Peter Blake censured by Laguna Beach City Council

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Laguna Beach City Councilmember Peter Blake. File Photo

The Laguna Beach City Council voted late Tuesday to censure Councilmember Peter Blake, marking the first time councilmembers have enforced a decorum and civility policy adopted in 2019.

The Council’s 4-0-1 vote, Blake abstained, caps a months-long campaign by a relatively small group of vocal residents who have urged Mayor Bob Whalen to use a censure process he introduced into city law. Censure is essentially an official admonishment and doesn’t invalidate any of Blake’s votes or restrict him from speaking at future meetings.

“This is not about trying to quell his speech and his viewpoints it’s about how you communicate your viewpoints and treat people who come before the council,” Whalen said.

The art gallery owner lashed out at his colleagues after Tuesday’s vote, calling them a “kangaroo court” as he registered his abstention.

“I was elected as a voice for members of this community who haven’t had a voice,” Blake said. “[My opponents] have destroyed my reputation, they’ve written terrible things about me, and when I respond they call me a bully.”

Blake has repeatedly embraced the bully moniker, arguing his supporters knew his personality when they elected him.

“Every comment I’ve ever made has been in response to someone,” Blake said Tuesday.

Laguna Beach’s censure of a councilmember marks a startling trend among Orange County cities. In November, the San Clemente City Council censured Councilmember Laura Ferguson, for publicly criticizing city staff and releasing public records to the public, Voice of OC reports.

In February, Huntington Beach Councilmember Tito Ortiz nearly lost his Mayor Pro Tem title after colleagues admonished him for refusing to wear a mask at public meetings and blasting a local restaurant for refusing to serve him after declined to serve him for failing to follow a public health order.

Councilmember George Weiss formally requested a censure vote last week, arguing the City Council needed to intervene in light of multiple statements by the art gallery owner that violate city law governing the conduct of elected and appointed officials.

“The censure request is based on two categories of unprofessional acts that violate the City’s Rules of Decorum and Civility Policy,” Weiss wrote in a letter. “First, insulting public communications directed to or about different Laguna Beach residents, which convey the (false) impression that community input is held in disdain by the City Council. Second, public derisive comment about fellow long-term Councilmember Toni Iseman.”

Among Blake’s statements cited in the letter, which include five comments he posted on lagunabeachindy.com, are disparaging remarks about his political opponents.

In a May 2020 email sent to Mayor Bob Whalen and senior city staff, Blake wrote Iseman is unfit for office due to a health condition and should resign.

Weiss also cited Blake’s response to a Feb. 5 letter to the editor on lagunabeachindy.com where Blake called Iseman “Village Laguna’s mouthpiece”, “sycophantic,” and a word that Merriam-Webster co-defines as “a lewd or promiscuous woman.” Blake has subsequently commented that he was referring to the other definition as “the dross or scoria of a metal” in light of his artistic background.

Blake said in a phone interview Thursday that he’s not apologizing for any of these comments.

As the target of many of Blake’s public comments, Iseman solemnly fired back Tuesday.

“I feel sorry for bullies. I feel sorry for people that have to do this,” she said. “I’m grateful to George. Anyone who thinks he hasn’t been effective hasn’t been watching council meetings.”

Even though the council majority shared distaste for Blake’s behavior over the last two years, Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf and Whalen noted that some residents are purposefully antagonizing him.

There couldn’t have been for a worse time to hold a censure hearing because city manager candidates are watching council meetings and reading news stories about Laguna Beach government, Kempf said.

“We have a beautiful community but we’ve got a toxic stew going on here for a number of reasons,” Kempf said.

She added that multiple people have asked her if she’s ever chided Blake privately for his bad behavior.

“Yes, of course, I have but this is the problem we have here,” Kempf said. “I think we all need to own some of this because we can’t even have a civil election in this town. What a joke.”

Whalen said the censure hearing is probably the agenda bill he’s liked the least. 

