Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold winces when she hears anybody call downtown Laguna Beach “tired.”
“We need a refresh,” said the new executive director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.
She wants to see spruced-up maintenance of downtown buildings and a conditional use permit process that attracts more businesses.
“I really do care, and I have nothing personal to gain here. This is really about the city and the … positive growth of the city,” she said.
Hornbuckle-Arnold said she pops into businesses regularly when walking her dogs through Laguna’s downtown and that she buys all her Christmas gifts from local stores. But she thinks “there are some things that are missing.”
“I love shopping Laguna. I just can’t find everything I want here or need,” she said.
Hornbuckle-Arnold envisions a downtown that attracts residents and tourists alike.
“They’re coming,” she said. “Let’s offer them something that’s desirable and make them want to stay and shop in Laguna.”
The Laguna resident already has worked to strengthen local businesses.
Adrienne O’Connell, founder and director of Laguna Beach Aesthetics, Cosmetic Dermatology and Laser Center, said Hornbuckle-Arnold was instrumental in helping her business grow. In 2017, at just over a year old, Laguna Beach Aesthetics was struggling — advertising revenue was failing and O’Connell wasn’t attracting as much business as she had hoped.
“I kind of felt that I was at a standstill,” she said.
O’Connell explained her problems to her friend Hornbuckle-Arnold, and within months, Hornbuckle-Arnold had set up a customer database, created a monthly newsletter, revamped the business’s advertising strategy and introduced O’Connell to several new clients.
“Looking back at this past November and December, how much busier I [am],” O’Connell said. “I established a strong client base.
“She was a huge, huge help to my practice.”
Hornbuckle-Arnold’s plans for the chamber include improving communication between the city and local businesses with a social media campaign.
And the former board president of the Laguna Beach Boys & Girls Club plans to do what she does best: raise money.
“She’s one of my best askers,” said Michelle Fortezzo, chief development officer for the Laguna Boys & Girls Club. “She doesn’t even know she’s doing it.”
Fortezzo can rattle off tales of the time Hornbuckle-Arnold walked off an airplane with a donation check from her seatmate, or about how she always promoted the Boys & Girls Club, even when getting her nails done at a salon.
“Wherever she goes, she tells the people about the club and they give something,” Fortezzo said.
When Hornbuckle-Arnold first became a board member for the club 10 years ago, she said she didn’t want to do fundraising. Two years later, she was chairing both organizing committees for the nonprofit’s annual Art of Giving Gala and Girls Night Out auction and fundraiser.
“I convinced the staff that we needed to spend a little bit more money to make a little more money, and we [almost] doubled our net that year,” she said.
Since Hornbuckle-Arnold joined the board, the gala has brought in an average net of $300,000 and Girls Night Out an average net of about $100,000. In 2013, thanks to an anonymous donor and an especially lively auction, the gala raised a net $700,000.
“Everything that she chaired went up,” Fortezzo said. “Everything that she did went up.”
Hornbuckle-Arnold’s fundraising philosophy is that “the answer is no unless you ask.”
The Las Vegas native began her career in marketing, eventually becoming director of marketing for Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall. She also invested in several properties around Nevada with her then-husband.
After their two daughters, Lindsey and Sara, were born, Hornbuckle-Arnold went into full-time “supermom” mode, starting the PTA at her daughters’ school and hosting fundraisers in their home.
“I’m not an idle person,” she said. “That’s not in my nature.”
She moved to Laguna Beach in 2003 and continued as self-titled “soccer mom extraordinaire” before volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club in 2009.
J.J. Ballesteros, president of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said Hornbuckle-Arnold’s reputation and local network from her work with the Boys & Girls Club preceded her hiring.
“We had a chamber mixer last Thursday … and she was there and jumped in and I would say almost half the people that were there knew her and loved her and were congratulating her,” said Ballesteros, a Realtor with the Ballesteros Group. “She’s very well-respected and liked.”
Hornbuckle-Arnold’s rapport with local leaders may prove crucial in the coming year, as the city expects to finish its update of the Downtown Specific Plan and submit it for approval to the California Coastal Commission. The city also recently sent out a request for proposals to consultants to craft a Downtown Action Plan, which would put into motion aspects of the specific plan.
At its last meeting, the City Council approved a study of downtown retail with $25,000 in funding from the chamber and $13,800 from the city. The chamber selected consulting firm Stanley R. Hoffman and Associates to analyze downtown businesses and suggest ways to make the approval process for new businesses easier.
“I don’t think there has been any thought put into why businesses succeed or fail in the downtown area,” Hornbuckle-Arnold said. “We need to get a professional to give us those ideas on how to work around and make that work in our downtown specific area.”
While she waits for the results of the study, Hornbuckle-Arnold is jumping into her other responsibilities as chamber executive director. Even before her official start Monday, she began meeting people in the chamber and reading the documents piling up on her desk.
“I just think that we have opportunity,” she said. “I strongly believe it. I’m very passionate about it.”