Top News Stories of 2012: A year in review

There's never a shortage of important stories in Laguna Beach, but here are the most compelling ones in chronological order.

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South Laguna tunnel

When the South Coast Water District said it needed to access property below several South Laguna properties for its tunnel stabilization project — and possibly use eminent domain if needed — some residents refused.

About 10 South Laguna property owners had not penned agreements to sell the easements, according to a July 12 Coastline Pilot story.

District officials view the stabilization of the tunnel, originally dug in 1954 to house a sewer pipeline along the coast, and pipeline replacement as a necessity to avoid a catastrophic sewer spill and injuries to workers.

Another contentious issue: the demolition of a derelict cottage, which the council OKd at its May 1 meeting.

The next step for the water district was to file Eminent Domain Complaints in Orange County Superior Court for those property owners who continue to refuse an agreement, which it had expected to do earlier this year, with the court handling it from there. The process could take up to a year.

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Lifeguard headquarters

The City Council symbolically broke ground Sept. 19 for the construction of the new lifeguard headquarters on Main Beach.

A backhoe actually did the work — tearing off a piece of the roof of the old and unlamented headquarters, as council members, city staff and residents watched.

The project is due to be completed in December 2013 and to come in under budget.

A $6.6 million budget was approved in July for the construction of the headquarters and public restrooms on Main Beach, originally estimated to cost $8.1 million.

"That leaves a reserve of $1.5 million, which hopefully will be available for another project," Wade Brown, project director, said.

City lifeguards moved their offices and service areas into mobile units during the weekend after the groundbreaking. Temporary public restrooms were located north of the basketball courts.

The new 6,722-square-foot headquarters will house marine safety operations on two levels, one of them underground — believed to be essential to the California Coastal Commission's approval of the project.

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No helmet, no skateboard

All skateboarders caught bombing down Laguna Beach hills or maneuvering city streets without wearing a helmet will have their boards temporarily confiscated under the terms of the amended ordinance the council passed in October. And it will cost the parents of juveniles both time and money to get the skateboard released.

Confiscated skateboards will be held for one week for the first violation, one month for subsequent violations, and parents must accompany their children to the police station to reclaim the boards, pay the fines and be counseled.

Longtime supporter of local skateboarders Chad Gibson said the confiscation policy is discriminatory.

"If you see two 13-year-olds coming down a hill, one on a skateboard and one on a bike and neither wearing helmets, you're going to take the skateboard, but not the bike?" he asked. "How do you justify that? I can't."

Councilwoman Toni Iseman, who co-sponsored the confiscation amendment with then-Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, opined that most parents probably think their children are wearing helmets and would want to know if they are not.

"They'll know because they will pay the fine," said then-Councilman Kelly Boyd, the lone vote against confiscation.

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Tree removal

In October, the City Council decided several eucalyptus trees in Bluebird Canyon will be chopped down, settling a passionate debate that lasted about a year.

The council voted 4 to 1 to follow the city arborist's recommendation to remove 11 eucalyptus trees.

"I don't think anyone here is wrong," Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson said at the meeting. "We all celebrate beauty in Laguna, but we [the city] are liable, especially now with the report."

"Fear is forcing your hand when a more reasoned approach is warranted," Mace Morse said at the meeting.

City policy is to trim its trees every two years, but some species need trimming every year, some every three years, Public Works Director Steve May said.

All 11 trees slated for removal are city-owned and in the city's right-of-way.

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Murder-suicide

Residents of Arch Beach Heights were shocked to discover their neighbors were shot to death inside their home.

Laguna Beach police suspected that Mike Brown shot and killed his wife, their dog Rudy and then himself in their home at 835 La Mirada St.

After Brown didn't show up for work Monday, a friend checked on the home Oct. 31, police and neighbors said.

Edgar Alvarez said he was told the friend found the couple, who moved to the neighborhood in July, and their dog Rudy dead in their bedroom. Mendy Brown's body was found on its side in bed. Her husband's corpse was face-up, under the sheets.

Alvarez said he heard shrieking the night of Oct. 31. His neighbor June Trudson, who called 911, ran to his door, overwhelmed after discovering the news.

Laguna Beach Police Capt. Jason Kravetz said police were looking at financial issues as a possible motive.

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Election 2012

Two new photographs have been hung in City Hall right by the entrance: Robert Whalen and Steven Dicterow, who unseated incumbents Verna Rollinger and Jane Egly in the November City Council election.

The election caused a brouhaha in the Democratic Club, which endorsed only Rollinger of the three Democrats in the race, irking some members.

Whalen, who did not seek the club's endorsement, came in first, Rollinger fourth. Egly, who asked for but was denied endorsement, came in third.

Dicterow made his party affiliation a major part of his election campaign. A Republican, Dicterow was supported by State Assemblyman Allan Mansoor and endorsed by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

Whalen emphasized his background in financing for public agencies and the local school board on which he sat for 10 years.

Laguna voters also were asked to decide the fate of Proposition CC, a parcel tax to raise money to buy pockets of open space in the city.

Whalen and Dicterow opposed the tax and the voters turned it down, 7,185 votes to 5,836.

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South Laguna garden

South Laguna Civic Assn. didn't get the seed money it wanted from the city to buy community garden plots that local gardeners have been tilling for almost three years.

The City Council voted 3 to 2 at the Nov. 11 meeting to deny the request by the association for $251,000 to jump-start fundraising for almost $1 million to meet the asking price for the land. However South Laguna Civic Assn. officials said the request might be brought back in 2013.

"The garden was one of the questions we asked the candidates when the association interviewed them, but I can't remember their positions," said association President Bill Rihn.

Robert Whalen and Steven Dicterow, have not made their positions known.

Then-council member Verna Rollinger voted in favor of the request; Jane Egly was against it.

Financial uncertainty and competing requests were cited as the reasons for denial.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson also voted against the request.

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Business changes

The Royal Hawaiian, a watering hole for locals hankering for a good tropical drink and a kitschy, tiki vibe, closed in April after 65 years.

The latest owner, Lyndon Douglas Cole, said the largest contributor to its closure was the restaurant's conditional use permit, which only allowed amplified music and entertainment until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. He also cited lease negotiations and the slow economy.

Meanwhile, The Cottage closed its doors Dec. 26 after nearly 50 years in business. The building was sold earlier in the year, and the new owners, who will keep its facade and historical elements, plan to open a new restaurant there.

The Cottage has been around since 1964. Jennifer McCulley was owned the restaurant for the past 12 years and ran it with her sister, Julie McCulley.

And for just the third time in its 78-year history in Laguna, the Marine Room Tavern changed hands.

Chris Keller, who owns three Laguna restaurants, took over the Marine Room Nov. 28. Mayor Kelly Boyd, with his late brother Bo, was the leaseholder of the tavern, affectionately known as the "Mar Bar," for the past 25 years.

Boyd was instrumental in bringing Keller to the table. Keller owns K'ya Bistro and the Rooftop Lounge in the HIP District's La Casa del Camino and the House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer downtown.

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Social host ordinance

Laguna Beach is now the fourth city in Orange County to enact a social host law, which penalizes adults who knowingly supply minors with booze.

The City Council approved the hotly debated ordinance this month. First-time offenders will receive a civil citation and be required to attend counseling sessions. Those who refuse will be fined $1,000. Subsequent violations will be misdemeanors, which could lead to jail time, as well as a $1,000 fine set by state law.

The law, which split the community, also split the council, with newly named Mayor Kelly Boyd and newly installed Councilman Steve Dicterow opposed.

A six-month review will be held to review the efficacy of the ordinance.

The law is set to go into effect in January.

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