The city and the Festival of Arts have agreed to agree, but no
lease will be signed until all the “T"s have been crossed and all the
“They say the devil is in the details, but our two devils have
worked real well with their two devils,” said Festival board
President Scott Moore of the negotiating teams for the Festival and
Major deal points on which a new lease will be based were
announced Tuesday at the City Council meeting. All nine festival
board members attended, seated in reserved rows of the Council
“This is like a stepping stone in the center of a pond and we have
met in the middle,” Moore said.
Under the proposed terms, the festival and the Pageant of the
Masters will stay in Laguna Beach for the next 40 years. It is the
longest lease ever negotiated between the Festival and city, although
the Festival has been part of the city’s history for 70 years.
Future Festival occupancy of the city-owned land in Laguna Canyon
won’t cost nearly as much as it has in the past. Lease payments to
the city will be drastically reduced from 13% to 3.5% of ticket sales
and rents from sub-tenants. The city will use the revenue for
community group grants.
“We will pay $175,000 this year,” said festival board member Bob
Dietrich. “Under the old terms the payment would have been about
$650,000. That is quite a reduction.”
In the past, festival boards have bitterly complained that high
lease payments prevented them from funding the arts and maintaining,
let alone improving, the 5.6-acre festival grounds. The
independently-funded Festival of Arts Foundation will continue to
financially support art groups and scholarships to art students,
The deal points also set a 6% levy on Festival proceeds to be used
only to improve the 5.6-acre site, estimated this year at $305,000.
A festival proposal for the construction of a new workshop was
already in the pipeline, scheduled for review Wednesday, just one
night after the joint announcement.
“We still have to discuss what we will do with the money when we
get everything built that we want,” Dietrich said. “We figure that
will take about 25 years.”
Dietrich and Bruce Rasner teamed to negotiated the new lease on
behalf of the Festival. Every member of the City Council except Toni
Iseman has done duty as a negotiator, beginning and ending with
council members Paul Freeman and Steven Dicterow.
“I’ll be 97 when this lease runs out,” Iseman said. “I won’t be on
the council, but I will be here to see that the lease is extended.”
Negotiating on behalf of the city was Councilwoman Cheryl
Kinsman’s first assignment after she was elected two years ago. She
most recently served with Mayor Wayne Baglin.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Kinsman told the board members.
Baglin also included City Manager Ken Frank as a member of the
Among the nine deal points announced Tuesday: a feasibility study
of a parking garage behind the Laguna Playhouse, land owned by the
city. The study is underway. The garage would add at least 300 spaces
to Downtown parking.
Still to be resolved, an unspecified “few major points and
numerous technical details.”
One of the unresolved issues is what to do with the tennis courts
adjacent to the Festival grounds. Expansion dictates removal of the
courts. In a separate action Tuesday, the council authorized a study
of alternate locations.
Still, for residents, perhaps the most important terms of the
proposed lease are that the Pageant of the Masters and the Festival
will be held each year in Laguna Beach, the city to be the primary
location for the pageant.
“That excludes San Clemente,” said Moore, making a reference to a
previous board, whose plan to move the festival and pageant out of
town led to its outster by recall.
Councilwoman Kinsman credited the outcast board’s ill-advised
decision as the impetus for the new lease.
“Thank you Sherri,” Kinsman said.
Mission Viejo Councilwoman Sherri Butterfield was president of the
board that attempted to move the Laguna Beach icon. David Young, who
resigned from the Butterfield board in protest, sat Tuesday night in
the front row of the Council Chamber, once again an honored member of
the board. Kathleen Blackburn, who served as the city’s mayor when
the previous festival board pulled the plug on negotiations with the
city, now sits on the board.
“This is a whole different era,” Councilman Freeman said.