‘Village Matters’ Group Protests Developer-funded PAC

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

A handful of opponents of the Liberate Laguna PAC was not deterred by the rain on Oct. 13 from protesting the PAC’s involvement in the Laguna Beach City Council election. Photo by Daniel Langhorne.

A handful of opponents of the political action committee called Liberate Laguna was not deterred by the first rain of the season Oct. 13 from waving signs emblazoned with “Don’t Bulldoze Downtown!” and other slogans at Broadway Street and Acacia Drive.

George Weiss was among the residents who were protesting the Liberate Laguna PAC because they believe it’s funded by “out-of-town developers” and supports art gallery owner Peter Blake and planning commissioner Sue Kempf for Laguna Beach City Council. Both candidates have said they would like to take a more welcoming approach to property owners who want to add housing in the downtown area.

“These are outside developers that are trying to get their candidates in power,” Weiss said. “We’re not opposed to development, but it’s got to be reasonable.”

Liberate Laguna’s major donors are Michael Ray, principal at Sanderson J. Ray Development; Sam Goldstein, a musician, real estate consultant and businessman behind the Heisler Building’s renovation; and Cindy Shopoff, principal at Shopoff Realty Investments, which invests in master-planned communities, multi-family housing, and commercial properties.

The PAC had received over $72,400 in contributions as of Sept. 22, and according to the latest filing with the city on Oct. 10, 4G Wireless, headed by local developer Mo Honarkar, recently donated $10,000 to the PAC.

The protestors chose the law offices of Nokes & Quinn as the site of their rain-soaked protest because its address is listed on campaign contribution filings. Attorney Laurence Nokes said one of the board members of Liberate Laguna is a client and opted to use his office address for convenience when the committee was first established. He added that he doesn’t represent Liberate Laguna in any form.

Nokes emphasized his firm has donated the use of its conference room to all kinds of civic groups including, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, Friendship Shelter, Beautification Council, and Ad Hoc Committee for the Downtown Specific Plan.

“We have been very mindful for making our office available to community groups that want to meet,” he said.

The city’s historic preservation ordinance, which mandates extensive review of certain buildings before they’re renovated or demolished, has been one of the most argued issues during this year’s City Council campaign.

Blake has staunchly opposed the historic preservation ordinance, saying that it puts burdensome constraints on how home and business owners can improve their property. He said this stance has put him in the crosshairs of Village Laguna, which has fought development in the downtown for decades. “If you run against Village Laguna, then you’re a pro-development candidate and want to turn Laguna into Miami Beach,” he said.

Blake believes the endorsement from Liberate Laguna could stem from the fact he shares Ray and Goldstein’s frustrations about getting construction designs approved by the city.

“I would prefer to not have their endorsement because a lot of them have different views on the homeless,” Blake said.

Blake has taken a tougher stance on addressing homelessness as a criminal matter that’s negatively impacting residents and business owners. The current City Council has taken a more supportive approach by approving the ASL Emergency Shelter that sleeps up to 45 people per night, provides meals, and connects guests with health services.

Kempf said her record from three years on the Planning Commission shows that she’s actually in favor of historic preservation and has consistently voted against projects that would deteriorate Laguna Beach’s charm. She said claims that she plans to allow developers to demolish downtown are absurd and intended to rile up voters.

“It’s just really unfortunate how the political climate has devolved throughout the country,” she said. “I feel like this is what it’s going to be like across the board.”

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