“I think there’s some sport that goes on to get a rise out of him because they know he’ll respond,” Whalen said.

12 COMMENTS

  1. I think censure is exactly what they do to all opinions that do not align with their collective opinion. There is a choke hold on progress, new blood and differing ideas. The council may call it “bullying” but it could equally be called “mob mentality”!

  2. What Mr. Blake has done since day 1 is to bully, insult, demean and defame anyone who dares voice an opinion that doesn’t align with his. He tried to cast himself as the “victim” of relentless attacks but that’s simply not the truth. He is the aggressor. He initiates nastiness. He tries to silence and disenfranchise. You don’t see other council members engaged in this type of unprofessional ugliness, although some have opinions on many topics that are close to Blake’s. Why aren’t they “attacked” by the “small group of political types”? Why? Because its all made up; people go after Blake only after he has unfairly used his bully pulpit and far more prominent platform as an elected official to go after them 1st.

    Oh, and to those who claim that the way to handle the Blake situation is the ballot box, I disagree. Blake is doing damage to the political participation of residents of Laguna Beach every day he is allowed to continue this behavior. To wait for another 2 years before finally being able to rid ourselves of this person will cause far more people to disengage from the political process because he makes the environment so toxic. And thank goodness for George Weiss and Toni Iseman. Finally, there are folks on council who have taken action to stop this or at a minimum, highlight, this behavior.

  3. “The Council’s 4-1 vote, Blake abstained, caps a months-long campaign by a relatively small group of vocal residents who have urged Mayor Bob Whalen to use a censure process he introduced into city law.”

    Exactly how many constitute “a relatively small group” and exactly how many supported this “relatively small group’s” efforts? Two? Ten? Hundreds? Or maybe thousands? Better objectivity in reporting, please.

    And no – Sue Kempf’s and Bob Whalen’s attempts to minimize Mr. Blake’s bad behavior are unapologetically way off the mark. Mr. Blake has repeatedly excoriated residents without provocation and failed to respect Roberts Rules or the Code Of Conduct. His unchecked intimidation of residents put a dent in Laguna’s democratic process for two years.

    “We all need to own some of this” – I don’t think so. Mr. Blake needs to own this one – as well as the City Council for not censuring him much earlier on its own accord. It all comes back to Mr. Blake’s unwillingness and/or inability to control his temper and treat people with respect. Had that been the case, none of this would have been necessary.

    Bad time to call for a censure? Well maybe the Council should have done its duty earlier. Two years has been too long and another two years was out of the question. Besides, who’d want to work for a city government that has no respect for its residents?

    No matter how abjectly painful it was for Mayor Whalen and Councilwoman Kempf to finally do the right thing, at least a tip of the hat for at long last doing it.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree that the Censure was necessary. Adopting our City Decorum and Civility Policy in 2019 was the right thing to do as it was clear that after Peter Blake was elected, civility in our government engagements deteriorated and our city council members had to do something. Facts are facts. A public official who prides himself on being elected to be a bully to fulfill his commitment to his voters, boasts he is a monster, states he will not compromise and disrupts meetings, states he does not represent all constituents – only those in his group and resorts to name-calling and degrading residents who disagree with his behavior and call him out on it is evidence enough that the code of conduct was needed. And enforcing the D&C now after two years of well-documented public and personal violations by Mr. Blake’s was the right thing to do as well. I want to THANK City Councilman Weiss for addressing this difficult issue and our Mayor, Mayor Pro-Tem and Council Member Iseman for upholding our Civility Policy. This is what city leadership looks like.

    I was pleased that constituents (supporters and non-supporters) took the time to offer their opinions on this matter through direct CC calls, emails to the Mayor and CC, calling-in to the meeting and sharing their personal experiences and expressing their views and concerns in public media sources. Agree or disagree with the outcome, this process is how a healthy government and city works.

