Festival, city announce agreement

Barbara Diamond

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

“I"s dotted.


“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

the city.


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,

Dietrich said.

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

city’s team.

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.