Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen commends communitywide effort in ‘unexpected’ 2020

Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen gives the State of the City Address via a Zoom meeting on Tuesday.
(Screenshot by Andrew Turner)

As tough as the past six months have been since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen appeared to find inspiration in the collaborative effort of the community in the fight against the virus.

Whalen made the rounds in his speech, touching on adjustments made by businesses in the face of economic hardship and lauding steps taken by community members to help mitigate the spread.

“If you think back, we were unprepared at Pearl Harbor, we were unprepared for 9/11, and while the lack of preparedness can’t be overlooked, it’s the response to a crisis that’s most critical,” Whalen said. “We saw that in World War II. We saw that at 9/11.

“American dedication, determination and discipline saved us from those crises and helped us to become a stronger and more resilient country. It is those qualities that will lead our recovery this time from this global pandemic.”

In reviewing the tests presented by the pandemic, Whalen said that he felt the City Council made wise decisions when it came to closing and reopening both the beaches and trails. He thanked local officials for their role in addressing the former.

“Closing and then opening our beaches was among the biggest challenges,” Whalen said. “I have to thank [Orange County] Supervisor [Lisa] Bartlett for pushing the county to close and open beaches in South Laguna in coordination with what we were doing at the city.

“I have to thank [state] Assemblywoman [Cottie] Petrie-Norris for helping us to coordinate with the governor’s office to be the first city in Orange County to have a plan approved to reopen our beaches after 41 days of closure.”

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported six new deaths and 135 new cases related to the coronavirus in the county on Wednesday.

Whalen acknowledged that the road to recovery is far from over, emphasizing the importance of wearing masks and social distancing to help fight the spread of the virus and guard against another spike in COVID-19 cases, as seen earlier in the summer.

He also partook in a “Mask Up To Open Up” public service announcement featuring other Orange County mayors and plans to implement similar messaging on city signs.

Laguna Beach has also introduced a “Clean, Safe, Ready” pledge program geared toward having businesses reopen in compliance with safety protocols and ensuring that visitors abide by them, too.

Whalen expressed his gratitude to local businesses that have followed guidelines while trying to survive.

“I would be remiss if I concluded without commending the owners and operators of our restaurants, our retail stores, our art galleries and other businesses for your part in hanging in there to help your employees survive as best you could through these closures and to reopen safely and in compliance with the reopening guidelines,” he said. “Thank you very much for doing your part.”

The Promenade on Forest in downtown Laguna Beach
Customers dine outdoors on the Promenade on Forest in downtown Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. The Promenade on Forest came about to allow some local businesses to operate outdoors with the coronavirus restrictions in place. The council has voted to extend the Promenade’s stay through January, and Whalen added that they are looking into making it a permanent fixture downtown.

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce had its own campaign, “Think Laguna First,” to encourage residents to shop locally. Chamber chairman J.J. Ballesteros said that the organization has added 41 members since the start of the year.

Chamber President Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold noted that in March the organization granted a three-month reprieve from member dues to assist its businesses.

“I think it’s important to remember that a large number of our business owners are, in fact, residents,” Ballesteros said. “They invest a great deal of time and money to provide something of value to us, and we should give them the support they need to be successful.”

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