The buzz about a presidential visit started building in the North Laguna neighborhood around Ledroit Street last Thursday when temporary “no parking” signs sprouted in yards. The signs warned residents their vehicles risked being towed if not removed from the streets by 5 a.m. Saturday, June 14.
Up until President Barack Obama’s motorcade swept towards its Laguna Beach destination, “everybody was guessing where he would go,” said Sunset Ridge Drive resident Kathy Selevan, who along with another resident observed the black SUV with a presidential seal disappear behind the gates of their neighbor, environmental activist and Democratic donor Anne Getty Earhart.
Selevan, like others, heard what appears to be misinformation that the president was headed towards the Emerald Bay home of Janice Keller, another major Democratic donor. Even so, Laguna provided just a brief pit stop prior to Obama’s primary public objective. He served as commencement speaker for UC Irvine’s 50th graduating class at Angel Stadium.
Obama is the fourth sitting president to visit Laguna. Former presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt stopped in 1919 and 1938, respectively. A Moss Point plaque notes Wilson’s arrival and historical photos capture FDR’s drive through. Less visible were visits by Richard Nixon, who cruised through Laguna three times between 1970-73 in the company of either his friend Bebe Rebozo or his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, according to his daily diaries, said Ryan Pettigrew, archivist for the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda.
The presidential helicopter Marine One touched down at Reef Point in Crystal Cove State Park about 9:30 a.m. last Saturday and police closed a section of Coast Highway for the president’s motorcade. And though Obama was within city limits for less than an hour, “it was quite the event,” said Selevan, who described a “block party” atmosphere on her street as neighbors spilled from their homes to watch the preparations for the president’s arrival.
That included Secret Service agents wearing earpieces, who roamed the neighborhood with dogs. “You guys are lucky,” an agent told Seychelle Bradley, another Sunset Ridge resident, apparently in reference to the 20 or so neighbors allowed to remain in the area at all.
Once the brigade of vehicles entered the neighborhood, residents were shooed off the asphalt, said Bradley, who captured a photo of the president waving to bystanders.
Another 200 people, along with a few protesters, waited for a glimpse of the president along Ledroit and Coast Highway. No incidents occurred there, said Sgt. Louise Callus.
UC Irvine Prof. James L. McGaugh enjoyed a clear view of the president, sitting behind him on the platform at Angel Stadium.
McGaugh, of Newport Beach, was seated among the dignitaries as the only surviving founding faculty member who attended the university’s inauguration on June 20, 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson spoke at the groundbreaking.
McGaugh established the university’s department of neurobiology and behavior. “I was there when it all started 50 years ago,” said the scientist, who also plays with the Laguna Concert Band’s Swingset ensemble.
While in Laguna at Earhart’s home, Obama attended a $32,000 per person fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, according to Jeff Corless, a spokesman for Fifth District supervisorial candidate Lisa Bartlett.
Laguna holds its own as fertile fundraising territory for political donors.
In the 12 months through March, Earhart, granddaughter of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, outspent every other local resident, devoting $100,000 to Planned Parenthood Votes, according to Opensecrets.org, which tracks political spending.
Of the top five political spenders in town, the others – Howard Perley, Theodore J. Smith, David and Holly Wilson, and Louis Rohl — all wrote checks ranging from $77,800 to $16,352 to support Republican candidates or the party’s national committees.