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Election 2020: Meet the candidates for Laguna Beach City Council

Laguna Beach City Council candidates, from left: Steve Dicterow, Ruben Flores, Larry Nokes, George Weiss and Bob Whalen.
(Courtesy photos)

Five candidates are on the ballot for the Laguna Beach City Council going into Election Day, Nov. 3.

The candidates include two incumbents in Mayor Bob Whalen and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow.

There are three challengers for the two seats that are up for grabs in Ruben Flores, Larry Nokes and George Weiss.

The Daily Pilot sent a questionnaire out to all candidates for City Council in its coverage area to get a sense of who they are, why they are running and what issues they believe matter most in their communities. Some responses have been edited for formatting, length or clarity.

STEVE DICTEROW (Incumbent)

Age: 65

Professional occupation: Attorney

Education: USC Law School

Time lived in city of residence: 37 years

Previous public service: Did not answer

What are your thoughts on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If elected, how would you help the city recover?

I am extremely proud of our response. We have not cut our public safety services or dipped into our reserves. We have introduced several innovative measures to help local businesses. Moving forward, I will urge us to make permanent many of our temporary measures, including the Forest Avenue Promenade and the ability of restaurants and retail businesses to operate outdoors.

This summer, the Orange County area saw demonstrations related to issues of social justice, policing and inequity. How do you think constituents view these issues, and how would you address them on the dais?

Laguna Beach is a community with a wide range of diverse political views. I am a firm believer in the right of the public to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. I believe that our citizens appreciate the city’s past even-handed responses in balancing the right to assemble with maintaining public safety. I will continue to support this philosophy.

State housing allocations over the next several years may require the city to zone for 393 units (RHNA). How would you maintain residents’ quality of life while addressing the housing crisis?

This issue will be addressed in the next two years with the update to the city’s Housing Element. We need to energize the community to get involved with this process to bring their ideas and [to] work with us for innovative solutions. I would support hiring a specialist in this field to help with our efforts.

What else would you focus on as a council member?

My focus will always be to preserve the best of Laguna: the safety, beauty, charm and character of our city and neighborhoods. This means working to minimize the impacts of tourists on our neighborhoods while reducing the constraints on businesses to better serve both residents and visitors.

RUBEN FLORES

Age: 59

Professional occupation: Landscape design and construction

Education: Bachelor of Science in Ornamental Horticulture, Cal Poly Pomona; Master of business administration with an emphasis in marketing, Cal Poly Pomona

Time lived in city of residence: 29 years

Previous public service: Four years as chair and member of View Restoration Committee; seven years as President of Laguna Beautification Council; six years as board member of Pacific Marine Mammal Center; 11 years as board member of South Laguna Community Garden

What are your thoughts on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If elected, how would you help the city recover?

I think the city did a darn good job. It’s not comfortable insisting that citizens wear a mask to protect themselves. Many take it as an affront, but it truly was for the protection of all in the community, and for that, I applaud the council for its drastic, sometimes unpopular, decisions and requirements for the residents.

This summer, the Orange County area saw demonstrations related to issues of social justice, policing and inequity. How do you think constituents view these issues, and how would you address them on the dais?

As a Hispanic man in Orange County and Laguna Beach and having friends of all racial backgrounds, I want all my friends to feel welcome and accepted in our town. We can extend our hand and ensure an open mind and always be conscious of others’ perceptions as we rebuild our city open to all.

State housing allocations over the next several years may require the city to zone for 393 units (RHNA). How would you maintain residents’ quality of life while addressing the housing crisis?

Mindful integration is the key. Affordable housing is a key issue all over. We need to ensure it is built and maintained for this purpose. It might be wise to incorporate these in different areas of the city, North Laguna, South Laguna, downtown and the canyon.

What else would you focus on as a council member?

Our town is on the cusp of a big reawakening regarding development. It is crucial that this redevelopment be guided in such a way that our historical and village atmosphere is not diluted with generic, non-detailed architecture that would ruin the romantic notion of who [and] what defines Laguna Beach … Public safety is of utmost importance.

LARRY NOKES

Age: 66

Professional occupation: Trial lawyer

Education: Bachelor of Arts, University of Utah; juris doctorate, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

Time lived in city of residence: 36 years

Previous public service: Volunteer: Chair of Drafting Committee for the Laguna Beach View Preservation Ordinance; Participant – Revisions to Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Ordinance; six years as director of Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce; two years as president of Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce; six years as member of Board of Managers South Coast YMCA; two years as chairman of Board of Managers, South Coast YMCA

What are your thoughts on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If elected, how would you help the city recover?

