LOCAL ELECTIONS : LAGUNA BEACH : People's Favorite on Ballot, Laguna Canyon, Still Faces Tough Odds

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The favored candidate on Laguna Beach's Nov. 6 ballot has already won the hearts of this coastal city's voters.

That's because the ballot's top draw is Laguna Canyon, a natural resource that has raised the emotions of residents attempting to block the Irvine Co.'s proposed 3,200-home Laguna Laurel development on 2,150 acres in the canyon.

But while residents have expressed strong feelings in favor of saving the canyon--some even have offerred to throw themselves in front of bulldozers--the challenge for city officials is to get two-thirds of the voters to open their pocketbooks and approve Measure H, a $20-million bond proposal to buy the virgin countryside. Under the measure, a home with an assessed value of $200,000 would see an annual average tax increase of about $59.

Support for Measure H ultimately could depend on whether officials for the city and environmental groups can persuade the Irvine Co. to sell the land at a price the city can afford--below the $105-million appraised value.

Negotiations stalled this week when the city balked at the developer's asking price of $90 million, to be paid out over a five-year period.

Measure H campaign manager Paul Freeman, who also has been hired by both sides to try to work out a land buyout deal, predicted voters will approve the measure only if negotiators can reach a long-term financial agreement.

"I am not sure we can get two out of three voters to approve a bond measure without the benefit of knowing how that bond fits into a plan that saves the canyon," Freeman said.

If approved, the $20-million bond issue would set in motion a $10-million donation tentatively offered by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, as well as private donations. The city also is hoping to tap state parks and wildlife funds.

But with talks breaking down, there may not be a campaign. Invitations to a major Measure H fund-raiser, scheduled for Oct. 8, have not been mailed because all official campaign activities are on hold while both the city and the Irvine Co. decide whether to resume negotiations.

Also on the Nov. 6 ballot is Measure G, which would direct the council to prohibit onshore support facilities for offshore oil exploration unless approved by a majority vote of the electorate.

The environmental issue has carried over to the City Council races, where nine candidates--two incumbents, three planning commissioners, two previously unsuccessful candidates and two political newcomers--are jockeying for three open seats.

Councilman Dan Kenney, whose term expires in November, is not seeking reelection.

Mayor Lida Lenney, Councilman Robert F. Gentry and Planning Commissioner Ann Christoph are considered by local political observers to be the favorites in the election.

Lenney and Gentry have been credited with guiding the city in the Laguna Laurel talks, which led, in part, to the proposed bond measure.

Christoph, along with the two incumbents, picked up the endorsement of Village Laguna, the city's most powerful political organization with a solid track record of picking winners.

Having served on the South Laguna Board of Review for six years, Christoph is the only candidate from South Laguna and is considered to have strong backing in her community.

A fourth candidate, Planning Commission Chairman Norm Grossman, almost defeated the mayor for the Village Laguna endorsement--losing in the sixth round of balloting.

Having been active on various committees and boards, Grossman gained countywide recognition as an author of Measure A, the slow-growth initiative on the 1988 ballot.

The Laguna Beach Board of Review broke from its tradition of not issuing endorsements when it announced its support for Planning Commissioner Wayne Peterson.

Beth Leeds, one of the repeat candidates, has been a civic activist in Laguna Beach since she was a teen-ager. She is known for an ability to quickly muster the troops for a protest rally and for her battles against offshore oil drilling.

Candidate Rickey Slater, who has regularly attended council meetings, is making his fifth attempt to capture a council seat. Calling himself the "watchdog of the city," Slater estimates he has attended about 800 city government meetings since moving to Laguna Beach 33 years ago.

Political novice Steven Leonard, at 32 the youngest entry in the race, said he decided to run at the last minute because no other candidate represents his conservative philosophical viewpoint. Leonard is an attorney.

Nancy Kreder, another political neophyte, is a homemaker and PTA member. She is married to Laguna Beach school board member James Kreder.

CANDIDATES FOR LAGUNA BEACH CITY COUNCIL

Ann Christoph

Age: 45

Occupation: Landscape architect, planning commissioner

Background: Commissioner since January, South Laguna Board of Review member from 1983 until 1989. Designed several city landscape projects, including Aliso Beach children's play area.

Issues: Interested in environmental planning and increasing resident participation in civic affairs.

Robert F. Gentry

Age: 51

Occupation: Incumbent, UC Irvine associate dean of students

Background: Councilman since 1982; two terms as mayor. Led city negotiations with Irvine Co. aimed at halting Laguna Canyon development. Member of Governor's Advisory Committee on Offshore Oil Leasing and city's AIDS Education Task Force.

Issues: Human rights advocate; opposed to offshore drilling.

Norm Grossman

Age: 47

Occupation: Engineer, planning commissioner

Background: Has served on Planning Commission; previously served on city's design review board and traffic, circulation and parking committee. Laguna Greenbelt board member, Laguna Laurel Advisory Committee member.

Issues: Slow-growth advocate who wants to preserve Laguna Canyon and make city government less complicated, more responsive.

Nancy Kreder

Age: 52

Occupation: Homemaker

Background: Mother of two children, PTA member. Active in the successful recall of three school board members in 1987.

Issues: Improve fire and police protection, maintain recreation areas, solve city's sewer problems.

Beth Leeds

Age: 49

Occupation: Artist

Background: Environmentalist and civic activist. Founding member of Laguna Canyon Conservancy and California Ocean Sanctuary Federation. Past president of Save Our Shores.

Issues: Wants to improve relations with businesses, lower parking fees, make government more accessible.

Lida Lenney

Age: 57

Occupation: Incumbent, retired schoolteacher

Background: Council member since 1986, mayor since December. City negotiator with Irvine Co. to stop Laguna Laurel development. Founding member of Laguna Canyon Conservancy. Congressional candidate in 1988.

Issues: Preserve Laguna Canyon, clean air and water. Solve transportation problems without increasing smog.

Steven Leonard

(Photo not available)

Age: 32

Occupation: Business attorney

Background: Six-year resident. A self-described "conservative environmentalist" who has hiked all local canyons.

Issues: Favors private property rights, simplified design review process and San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor.

Wayne Peterson

Age: 51

Occupation: Teacher, planning commissioner

Background: Commissioner since 1984, design review board from 1982-84. Worked 25 years in insurance, then in real estate. Began teaching English as a second language last year.

Issues: Finding balance between open space preservation and property owners' rights, simplifying design review process.

Rickey Slater

Age: 56

Occupation: Custodian

Background: Laguna resident since 1957. Five-time City Council candidate. Member of Chamber of Commerce Beautification Council.

Issues: Wants to solve city's parking problems, limit City Council members to two terms and limit campaign contributions to $100.

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