By Michele Monda
I attended the Jan. 10 City Council meeting and heard about the City’s accomplishments. What the City didn’t tell you were the many detrimental failures that affected residents.
Here are just a few:
- Buying the unusable Ti Amo site without an appraisal or a plan for its use. The purchase would have been rejected if Council knew it needed space for an ambulance, which the City Manager knew and should have informed Council about. The site is now being put up for sale as surplus property in a down market.
- Putting the library purchase on the consent calendar during spring break so parents wouldn’t be able to rally to defend the library. Important information, such as the library would be put on a three-year lease, after which the City could turn it into a parking lot or move the library to another location, was missing in the staff report. These facts were deeply buried in a lengthy attachment to the Staff Report.
- After hiring consultants to prove to the Coastal Commission that there was enough parking to drastically reduce parking requirements for restaurants and bars in the Downtown Specific Plan, the City hired another consultant to prove we need a resident-funded structure benefitting downtown businesses.
- Bringing the proposed Presbyterian Church parking structure to a vote via a Memorandum of Understanding with no prior resident discussion and no property appraisal by the City. This costly financial move will force residents to fund, build and operate a parking structure on leased land, pay over $10 million in rent and then turn everything over to the Presbyterian Church in 53 years.
- Approving the three-year lease and operation of a public parking lot on Coast Highway without properly notifying impacted neighborhoods.
- Restricting Councilmembers from bringing agenda items forward for public City Council discussion by requiring the City Manager’s approval. The City Manager is now the gatekeeper for Council meetings. Despite working for Councilmembers, she controls the agenda and can deny the discussion of items that might benefit residents over business interests.
- Conducting an input meeting with residents regarding the Promenade, allowing them to offer input on the selection of trees, benches, and lighting rather than a discussion of whether residents want the Promenade to be permanent – especially if they know how much it will cost – including the millions to replace Promenade’s lost parking with new parking structures as mandated by the Coastal Commission.
- Eight experienced police officers have left the City since May 2021, including the 2021 Officer of the Year. According to the Police Employees Association survey, the City Manager is a key factor regarding their departure. More departures are said to come, with those leaving stressing the understaffed system, residents’ safety concerns and the City’s rise in crime.
- Lax Hotel Laguna construction oversight – five stop work orders due to the lack of enforcement, forcing the Coastal Commission to get involved.
- Mission Hospital security/public safety/neighborhood issues are still not resolved.
- Increased power outages with seemingly no resolution in sight.
- PCH sidewalk project contractor problems, resulting in closed sidewalks and unfinished work. When will residents be able to walk on it? Quite a while, we’re told.
- Key employees are leaving the City for “brighter futures” even when it means a pay cut. Again, references to the City Manager and her management style.
- Not sanctioning the City Manager for abusing her CV-19 “emergency powers” by proceeding with the $153,355 “emergency repairs” on Main Beach cobblestone areas because they were in “severe disrepair.” Neither City Council nor the public was advised or allowed input in the decision, nor was a bidding process enacted. These questionable repairs were an interim, a stop-gap measure, as taxpayers are already on the hook for a major upgrade/renovation of Main Beach, which will rip the repairs out.
- The City is providing the Chamber of Commerce free office space for the 85th consecutive year, based on a misread and faulty justification. In fact, in 1937, the City helped the Chamber out of a jam since it could not fulfill its financial obligations.
- City should have revised the sweetheart parking rates given to downtown businesses, as prices were set in 1995. This costs the City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
- City assuming coastal property ownership, maintenance responsibilities and marine safety operations for South Laguna beaches. Despite an initial $22M grant for maintenance by the County of Orange, the City took on an enormous obligation for which no meaningful plan was established to cover expenses after the $22 million was spent. Likely to be another giant drain on the City’s General Fund.
- And, worst of all, the City is not considering the urgent need to manage traffic crossings on PCH. One pedestrian died, and a few months later, another was hit in the same intersection at Pearl Street. Since the City Manager has a background in transportation, why is she not doing everything she can with CalTrans to mitigate danger to pedestrians?
- There are many more failures the City is responsible for, including a 460 percent increase in ambulance costs, the mayor tolerating boorish bullying behavior by a councilman, retaining the same outsourced legal firm, Rutan & Tucker, for 43 years despite calls for best practices and a change in legal firms, and the City’s failure to create a commercial building maintenance program to obligate landlords to maintain their properties.
Much work must be done to set the ship right in Laguna. If you agree, please write to your councilmembers and tell them we must prioritize residents and resolve these many problems.
Michèle is a Laguna Beach resident, Treasurer of Sister Cities Association and actively follows City Hall activities.