  5. Typical Laguna Pearl Clutching; Oy vey! The Kvetching. A mere few loud-mouthed sissies whining and crying because someone beat them fair and square. Can these water-head City Council Swamp Creatures ever do anything about a real issue? They act like acid-heads delusional for their OLD power (which is NEVER coming back V.L.) BLAKE RULES against them for We The People who pay the taxes.

  6. This column, like Whalen and Kempf’s comments, miss the point of why Blake needed to be censured. It’s not what he’s doing, it’s what he says and how he treats ANY resident with whom he disagrees. His first line of attack is to paint everyone who disagrees with him as Village Laguna. That is simply not the case. I have never been affiliated with Village Laguna. The man claiming his view was being blocked by the Coast Inn – who knows if he is Village Laguna? But both of us were shouted at and called liars during our time to comment. This goes on continually. I’ve seem responses from him to comments in the Indy where he calls people names, his favorite being idiot. How does he know they are VL?? It’s about shutting down viewpoints. The toxic stew that Kempf points out in her blame of residents for this censure is 100% Blake’s making. We never had this incivility and rancor since I’ve lived in Laguna. Disagreements, yes. But polite, respectful differences. THAT is why this Council had to do the right thing and censure Blake. We need to get back to proper governance by adults and not people with impulse and anger control issues. The people supporting Blake should ask themselves “If he said that to my mother/sister/daughter – is that OK?”

  7. Funny, the U.S. Constitution has the 25th Amendment that allows for the removal of mentally unstable Presidents. A shame City Councils don’t have similar legislation for those who demonstrate paranoia (everyone’s out to get me), anger management problems, a lack of impulse and emotional self-control (must attack), delusions of grandeur (always right, zillions of silent supporters who never showed up) and no self-consciousness as to the problems they create for themselves. A real pity.

  8. Laguna Beach has ruined it’s luster, not because the Councilman stands up and fights, Not because “Everyone can’t get along” (anymore), Not because “Big developer’s are taking over”; It’s because of the no-talent Council hacks who were more interested in ring-kissing that working. I was at a Canyon event when Egly was mayor and she had a minion going ahead of her asking us one-by-one “Did you want to meet the mayor?” HA! I laughed in his Nancy boy face. Let’s get focussed: We need a City manager who will cut spending, like the FAT in lifeguards, Trail guides, water stations, trash pick up, and Sian Poescls disaster relief fund for bad art. City managers and Police Chiefs run this city without any cares. Everything is “For the children”, or “Public Safety”. ENOUGH! The Council is pure political theater. Where are the brains in this town that can help? Also, if some is stupid, they need to wise up or run for council. Alot of mom’s have called their kids stupid and they were probably right. Being called stupid isn’t illegal OR uncivil. It’s funny as in “Sticks and stones . . . But names can never hurt me” Except if you’re a holier than thou thin-skinned millionaire and think everyone has to listen to you.

  9. I want to publicly thank George Weiss for taking quick action on this topic. I think many mean well by efforts such as the civility topic on the agenda couple years ago. I also think this topic is a extremely important one as only a few have been properly educated and trained on how to best handle situations like this. If anyone would like to see a role model it would be our last chief of police. Soon after her arrival, she was being stalked. I went to a “meet and greet coffee” the police offered to the public. I was eager to share how my dad was a cop here in Laguna. Well, I watched what happen and how she swiftly and respectfully handled herself as her stalker approached. And I believe she offered training to all her department. There will be continual need to hold this boundary now set, and I believe George Weiss knows this. Now, does this disturbance create a problem for
    our town? I watched it affect my grandparents Coast Inn with negative consequences from my perspective. So thank you city council to get back on track on this matter.

  10. All this far reaching nobility for a town of real estate rich hicks that can’t keep a drug store or hambuger restaurant open. All this chest thumping gratefullness for the crew that mandated a conditional use permit dictating the inventory Bob Hurley’s surf shop stocked. The one thing they all have in common is that they left, and you are all still here paying higher taxes being Le Misérables. Thank God for refi’s or Laguna would have no one living here.

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