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Public safety and public works among top items in Laguna Beach budget plan

Public safety and public works among top items in Laguna Beach budget plan
Residents gather in the Laguna Beach City Council chamber Tuesday night for a city budget discussion. (Photo by Faith E. Pinho)

With a new fiscal year on the horizon, the Laguna Beach City Council emphasized its priorities and made final tweaks to its two-year budget proposal Tuesday night, including increasing arts staff and adding public safety personnel to the city homeless shelter.

Much of the budget will continue to focus on public safety, with 27% going to police and 20% to fire services. The city plans to devote much of its other resources to public works projects, information technology infrastructure and improvements to the Community Development Department.

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Mayor Bob Whalen asked to reserve a chunk of funding for fire safety measures that will be included in a Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Subcommittee report expected next month.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow agreed but said attention needs to be paid to the Police Department and “the changing nature of people coming into town.”

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In an interview Wednesday, Dicterow spoke of a mounting number of crimes committed by people from outside the community. Though police reported in February that overall crime in Laguna Beach reached a record low in 2018, Dicterow said he continues to hear from residents who are concerned about safety. As a “wealthy town,” he said, Laguna Beach is “an easy target” for home intrusions and other property-related crimes.

Councilman Peter Blake requested budgeting $45,000 per year to staff the city’s Alternative Sleeping Location with a beach patrol officer in the evenings to screen guests for weapons, drugs and alcohol. The council approved the request, along with a one-time purchase of a $10,000 metal detector for the shelter on Laguna Canyon Road.

The council also directed staff to move forward with several capital improvement projects. The Main Beach public restrooms will receive a face lift with a $700,000 projected budget.

Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis included funding for a series of other changes to Main Beach Park. The city is expected to spend $100,000 in fiscal 2019-20, the first year of the budget, to design the changes and a half-million dollars in 2020-21 to work on the park’s concrete and turf.

The budget also includes other capital improvement projects such as drainage, sidewalk and playground renovations. The city also will continue to set aside money for a future city facility such as a new or rebuilt fire station.

As part of the budget presentation, Dupuis reported that ridership is down on all city-run shuttle lines, but especially on the neighborhood service.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, she said, there were 20 boardings per hour among all lines, compared with 25 in 2016-17 and 32 in 2015-16. Neighborhood services saw about five boardings per hour in 2017-18, compared with eight in 2015-16. Numbers have declined despite a city marketing campaign in the past year, she added.

The council discussed replacing the neighborhood routes with “microtransit” — a city-run service much like Uber or Lyft — or working out a deal with the ride services to subsidize local rides.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman pointed to the declining numbers and uneven ridership — weekend and festival shuttle routes carry more passengers than the neighborhood routes — as reasons to reevaluate the services.

On a 3-2 vote, with Dicterow and Iseman opposed, the council approved adding a position for a part-time public art coordinator, along with making the existing arts program coordinator a full-time position.

City staff emphasized that information technology improvements are a priority, but the council will wait until a June 18 budget meeting to appropriate funding for a final IT master plan.

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