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Laguna Beach City Council votes to censure Councilman Peter Blake

Councilman Peter Blake.
The Laguna Beach City Council voted Tuesday to censure Councilman Peter Blake, shown at left in this file photo. The action was the first time the council has enforced a policy adopted in 2019 that established rules of decorum and civility.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach City Council voted to censure Councilman Peter Blake Tuesday night, marking the first time the governing body has enforced a policy adopted in 2019 that established rules of decorum and civility.

The council voted 4-0-1 in favor of the censure, with Blake abstaining.

The censure request submitted by Councilman George Weiss accused Blake of acting in an unprofessional manner that violated the city’s Rules of Decorum and Civility Policy. It alleged that Blake had made insulting public communications to or about Laguna Beach residents that gave the impression that community input was unwelcome by the council. It also said that Blake had made contemptuous public remarks about Councilwoman Toni Iseman.

Emotions ran high as the agenda item was discussed, including during a public comment session with so many participants that speakers were limited to two minutes to address the council. Even with that limit in place, the session took more than an hour to complete.

While the majority of speakers appeared to take issue with Blake’s pattern of behavior, some of his supporters also called in to speak on his behalf.

“I did vote for Peter Blake, and he is my voice in Laguna Beach, and I do like everything that he has done,” India Hynes said. “Censuring him, I think, is completely a political move. This is not for the best for Laguna Beach.

“He has done some amazing things the last few years, and hopefully he will continue to do more things in the following several years ahead. That’s all we’re seeing and hearing these days is trying to cancel people.”

Weiss said he hoped that bringing the request for censure forward would “safeguard participatory democracy in Laguna Beach.”

Blake gave no indication that censure, which amounts to a formal reprimand, would lead to him curtailing his behavior.

“There is zero chance this censure is going to stop me, and George knows that,” Blake said. “This is just George’s way of publicly humiliating me and somehow or another putting a stain on my reputation that is going to follow me for the rest of my life. How on earth would censuring me and being the first thing that comes up that’s got professional ramifications, political ramifications on me, how would that ever begin to stop me from being myself?”

With 100% of the precincts reported, Orange County Registrar of Voters shows Foley winning with 41,582 votes over former state Sen. John Moorlach, who garnered the support of 27,952 voters.

In the request for censure, several examples of Blake’s public communications were cited, including those made by the art gallery owner in an online publication and in public meetings. The cited comments repeatedly call out political opponents.

“People are still concerned about me, and I like it when people worry about me,” Iseman, the target of some of Blake’s public criticisms, said. “I worry about them. That’s what friends do. I’m doing OK, and I can take care of myself, but I’ll tell you what I have been ever since I can remember my personality type is I have always stood up to a bully.

“The bully didn’t have to be bullying me. All I had to do is see somebody getting picked on, and I had no choice but to confront, and that’s what I did when Peter started this.”

Blake did not hold back in his remarks as he entered his abstention during the censure vote, referring to his council colleagues as a “kangaroo court.”

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf said she felt it was not a good time to have a censure hearing for a council member with the city searching for its next city manager to replace John Pietig, who is retiring.

“This couldn’t have been a worse time to do this,” Kempf said. “For people who think that the candidate pool isn’t watching this, I’ve been on four or five interview committees since I’ve worked for the city. Every candidate watched council meetings, read the media, looked at our budgets, looked at our projects, asked a lot of questions.

“If you don’t think that’s true, then you don’t know about municipal government. That’s how it works. We’re a beautiful city. We have a beautiful community, but we’ve got a toxic stew going on here for a number of reasons, and I think it’s so unfortunate.”

The Buena Park City Council decided Tuesday night to remain in a community choice energy group that could increase local use of renewable energy and potentially lower rates for residents.

Both Mayor Bob Whalen and Kempf said that they found Blake’s behavior on the dais to be reprehensible, but each indicated that they felt Blake has been baited into some of his adversarial interactions.

Whalen and Kempf also said that they have talked to Blake about the way he communicates.

“Yes, of course I have [talked to him],” Kempf said. “Of course, but this is the problem we have here, and I think we all kind of need to own some of this. … I think we all need to own some of this because we can’t even have a civil election in this town. What a joke.”

Whalen said the censure was the agenda item he has least enjoyed dealing with in his time on the council. He opened by saying he would be supporting the censure, adding that he made the decision not based on political views, but with respect to how Blake communicates his views and treats people who come before council.

“I think there’s standards we have to live up to,” Whalen said of the standards he believes should apply to elected officials. “We have to sort of try to rise above a lot of the nastiness and the negative comments that are directed our way, and just let it roll off your back, and make your points, and make your points with civility.”

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