The city is turning 80 this year, but age is relative. The “state of the city” of Laguna Beach is, in a word, hectic.
That was the message from Mayor Toni Iseman at the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce’s “State of the City” luncheon, held Tuesday at Tivoli, Too.
Iseman said she has noticed a higher level of intensity and emotion since she took over the mayoral post in December, the second time she has served in the honorary position.
“It’s mostly a delight to be mayor, but recently I had a message from a woman saying she hoped my house would burn down,” Iseman said. “This was over a tree. There is a high level of emotion now. I try to see things through other people’s eyes, but there is a lot of pressure.
“We’re a small town with big-city problems and a lot of people who are used to having their way. People come here because they love Laguna Beach, and then they want to change it.”
Added to the local pressure is the town’s national image, broadcast weekly via the popular youth-oriented MTV reality show, “Laguna Beach.”
Iseman recounted how she had been contacted over the holidays by Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” a comedy news television show and was asked to appear on it.
“I said no,” she said.
“We used to have to explain to people where Laguna Beach was, but now everybody knows where Laguna Beach is, and they make assumptions about us.”
Global warming, parking are top issues
Global warming is at the top of Iseman’s agenda, and she thinks Laguna can help save itself from a future catastrophe — the potential for rising ocean waters.
“Our downtown is at sea level, and we may see a rise in sea level,” she said. “It’s appropriate for the city to educate people about green building, and small changes can make a big difference.”
The biggest problem facing the city, Iseman says, is parking. To that end, the proposed Village Entrance project is seen by many as the answer.
But the sensitive project, with its proposed parking structure holding some 600-700 spaces, has a lot of hurdles, not the least of which is how to pay for it.
The biggest stumbling block is the fact that its proposed location at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road is also the location of a sewer pump station.
Originally, city officials were considering building the structure over the sewer pump station, but Iseman said she’s been told by an expert that the sewer pump station must be moved.
Iseman said she has learned that the parking structure will lose 100 spaces if the sewer pump station is kept where it is.
Moving the sewer facility will be very expensive, and Iseman predicts a bond will have to be approved to pay for the structure project, to be repaid with future parking proceeds.
On the question of how the city can support local businesses, Iseman suggested that businesses cater to locals, not just tourists, but added, “It’s our patriotic duty to shop locally. If our businesses aren’t successful, we aren’t successful,” she said. “You need that for a sense of community, and I’m concerned about the price of real estate and rents.”
After a recap of news and activities from city officials, Chamber members led everyone in singing the official city song, “In Laguna,” by George Russell, and cut a huge birthday cake.
The city will turn 80 in June.