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Verna Rollinger, a former councilwoman and city clerk, jumps into the race

For the last few months, Verna Rollinger talked to friends in town, trying to gauge their interest in running for a seat on the Laguna Beach City Council.

Rollinger waited and waited — nothing.

"There are a lot of knowledgeable, dedicated people who could do the job ... but no one was willing to take that on," Rollinger said.

At 71, Rollinger wasn't that eager either, having served for 29 years as city clerk, retiring in 2004, and already having been a council member, from 2008 to 2012.

But then the day before nomination papers were due earlier this month, she jumped in, gathering 30 signatures — 10 more than required to qualify her for the ballot, city clerk Lisette Chel-Walker confirmed.

Rollinger will attempt to earn enough votes to secure one of the two contested seats on the five-member council in November's election. Besides facing incumbents Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen, she will be up against challenger Judie Mancuso, founder and current president of a nonprofit that supports legislation promoting animal care and protection.

If Rollinger's platform could be summed up simply, it might be: power to the people.

"I'm concerned with the direction the city is taking," Rollinger said. "I'm concerned resident issues are not getting the attention they should. The council's reliance on high-priced consultants, from out of town, don't seem to be delivering for the large amount of the budget they are consuming."

Rollinger said she favors an approach where residents, some of whom are experts in their particular professions, develop committees to solve problems. Several years ago she led a task force that addressed flood control concerns in Laguna Canyon.

"I'd like to see the city rely on residents who know the problems, and if they don't know, get the answers to figure them out," said Rollinger, who has lived in the city for 46 years.

Johanna Felder, who has known Rollinger for 30 years, called the council candidate's involvement on the task force "exemplary."

"People came together and worked together for the common good," said Felder, president of Village Laguna, an organization established in 1971 to preserve the character of the city.

Chief among Rollinger's concerns is balancing the benefit of the millions of tourists who visit Laguna every year with preserving the residents' ability to enjoy their own city.

"I'm not advocating send them away, but we need to do a better job of meeting the needs so we don't have such a big impact," she said of the year-round visitors.

Rollinger said some South Laguna residents told her that the tourists park in their neighborhoods and use yards as trash cans and restrooms.

"Maybe we don't have public restrooms, not enough trash cans," Rollinger said. "They are throwing trash in inappropriate places, I assume, because they do not have appropriate places to throw trash."

Rollinger points to her involvement with various community organizations as a sign that she has a finger on the pulse of the city.

Rollinger cooks meals to serve homeless guests staying at the Alternative Sleeping Location, an overnight shelter in Laguna Canyon.

In previous years, she served on the Laguna Greenbelt Inc. and Friendship Shelter boards of directors.

Felder, who served on the Greenbelt board with Rollinger, described her as "conscientious," "thorough" and "detailed."

"She knows the ins and outs of the city, knows everything about the city," Felder said. The nonprofit Greenbelt focuses on protecting wildlife habitat, according to the organization's website.

For several years, Rollinger was part of a parent group that held monthly meetings in residents' homes to discuss Laguna Beach Unified School District-related topics, be it a new principal or program.

The Dialogue on Schools program emerged from a school board election campaign push for a gathering place where information could be exchanged and parents could talk, Rollinger said. The group invited guest speakers and as many as 30 people would meet on a given night.

Dicterow and Whalen are both attorneys, in estate planning and public finance, respectively. Dicterow has said that he wants to get more residents in their 20s and 30s to become involved in civic affairs, while Whalen has made citywide utility undergrounding one of his top priorities.

Mancuso, one of several residents who opposed the trapping of coyotes in Laguna, also is concerned about sober-living homes and recovery centers being located in residential zones.

The post-election council will face a bevy of planning efforts already underway, including settling on development standards downtown and land use practices in Laguna Canyon.

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Bryce Alderton, bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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