buildings that You speak of were “DEVELOPED” in the early 20TH Century! They are approaching or “OVER” 100 Years old! How about we talk about Development Circa 2023 not 1923!

    It is Your eyes “focused in the rear view mirror” not mine. Question, did You see the Architectural Renderings of what Mo H. wanted on the Bluffs South and North of Main Beach? Is that really Your vision for Laguna’s future? If it is please take a minute to review what Us the Residents thought of those “proposed” plans.

    Furthermore, if You cannot see a direct “connection” to the current disunity in our community as a direct product and offspring of the turbulence spawned by CC Member Peter Blake, then You, along with Bob Whalen, Sue Kemph, Billy Fried, and Michael Ray, who condoned Blake’s conduct for years are in true denial!

    Please pack Your mistruths, Your out right fabrications, and DEVELOPER, ANTI-RESIDENT agenda, and join Billy Fried and exit this “Toxic Soup of a Town”.< Billy's words, not mine.

    Funny how George Weiss gets upbraided for far less than what Blake was permitted when he was on the CC. In fact Your rationalizations are comedic.
    Makes folks wonder which side of Your mouth You will be speaking from in Your next LTE or OPINION COLUMN in the INDY.

    My "so called myopic ideas" are straightforward and are actually based in "FACT not PHANTASM.

    The INDY continues to give You, Billy, and Michael a pulpit to spread Your nonsense. The Residents are knowledgeable, and cognizant of what is the "Truth" and what is "Invented".

    Good luck peddling the virtues of development Circa 1923 as if there is some kind of applicability in the current century. Really Jorg! Check a calendar, it is Century "21"!

  12. Bravo Mr. Morgan. In the city hall clean up let’s not overlook some Planning and Design Review Board and Commission appointees originally planted by the Council majority of Blake, Whalen and Kempf.

  13. Mr Pudwill should have a column in the Indy. Then I can comment on the column inches wasted on his redundant, angry, immature, fact-free, divisive tirades.

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