By Tasmin McGill, Special to the Independent
When the votes were counted and the race called, Peter Blake lost his bid at reelection for Laguna Beach’s City Council bringing in only 10.59 percent of total votes and landing him in sixth place. The last four years have been tumultuous for Blake, who found himself criticized by residents during open city council sessions and censured by co-council members. Now, after vacating his seat, Blake is back at his Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna ready for normalcy.
“I’m thrilled and frankly lucky that I didn’t get reelected,” Blake said. “I’d like to go back to being an art dealer and resident of this community.”
Blake never anticipated running for city council but, after seeing what he believed to be oppressive restrictions placed on Laguna residents by Village Laguna, his wife convinced him he could help make a change.
Blake saw Village Laguna as a powerful presence that needed to be called out, whether it was the denial of building permits or the excessive stipulations put in place before new businesses could establish themselves and flourish. While his approach was often criticized, Blake said that residents knew what they were getting when he received the majority of the votes in the 2018 election.
“I exhibited all of my personality,” Blake said. “We had 10 debates, and during those 10 debates, it was obvious I […] was there to fight.”
During the first meeting Blake attended following his election, he attempted to remove what he called the most “egregious” Design Review Board members, Caren Liuzzi, Meg Monahan and Lorraine Mullen-Kress.
“I failed miserably. It was my first attempt at making changes, and I got my ass handed to me basically, but I dusted myself off,” Blake said. “Every single meeting for four years, I made sure that if there was a reason to stand up and fight, I was going to. I was going to spare no one, and I did so.”
Blake would ultimately successfully recruit and appoint new members for the Design Review Board. He would also address the issues that caused him to run in the first place, such as re-establishing residents’ property rights and collaborating with City Hall to streamline the arduous building process.
Blake said he wanted to get rid of what he saw as Village Laguna empowering itself when it came to how residents could and could not express themselves with their biggest investments – their homes.
Another issue Blake tackled was the homeless population, which he considered a growing community issue. Although what Blake calls “criminal transients” made up a small percentage of the homeless population, they contributed to a large portion of the town’s crime rates – due to Blake’s encouraging residents to report infractions. Recognizing this as an issue, Blake organized 10 seminars where community leaders came to hear concerns from residents.
“I invited key stakeholders. I had Congressman Harley Rouda, Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, the Director of the Friendship Shelter Dawn Price, and our Chief of Police Laura Farinella,” Blake said.
To help deter the small population of transients from returning to the streets of Laguna, Blake said he visited the district attorney’s office in Santa Ana, where a DA was dedicated to the city for assistance.
“That was our biggest accomplishment that I had during my term,” Blake said. “I would call a perfect storm of situations that we enacted as a state that made it possible for people to do drugs, to steal, and to create a homeless situation which destroyed major cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, and ruined coastal communities close to us like Venice and Santa Monica. I wanted to ensure that didn’t happen to my beloved town.”
Blake is optimistic about the future of the city council and the community.
“The two people that got elected, Alex Rounaghi is a brilliant young man and brings a voice to a young generation. Mark Orgill is a very smart guy who’s been involved in development in the past and has also been involved in bringing a more cultured visitor to this community,” Blake said. “Everything they need, the seeds have been planted. All they have to do is grow those seeds.”