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TOP 10 STORIES OF 2008: Politics shift in Laguna Beach

1 Voters shift political power: Voters shift political power: The winds of change that swept Democrats into office in Washington D.C. also shifted the balance of political power in Laguna.

Mayor Jane Egly and former City Clerk Verna Rollinger were elected to the council Nov. 4, joining Councilwoman Toni Iseman to create the first Village Laguna-endorsed majority in power for the since 1994.

“There will be a shift in political philosophy,” Egly said. “I haven’t quite figured out how the votes will come out, but it will still be one vote at a time.”

Egly was the top vote getter, with more than half of the 14,513 total ballots cast in her favor, 987 votes ahead of runner-up Verna Rollinger’s 6,516 votes. Incumbent Mayor Cheryl Kinsman trailed Rollinger by 324 votes.

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City Clerk Martha Anderson, running unopposed, was returned to office with 10,722 votes. City Treasurer Laura Parisi, also unopposed, received 10,553 votes.

Although the council race is nonpartisan, Laguna Beach Democrats were jubilant about the election results from the national to the local level, the victory of Proposition 8 rankled. Laguna Beach opposed the constitutional Amendment that bans same-sex marriages in California.

Election results were certified by the County Registrar of Voters and announced at the Dec. 2 council meeting, when the newly elected officials were sworn in.

The newly seated council elected Kelly Boyd mayor and Elizabeth Pearson as mayor pro tem.

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2 Day Labor Center: Day Labor Center: This was a big year for the Day Labor Hiring Center. The city became the landlord instead of the tenant of the property on Laguna Canyon Road — and also won another legal ruling upholding the city’s right to support the center.

Caltrans sold the state-owned parcel to Laguna for $18,000, despite the initial objection of Sen. Tom Harman to the low price and the outspoken hostility of anti-illegal-emigration activists, but there were no other takers.

Conditions included a requirement that the city pass a resolution authorizing the purchase and stipulating the use of the property for specific public purposes — which the city identified as park and recreational and open space purposes,

Eileen Garcia said she spoke against the purchase, on behalf of thousands of residents who are fearful of reprisals from the city manager. Garcia, who sued the city in 2006 seeking to have the center declared ineligible for city funding, lost an appeal on the case. Garcia reportedly has moved out of town.

The center was created in 1993 at the request of North Laguna residents who didn’t want job seekers gathering on their neighborhood corners.

The operation is managed by the Cross Cultural Committee, which receives a grant from the city to fund all of its charitable community activities.

3 Sewer spills: Sewer spills: Laguna Beach had to contend with two major sewage spills in 2008, one in April that closed South Coast Highway for days, and another in October that spilled 600,000 gallons of raw effluent into beaches, closing four miles of sand to the public.

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The spills were the result of continuing problems with the city’s aging sewer system, despite years of work and millions spent in upgrades.

4 Measure A goals met early: Measure A goals met early: Measure A has done its job and will take early retirement.

The City Council voted Dec. 9 to terminate the half-cent sales tax June 30, three years early, as recommended by the city staff and the Measure A Oversight Committee. The original recommendation was to terminate the tax March 31, but that was before city officials learned the results of the audit of the roughly $34 million in federal and state funding would be available by January.

“By March 31 of the coming year, the two goals of Measure A will have been accomplished,” Committee Member Linda Brown said. “The landslide repair costs will have been paid and the disaster fund — estimated to be equal to approximately 11% of the general fund — will have been banked, satisfying the original resolution’s goal of 10%.”

Laguna voters approved the tax increase with the understanding that the revenue would be used to offset the city’s share of the cost to restore the area of Bluebird Canyon devastated by a landslide and to establish a disaster fund for future emergencies.

“Our city has been extremely fortunate to have all but roughly $2 million of the total repair expense [assuming a favorable audit], paid for by Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Management,” Brown said.

Measure A was approved by the voters in a special election in December 2005 and took effect in July 2006. Under the voter-approved measure, the six-year tax could have been continued to 2011.

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5 Greening of Laguna: Greening of Laguna: Laguna Beach stepped up efforts to reduce its carbon footprint this year.

The city’s Environmental Committee presented its Climate Protection Action Plan to a receptive City Council at the July 1 meeting. The recommendations for reducing local energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions will be on the City Council’s Jan. 27 agenda for approval of the implementation.

The purpose of the plan is to provide a blueprint to implement the key provisions of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, adopted in February.

The broad goal of the agreement is to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below the 1990 levels no later than 2012, which would mean a 10% reduction in Laguna Beach from the present levels.

Other green issues:

 Not in Laguna, but very Laguna, the city opposed the extension of the 241 Toll Road through San Onofre State Park. Then-Mayor Jane Egly spoke at public hearings on the city’s behalf.

 Non-recyclable plastic was banned by the council in June. Food vendors, from Jack in the Box to French 75, and any store that sells prepared food in Laguna were banned from dispensing take-out or leftover food to customers in disposable containers made from expanded polystyrene foam or non-recyclable plastic. Fines will be imposed on violators.

6 Same-sex marriage: Same-sex marriage: The euphoria over same-sex marriages after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples could not be denied marriage rights, and a number of public ceremonies, was followed in short succession by the election season and the battle over Proposition 8, a state Constitutional Amendment which reversed the court decision. The election season was particularly heated due to the presidential campaign. Local Democratic Club headquarters at the former gay bar the Boom Boom Room became ground zero for anti-Proposition 8 efforts in the area.

After Proposition 8 passed, 1,000 people marched in protest from Laguna Beach City Hall to Main Beach.

7 State Park: State Park: After decades of planning and delays, Crystal Cove State Park finally broke ground in 2008 with a project including an RV park and recreational facilities that could be the last beachfront state park facility built in California. Opening is set for spring or summer.

8 Big anniversary: Big anniversary: The Pageant of the Masters celebrated its platinum, 75th anniversary, following up on the previous year’s 75th anniversary bash for the Festival of Arts.

9 High school honors: High school honors: Laguna Beach High School marked its 75th anniversary, and the same year garnered a national Blue Ribbon, with a contingent from the school traveling to Washington, D.C. to the awards ceremony.

10 Wyland’s ‘whale tail’: Wyland’s ‘whale tail’: Marine life artist Wyland took on the California Coastal Commission over its refusal to give his foundation some of the proceeds from the sale of his “whale tail” specialty license plate.

After Wyland threatened to withdraw permission for the state the use the iconic design, the state didn’t blink: The Coastal Commission announced a contest in October for a new “whale tail” design.



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