Come November, Laguna voters will select three members for the City Council. One of these three must be Toni Iseman. During her tenure on the Council, Toni has worked tirelessly for Laguna in ways most citizens will never know. But one crusade she was forced to wage sometimes single-handedly highlights her extraordinary value to our city.
Over the course of the last two years, certainly the most momentous and most contentious issue facing the Laguna City Council was the question of whether to authorize over $40 million ($65 million including interest) to build a village entrance whose main feature was the now almost universally derided massive parking garage that would have degraded the charm of our central village.
Bowing to thoughtful independent criticism of both its financial and design aspects, and to rising public opprobrium, the City Council finally voted to reject this plan. That this final decision was unanimous speaks as to how obvious its folly had become.
And yet, for many months leading up to this final rejection, the City Council voted time and again by 4-to-1 to support the plan. These votes committed Laguna to expend hundreds of thousands of dollars in ever expanding architecture, engineering, and other studies. The one reliable dissenting vote was cast by Council member Toni Iseman. This wasn’t obstructionism; this was insight gained through diligent investigation of the issues, which led her to correctly recognize the plan’s critical defects long before her colleagues.
Her steadfast lonely stance took both insight and courage. Her votes and her vocal opposition focused public attention, rallied citizens, and gave us the time to study the issues and to demand an end to this folly.
A few months later, city staff revealed that employee pensions are enormously underfunded, forcing the Council to allocate $1 million a year in increased pension funding. Had Toni Iseman not stood forcefully against the parking garage plan, the city may well have already committed $2.3 million a year to financing its debt. Finding that additional $1 million then would have forced traumatic budget decisions to cut services and/or increase taxes. Her actions saved this city from real financial pain.
In short, the citizens of Laguna Beach have (amongst many others) 65 million reasons to return this diligent, dedicated, and intelligent public servant to the City Council.
Tom Halliday, Laguna Beach