Los Angeles Times

Election 2012: Firefighters endorse Bob Whalen

Laguna Beach firefighters want Planning Commissioner Robert Whalen on the City Council.

The Orange County Professional Firefighters Assn., to which Laguna firefighters pay union dues, notified Whalen by mail of the endorsement Saturday.

"Of all the candidates, incumbents and challengers alike, Bob has articulated the strongest commitment to improving public safety, in particular, disaster preparedness," according to the association's Political Director Tony Bedolla's press release.

"That's what our members care most about, and, frankly, that's what everyone who lives in Laguna Beach should care most about given the city's recent history of devastating brush fires, deadly floods and damaging landslides," Bedolla added.

Whalen was also endorsed by the Laguna Beach Police Employees' Assn.

"I'm honored to be the only council candidate supported by both the fire and police employee groups," Whalen said. "We owe a great deal to these brave men and women who protect our safety and our homes.

"If elected to council, I intend to do everything I can to ensure that they have the resources and support to do their jobs properly," he continued.

"When that recent brush fire broke out above Ruby's Diner in South Laguna, I was at a campaign reception nearby," Whalen added. "I saw first-hand the immediate and highly effective response from our fire and police departments."

He noted that more than 150 firefighters averted a potential tragedy "that could have destroyed a good part of our community."


Candidates forum

Meanwhile, the Laguna Beach Republicans and Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. forum took place Sept. 28.

How and on what the city spends its money was the primary focus of the forum.

Asked about outsourcing services if it would save taxpayers money, candidates said the city already does that to some extent — but never the police or fire departments.

"No" was the response of the candidates when asked if city employee contracts should be put to a public vote.

Another question was about prioritizing the $100 million unfunded projects in the city budget.

"In my personal experience, we wrote a strategic plan before we wrote the budget," said moderator Dennis Myers. "With the city budget, it's spend it and now go out and spend some more."

Mayor Jane Egly explained that unfunded projects are the city's wish list.

"Like most families, we have a certain amount of money to spend," Egly said. "We might want new floors, but if the roof leaks, that comes first.

"The lifeguard headquarters was on the list for a long time, and now it has come to fruition," she added.

Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger said the unfunded projects list is a planning tool so the city is ready to move when the time is right.

Whalen said prioritizing is done for projects in the 10-year Capital Improvement Program.

Festival of Arts board member Steven Dicterow said the unfunded projects list does not include essentials such as public safety funding.

Council candidate Robert Ross said costs must be calculated in the prioritization process.

The candidates stood pat on Measure CC, the $10-per-month parcel tax to buy up open space as it becomes available to deter more development inside the city.

Egly and Rollinger support the measure. Whalen, Dicterow and Ross oppose it.

Myers also asked if the candidates thought changes were needed in the Downtown Specific Plan, which is being reviewed.

"After 20 years, every plan should be looked at," Rollinger said. "I don't know what changes will be suggested, but I would like to see us come up with a list of things the community says it wants."

Egly said public participation is essential. Whalen agreed.

Personally, Whalen thinks the parking restrictions in the downtown area aren't working and believes more parking is needed at the Village Entrance.

He also believes the city should be more proactive about getting the businesses it wants in town.

"I would like to see a more friendly process," Dicterow said. "Mom-and-pops won't come if they don't know what it will cost them, what they will get and long it will take to get it."

Ross said parking has to be improved.

More than one hour of the 2 1/2 hour forum was dedicated to opening and closing statements.

Rollinger said she loves serving on the council and if re-elected will concentrate on water supplies for Laguna, which imports all of its water. She would like to see the city concentrate on harvesting and recycling water.

Rollinger also would continue to lobby for sidewalks along Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road.

Egly said a survey indicated that residents are happy with the city except for parking and traffic.

"We need to fund and expand the trolleys and get ridership up on the Blue Buses," said Egly, who actively supports the Complete Streets movement.

Dicterow said issues come and go. What the city needs on the council is his energy, enthusiasm and endurance.


Upcoming Forums

The League of Women Voters, Laguna Beach Woman's Club, American Assn. of University Women will host a school board candidates forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at Top of the World Elementary School, 21601 Treetop Lane. Moderator is to be announced.

The League of Women Voters, Laguna Beach Woman's Club, American Assn. of University Women and Susi Q Senior Center will host City Council candidates at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at the council chambers, 505 Forest Ave. Grace Winchell will be the moderator and the forum will be televised.


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