Elizabeth Pearson didn't want to run for a third term on the Laguna Beach City Council in 2010 but she had a greater purpose in mind.
She wanted to see the Village Entrance project move closer to fruition, as the development was one of her primary campaign issues.
The City Council selected Pearson, 61, as mayor at its meeting last week, almost a month after she announced at a special workshop that she would not support a parking structure at the Village Entrance site — where Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road intersect.
The council unanimously supported Pearson's motion and the project now includes a landscaped pathway.
A collective sigh blanketed council chambers following Pearson's announcement regarding a project that has fueled passions for nearly two decades among residents, many of whom opposed a structure because they claimed it would add to the city's traffic woes.
"I made a commitment in all of my campaigns to try to get a Village Entrance project done and wanted to fulfill my commitment," Pearson said during an interview earlier this week. "I proposed over 2 1/2 years ago to council that we buy land at 725 Laguna Canyon Road [just north from the Forest Avenue lot] as a way to at least have a beautification project at the Village Entrance in anticipation of lots of concerns, misunderstandings, and controversy, so that what ensued could be prevented and I could not get one council [member] to support that."
With council approval in November, the city purchased 3.8 acres at 725 Laguna Canyon Road for $5.3 million, which could add 65 additional parking spaces.
Councilman Steve Dicterow, a former Laguna Beach mayor, wasn't surprised by Pearson's announcement against the parking structure and said she adhered to her role as a public official.
"Elizabeth clearly stated for a number of months what she wanted [regarding the Village Entrance]," Dicterow said. "She is a good representative of the people and listened to what the public was saying."
Parking will be a key focus for Pearson, who embarks on her fourth mayoral term.
"Downtown needs more parking so I will continue to work on it, and it may take large numbers of people coming to Laguna from new [housing] projects in Irvine for many to agree that more downtown parking is going to be needed," Pearson said.
Pearson is also encouraged by the Festival of Arts, which sits directly across Laguna Canyon Road from the Forest Avenue lot, and officials' proposal to beautify its front facade and add landscaping.
The Festival is separate of the Village Entrance, but Pearson, an arts advocate who is president and chief executive of Pacific Chorale, an acclaimed choir based in Costa Mesa, believes there could be consistency in design on both sides of Laguna Canyon Road.
"I want to beautify the gateway to Laguna from Laguna Canyon Road," Pearson said. "I'm not referring to it as a Village Entrance project, but rather as the gateway project. The gateway is created by both sides of the street [Laguna Canyon Road]. Ideally both sides of the street will mirror each other. It will create what most of us have wanted for a long time — to have something more beautiful than just the eyesore of rows and rows of surface parking on the south side of Laguna Canyon Road."
Pearson is excited to lead a city with a robust, informed and attentive citizenry.
She was also mayor from Dec. 2009 to Dec. 2010; and from Dec. 2004 to June 2006 [she was reappointed for an additional six months from Dec. 2005 to June 2006 due to the Bluebird Canyon landslide], according to City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker.
"Government is about process," Pearson said. "As mayor, it's about welcoming input and building consensus and doing so in a polite environment."
Being Laguna Beach's mayor is a "full-time job," according to Pearson, who will continue to promote the arts as a primary fabric of Laguna's identity.
"It's a very time-consuming position when you're the mayor of Laguna Beach because no matter who the organization is they would like to see the city participate in their functions and events," Pearson said. "I will try to ensure the viability and prosperity of arts organizations because I believe [the arts] adds to our economic base."
In addition to council experience, Pearson spent 6 1/2 years on the city's Planning Commission.
"She has an incredible amount of experience, skill and intelligence and has worked hard to make Laguna a better place," Dicterow said. "She's a smart person so when you combine that with a wealth of experience, you usually get good results."