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Laguna Beach City Council elects Sue Kempf as mayor

Newly appointed mayor Sue Kempf, right, reads a list of accomplishments by three-year, outgoing mayor Bob Whalen.
Newly appointed mayor Sue Kempf, right, reads a list of accomplishments by three-year, outgoing mayor Bob Whalen, left, from a proclamation recognizing his service during a Laguna Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach City Council underwent a shift in leadership on Tuesday, as the five-person panel voted unanimously to make Sue Kempf the town’s new mayor.

Kempf, who joined the council in 2018 and previously served on the planning commission, has been involved in initiatives such as the Neighborhood and Environment Protection Plan, the Promenade on Forest, and the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Plan.

“I am humbled and honored to serve our community as Laguna Beach mayor,” Kempf said in a prepared statement. “Over the last few years, our city council has worked together and made great progress on quality-of-life enhancements, additional fire safety and mitigation measures, and process streamlining improvements for our community.

“Collaborative work within the city council and with city staff is key to continuing that momentum and moving forward together. I look forward to partnering with residents, our business community and my colleagues on the city council to enhance services and further define our priorities for the future.”

Newly appointed Mayor Sue Kempf, right, hands three-year, outgoing Mayor Bob Whalen, left, a proclamation for his service.
Newly appointed Mayor Sue Kempf, right, hands three-year, outgoing Mayor Bob Whalen, left, a proclamation for his service at a Laguna Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Kempf expressed an interest in seeing the feedback from the community that will come about through the city’s survey to residents.

“First of all, I’m looking forward to getting the survey results back because I think, in terms of strategic planning for our town, it will be good to have broad input from residents, and we haven’t had that in the past,” Kempf said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We don’t do surveys very often, and so I think this is a good opportunity. … There will be a lot of good data that will help us guide our decision-making [and] planning processes next year.”

Kempf added that she wants to look at solutions for parking that could alleviate some of the impact on the neighborhoods and provide flexibility to local businesses.

Councilman Peter Blake and Kempf both voiced nominations for Bob Whalen, who served as mayor for the past three years, to take on the role of mayor pro tem. He swapped seats with Kempf following a 3-1-1 vote.

Outgoing Mayor Bob Whalen thanks the audience after receiving a proclamation for his three years of service as mayor.
Outgoing Mayor Bob Whalen thanks the audience after receiving a proclamation for his three years of service as mayor during a Laguna Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

An extensive proclamation highlighted Whalen’s tenure as mayor. He was presented with a commemorative gavel for his most recent year of service.

“I was joking at home that if I were ever to be mayor one more time, I’d have one gavel for each bathroom,” Whalen said.

Councilman George Weiss had nominated Councilwoman Toni Iseman for mayor pro tem, citing Iseman’s status as the senior member of the governing body in terms of years of service on the dais.

“You were spectacular as mayor in so many ways, and for people who are watching, what happens here, it is just the tip of the iceberg,” Iseman said in recognizing Whalen for his mayorship. “I know how many hours you spend, and spent, outside of that chair and represented us so well, and what tough meetings we had, and how lucky we were to have you to kind of keep the ship upright and going, so I really appreciate that.”

Noting that she also appreciated Weiss’ gesture to nominate her, Iseman said — referring to Kempf, Whalen and Blake —"I think it’s obvious that we live in a 3-2 world, and hopefully that will change because we might as well just have a council of three as long as the three of you always agree, and you kind of always agree.”

After hearing the proclamation read in its entirety, Whalen spoke to a collective effort of the council to achieve the accomplishments that were rattled off.

“All of those efforts show how much we can get done, and did get done, as a group of five, and this really is a moment to look back, but it’s really a night to look ahead,” Whalen said. “I’m very pleased that Sue is going to take over as mayor. I think she’s going to do an excellent job for us. She’s really well connected in the community, and I’m sure she’s going to have her own agenda that she wants to pursue.

“We need to work, and Toni alluded to it, we just need to work collaboratively as a group and try to keep making progress on things. I think we’re capable of that, I hope we are, and it’s been a privilege to be the mayor for three years.”

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