Desperate times sometimes force last-minute measures, says Verna Rollinger, who announced her candidacy for City Council by filing her campaign papers on Friday, Aug. 19, the last day possible.
When nobody else stepped forward, the former elected official said she felt compelled to step up. Critical issues are intensifying that could change the face of Laguna Beach, which Rollinger says she has dedicated a career and a lifetime to preserve.
“There are a lot of people who are concerned about the way things are going in town,” she said, adding that she has been contemplating the move for months.
Some of those concerns stem from a rising number of tourists due to social media revealing once-under-the-radar beaches and coves, increasing traffic and illegal short-term rentals, nuclear waste storage at the closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the potential for the only south county medical marijuana dispensaries to open in Laguna, a town whose public safety services say they are already burdened.
With those issues more pressing than they were four years ago, Rollinger says her unique blend of knowledge and skills can now make a critical difference.
“I would like to add a voice that comes from a more residents’ perspective and that has more than 30 years experience working directly in the city,” said Rollinger, who served as Laguna’s elected city clerk. She was elected to the City Council in 2008 but was denied a second four-year term in 2012. The 46 years she’s lived here have been deeply involved in city issues, she said.
Rollinger champions environmental causes, and previously received financial support from Village Laguna, an organization that uses its resources on behalf of local candidates and works to preserve the town’s village character.
“All of those things prepare me to look at these issues with, if not fresh, then different eyes,” she said. “I don’t imagine there are too many people who understand how the city works, what the issues are and what the impediments are to resolving those things. I’m totally committed to doing this.”
This is election number 11 for Rollinger. She ran successfully for city clerk seven times and campaigned for a City Council post four times. She ran again four years ago and lost, as did fellow incumbent Jane Egly, to Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen. The current incumbents are now in a four-candidate race along with newcomer Judie Mancuso.
Rollinger offers inside experience, the ability to listen and constructive solutions that no other candidates can provide, said Alan Boinus, a green technology entrepreneur and marketing consultant. The incumbent candidates “are good at backtracking,” said Boinus, when decisions, such as the pilot parklet on Forest Avenue and hiring outside consultants whose plans fall short, start to backfire with constituents.
Boinus recalls Rollinger’s work several years ago on flood control issues in the canyon.
“Verna worked diligently with residents without having to go with outside consultants,” said Boinus. “She had a constructive approach, involving the community, not ignoring us.
Another festering sore point among residents regards a perceived lack of doable solutions from high-paid consulting firms working on improving accessibility of Laguna’s popular downtown streets, Rollinger said.
She knows “in her gut” that local solutions devised by broad-based citizen committees can address issues more effectively. “They’ve stood the test of time,” she said. “I think we need to get back to involving residents in dealing with real problems.”
MIG, a Berkeley consulting firm hired for an initial $402,000 to map out solutions in the downtown, has been reprimanded by of city staff and council members alike for failing to know the history and particulars of Laguna as both a quiet residential village and international beach resort.
“What makes Laguna a special place is the way we take care of each other, act as responsible stewards of the beautiful environment we share, solve problems by working together, and respect the diverse expressions and aspirations of every member of our community,” she said.
Rollinger was visibly crestfallen and “very disappointed” when voters denied her bid for re-election four years ago. She thinks disgruntlement over city spending on consultants will swing the vote in her favor this time.
City officials, she said, aren’t doing a good enough job identifying the specific problems they want to solve, which leaves suggestions too generic, needs unmet and proposals sent back to the drafting table.
Rollinger cited, for example, illegal short-term rentals listed on hosting websites such as Airbnb and the “horror stories” from neighbors about the impact of itinerant guests. “The city hasn’t directed enough resources to solve the problems that affect residents’ lives,” she said.
Rollinger and her daughter Jeanette just returned from their annual month-long camping trip along the coast to Oregon. “Boy, if I had rented my place out for 31 days I could have made a bundle while I was gone,” she said.