State Sen. Tom Harman Tom Harman installed new officers and directors of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce at the annual dinner Jan. 30 at Tivoli Too.
“It is a pleasure to be here this evening,” said Harman, who represents Laguna in the state legislature.
However, Harman has not always been pleased with Laguna and his selection by the chamber to officiate raised some eyebrows.
Harman opposed the Caltrans sale of the day labor site to Laguna for the state-appraised price of $18,000, which he pretty much characterized as highway robbery in an editorial made available to the media in January 2008.
He vowed to fight the deal in the state legislature. However, no one else bid on the property, even at a bargain basement price, and the city acquired the property later in the year.
Harman was introduced at the dinner by former Mayor Steven Dicterow, who introduced himself: “For those of you who remember me fondly, I am Steven Dicterow. If you do not remember me fondly, I am Paul Freeman.”
Dicterow strung together a series of jokes that had the audience in stitches before introducing Harman.
“When I agreed to accept this assignment, I didn’t know I’d be following the town comedian,” Harman said.
Harman’s assignment was to administer the oath of office to the 2009 board of directors: William Buus, Buus Kim Juo & Tran LLP; John Campbell, Campbell Insurance; Michelle Clark, Waste Management; Dicterow, International Racers Inc.; Ibrahim Guirguis, Capri Laguna Inn, David Hicok, Cornerstone Financial; Dennis Junka, Junka Bear Illustrations; Chris Lange, Citizens, Business Bank; Emanuel Patrascu, Harman staff member; Laura Poochigian, Montage Resort & Spa; Jeffrey Redeker, Bank of America; Chuck Robinson, Ganahl Lumber; Dave Sanford, Super Dave’s Print, Mail & Marketing; Tom Simpson, Simpson Termite Inc.; Bucky Weeks, South Coast Medical Center Chaplain; Catherine Wilkinson, Bubbles of Laguna.
“We are in difficult times right now,” Harman said. “We’ll see our way through. Having the chamber is helpful.”
Clark said the current economy is the biggest challenge facing Laguna this coming year.
“We have to support our businesses so they can stay in town.”
The chamber has launched “Shopping is an Art in Laguna Beach,” a shop local program that offers residents a 10% discount at participating businesses. Shoppers must present an identifying card to qualify for the discount. The cards are available at the chamber office, 357 Glenneyre St., under the library.
“Our goal is to keep residents and their dollars in Laguna Beach,” chamber Executive Director Rose Hancock said. “Laguna Beach residents have also been known to spend time and gas to drive out of town to supposedly save money. Our goal is to drive them to our local merchants.”
Visitors Bureau President Karyn Philippsen opined that shopping is an important lure for tourists.
Insurance broker Campbell said paying the rent will be a challenge for some business owners this year.
“We have lots of clients who are talking about how difficult it is just to pay their bills,” Campbell said. “If the landlords don’t recognize the problem and do something about it, they will be looking at empty spaces.” Sawdust exhibitor Junka said business is generally down and that means a reduction in Business Improvement District funds, which are derived from a percentage of the bed taxes paid by city hotels to support artists and art groups that draw tourists to town.
A reduction in the BID funding to the Laguna College of Art & Design is not the major concern for college officials.
“The college is about 90% supported by tuition,” President Dennis Power said. “We worry more abut parents saying they can’t afford a private college.”
Or maybe any college right now.
On a more upbeat note, Harman participated in the annual presentation of awards to local businesses and owners.
But chamber President Redeker wanted to be the one to present the Board Member of the Year Award to Wilkinson. Wilkinson also was recognized by Harman on behalf of the state Senate and representatives of Congressman John Campbell and Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Pat Bates.
Dicterow presented the Government Person of the Year Award.
“Last year it was [City Manager] Ken Frank,” Dicterow said. “This year’s recipient has not been in town quite as long, but is he a genuine hero — Emanuel Patrascu.”
Harman said the foreign-born Patrascu was an amazing American success story.
“And he lives in Laguna Beach,” Harman said. “This was the most difficult thing our office has done in a long time — keeping this [award] a secret.”
Patrascu was recognized by the state Senate and Assembly.
Redeker took the microphone again to announce the nominees for the Small Business of the Awards: K’ya restaurant and Casa del Camino, a la carte and Mozambique. The winner was K’ya/Casa, with Spirit Awards going to the other two nominees.
Chris Keller, owner of K’ya and the Casa del Camino in which it is located, was out of town. Hotel Manager Amy Amaradio accepted the award for Keller.
Nominated for the Premier Business Award: Hearts of Montage, Surf & Sand and Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course. The award went to Hearts of Montage — a group of philanthropic resort employees.
Poochigian accepted the award. The runners-up Spirit Awards were accepted by Nick Bozych, general manager of Surf & Sand, and Ned Snavely, general manager of the Aliso Creek complex.
George Nelson, owner of Fawn Memories, was named Merchant of the Year. Spirit Awards were presented to nominees Ganahl Lumber and South Coast Cinemas.
Harry Lawrence was at the microphone to help present the Spirit of Laguna and the Person of the Year Award named for him.
The winner was a totally surprised Cheryl Kinsman.
“If I had known I would have dressed up more,” Kinsman told tablemates, including Chris Loidolt, Montage Business Center manager and Hearts activist. “Michael kept telling me to get more dressed up, but I said a nice jacket would do.
“I am a politician and I am not usually at a loss for words, but I am speechless,” the former mayor confided in accepting the award from long-time political ally Dicterow.
Kinsman, who owns a business in town with her husband, Michael, was a popular choice for the award.
“Normally when we vote on this, it is split, but for the first time it was unanimous,” Dicterow said.
Kerri Redeker was named Ambassador of the Year.
The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented posthumously to Skip Leavitt for 20 years of service to the chamber. Leavitt’s daughter, Putney Kemp, accepted the award.
“He gave with all his art and had so much fun,” Kemp said.
Hancock said the chamber could not function without its volunteers.
Three final awards of the evening were presented by Clark and Eleanor Henry on behalf of the Beautification Council, which Clark now chairs.
Awards were announced for Bill and Vicki Robertson, Jan and Paul Muñoz and former Mayor Wayne Peterson for his water-conserving garden.
“I am just too cheap to pay the bill,” Peterson said.
Another 29 residential awards and seven commercial awards will be presented at a separate event.
Among the audience: Michelle and Mayor Kelly Boyd and Councilwomen Elizabeth Pearson and Jane Egly, Paul Blank representing Casa Laguna Inn, chamber Government Affairs Council consultant Pat Barry, Casa del Camino catering and sales manager Jessica Bergendahl, artist Lu Campbell, past Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. President Louise Buckley, Leslie Powers, Zahide Lawrence, Arts Commissioner Terry Smith and Nicholas Kinsman.
OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.