The city’s response has been good. Public meetings are held via Zoom to encourage maximum participation. Introduction of outdoor retail and dining has been crucial for survival of the commercial zones. Mandatory wearing of masks has helped tamp down the spread. I would continue these efforts.

This summer, the Orange County area saw demonstrations related to issues of social justice, policing and inequity. How do you think constituents view these issues, and how would you address them on the dais?

Citizens expect nothing less than an appropriate response to a specific situation. Too many have died after it became clear that they posed no threat. I support constant and current situational recognition and de-escalation training for law enforcement.

State housing allocations over the next several years may require the city to zone for 393 units (RHNA). How would you maintain residents’ quality of life while addressing the housing crisis?

I want to create as much housing as possible within existing structures. Allow conversion of underutilized office space to residential. Allow ADUs and JADUs on existing properties and inside existing buildings.

What else would you focus on as a council member?

Parking, traffic and circulation are big issues in Laguna Beach. Visitor parking in neighborhoods is hurting the livability for residents in those neighborhoods. We must provide parking. We must continue to support outdoor dining. We must continue our revitalization efforts in our commercial areas. Expand the seasonal use of festival grounds. Protect our beaches and our trails.

GEORGE WEISS

Age: Did not answer

Professional occupation: Retired Telecom executive

Education: Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Loyola University, Chicago

Time lived in city of residence: 15 years

Previous public service: President of Laguna Beach Beautification Council; president of Laguna Beach Film Society; chair of city of Laguna Beach Housing and Human Services Committee

What are your thoughts on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If elected, how would you help the city recover?

The response to COVID has worked. The city projects a $17-million budget shortfall. This demands fiscal prudence so we don’t run short if a natural disaster occurs. I recommend curtailing expenditures for expensive new planned projects, such as the $10 to 15 million for a new parking structure behind City Hall. We also need to look at repurposing brick-and-mortar retail.

This summer, the Orange County area saw demonstrations related to issues of social justice, policing and inequity. How do you think constituents view these issues, and how would you address them on the dais?

Laguna is a community of people who care about each other and who tend to pitch in when a fellow resident needs help. That said, there is income inequality here. I would support increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour with benefits provided for those working part time, like restaurant and hospitality workers.

State housing allocations over the next several years may require the city to zone for 393 units (RHNA). How would you maintain residents’ quality of life while addressing the housing crisis?

We must zone for these units, and a likely area would be the industrial zone along Laguna Canyon Road between Ganahl Lumber and LCAD. ADU’s are another solution. To build affordable housing, we must have public [and] private partnerships to make this happen. This is a goal of the 2016 Cultural Arts Plan. I would work to reinvigorate that plan.

What else would you focus on as a council member?

Fiscal responsibility in which everyone pays their fair share so that it’s not just residents handling the costs of 6.5 million visitors; compatible, smart development that is compatible with the unique architectural character of our town’s buildings; protecting our unique and fragile urban landscapes, open space, ocean and coastline for future generations.

BOB WHALEN (Incumbent)

Age: 67

Professional occupation: Public finance attorney

Education: Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies, Harvard College, 1975; juris doctorate, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, 1978

Time lived in city of residence: 36 years

Previous public service: Laguna Beach City Council 2012-present; Laguna Beach Planning Commission 2008-12; Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education 1997-2006

What are your thoughts on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If elected, how would you help the city recover?

As mayor, I have been involved in our daily decisions related to COVID-19 such as closing and opening beaches and businesses. I believe that our local response has been outstanding. We have adopted programs to support local businesses, hand out free masks, ban evictions of renters and create outdoor spaces for safe dining, all while putting public health considerations first.

This summer, the Orange County area saw demonstrations related to issues of social justice, policing and inequity. How do you think constituents view these issues, and how would you address them on the dais?

Laguna Beach residents strongly support the right of peaceful protest for all. In June, I brought a proclamation to council to declare our opposition to police brutality and support for the peaceful exercise of 1st Amendment rights. While our residents strongly support our police department, we established a taskforce to review department policies to ensure that best practices are followed.

State housing allocations over the next several years may require the city to zone for 393 units (RHNA). How would you maintain residents’ quality of life while addressing the housing crisis?

I would protect our neighborhoods by zoning for more residential units in our commercial zones and in our industrial area on Laguna Canyon Road. Part of the RHNA need can be met by encouraging accessory dwelling units on existing single-family lots. I would look for opportunities to create affordable senior housing with city assistance.

What else would you focus on as a council member?

My number one priority always has been, and will continue to be, public safety. I will implement the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Plan to protect against a major wildfire. I will work to add resources to better manage beach crowds that have been adversely impacting our neighborhoods. I will protect our neighborhoods by adding more parking near PCH.

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