Toni Iseman said she did not expect to serve five consecutive terms on the Laguna Beach City Council when voters elected her in 1998.
The love of Laguna Beach, though, kept Iseman coming back. And, she said, she would not change a thing.
"It takes its toll, but it's worth it because Laguna is so special," Iseman said, alluding to the hours of preparation before meetings and the occasional ridicule that comes with being an elected official.
Iseman, 71, began her 19th year — and her fourth mayoral term — on Dec. 13. While four mayoral terms may not be that unusual, Iseman, who was raised in Fremont, Neb., and moved to Laguna in 1970, continues the longest streak of consecutive years on the council.
Council members serve four-year terms and appoint the mayor from among their ranks for a one-year term.
Among Iseman's top priorities this year is continuing to put residents' needs before those of the continuing influx of visitors by letting day-trippers and others know they can enjoy Laguna without a car.
Iseman said the effort to build a two-story building at the Act V lot at 1900 Laguna Canyon Road, which allows for 264 public parking spaces in the summers, was a "significant" accomplishment during her time in office. It opened in 2008. The city also uses the site to store equipment, vehicles and supplies to maintain the city's streets, sewers, storm drains, parks and beaches.
"Some things that happened don't look significant but are," Iseman said.
She also acknowledged the city's efforts within the last 20 years to make trolley rides free.
Traffic pressures only figure to increase with the number of new housing developments sprouting up in surrounding cities, Iseman said, adding that creative ways to capture cars before they arrive in town is a must.
"Every decision the council makes should be based on the basic question, 'Does this make things better for residents?' " said Iseman.
She has contemplated a service that would offer guests who arrive at John Wayne Airport a shuttle to their hotel in Laguna. Such an arrangement could be a partnership with Visit Laguna Beach, a nonprofit that promotes Laguna Beach, she said.
Once in town, guests could use trolleys or ride services such as Uber and Lyft to get around, Iseman said.
"You can be [in Laguna] without a car and save that money to spend in shops or restaurants," Iseman said.
The "problems" Laguna faced in 1998 still exist, but they have intensified, Iseman said. She listed parking, traffic and property values that "are through the sky."
"Laguna has been discovered; it's a destination for second and third homes," Iseman said. "People with great wealth look forward to living in Laguna for part of the year. Our neighborhoods are not the same.
"You have heard the cliché knock on your neighbor's door for a cup of sugar," Iseman said. "Now when one knocks on the neighbor's door, no one is home. A sense of community enhances the quality of life. That could well erode if we are not careful."
She considers preservation of open space and Laguna's coastline of prime importance.
Iseman, who worked for 36 years in education as a counselor and career planning teacher, served on the boards of both the Laguna Canyon Conservancy and Laguna Greenbelt Inc. and is currently on the board of the South Orange County Wastewater Authority.
Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson met Iseman more than 20 years ago when the two served on the Laguna Greenbelt board and considers her a close friend.
"She is the first one to show up with chicken soup if you are in trouble," said Johnson.
Iseman is devoted to the city as well, said Johnson, who recalled a time when the two were driving and hit a pothole.
"She called [former City Manager] Ken Frank and said this pothole needs to be fixed," Johnson said. "The town is her concern 24/7."
When asked if the current term, which expires in 2018, would be her last on the council, Iseman said: "I'm looking to pass the baton to someone. I'm meeting with young members of the community to cultivate the next generation."
Iseman said she understands how people might not see public service as a priority when they have a family, work or school. Iseman's approach was to live a very full life of giving, including raising a child while working full-time and serving on the Greenbelt board.
Then there's the public scrutiny, to put it mildly.
"People in town read letters to the editor and some are so nasty about elected officials," she said. "Do you want to do that?"
Iseman needs only to look around to remind herself of why she has been so civically involved.
"I remember after I was elected [to the council] and driving along South Coast Highway by Main Beach and seeing the amazing expanse to the south with the ocean and coastline and thinking, 'Don't let anyone spoil it,' " she said.