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FROM CANYON TO COVE: The good, the bad and the scary

The city is bracing for possible tougher times ahead, even as Laguna Beach officials remain upbeat about the city’s current finances.

At Tuesday’s State of the City luncheon sponsored by the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Kelly Boyd told of good news and bad: The city has a beefed-up reserve (15% of the budget instead of the usual 10%), but sales taxes are down by 13%, and the hotel “bed tax” is also down.

No surprises there in an economy that continues to take a toll on local businesses.

The Marine Room Tavern owner-slash-mayor is determined to put government on the side of business — all business.

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“We all need to work together to help Laguna be more vibrant — day and night,” he said, obliquely referring to the city’s large number of nightspots.

Positions frozen

On the city side of the equation, Assistant City Manager John Pietig said the city is freezing vacant positions and watching the state budget carefully. So far, there are none of the drastic measures being taken in other cities, such as furloughs or unpaid “days off.”

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Even as local retailers find it harder to get traffic into their shops and restaurants, the beaches have become a popular and inexpensive recreational outlet, retiring Marine Safety Chief Mark Klosterman said.

“Business is booming on the beaches,” he told a packed house at the Surf & Sand. The recent spate of summery weather drew so many to the coast that extra lifeguards were called in.

There is more good news.

Public Works Director Steve May noted that the city’s roads are in better shape than they’ve been in a decade and a half, with the completion of the largest paving project in the city’s history. “Now we’ll move to maintenance mode,” he said of the streets division.

Workers will be out soon, replacing the beach steps at Diamond Street, and a major boardwalk replacement project at Main Beach will begin in the next two weeks, May said.

The South Laguna Streetscape project — landscaped medians and new lighting, among other items — is also getting off the ground. And new steps to the beach at Brooks Street will be in place by the end of May, as will the boardwalk and streetscape projects.

Pietig chimed in that the city plans to renovate the animal shelter next year, and also begin the third phase of renovations at Heisler Park.

If all goes well, a new lifeguard headquarters will be able to be built on Main Beach. That is, if critics of the four previous plans for the lifeguard facility are mollified by a new idea that will lower the height of the headquarters building, currently sitting on a sewer lift station that might be able to be moved.

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That will please Klosterman, who has been trying to get new digs for his crew for quite a few years.

No local stimulus money?

One interesting note occurred when a woman asked what, if any, help would come to Laguna Beach from the Obama stimulus package. She said she hadn’t found any direct aid to Laguna in a list of recipients she found, but said Huntington Beach was due to reap millions to complete projects there.

To this, a representative of Rep. John Campbell said that because of Campbell’s opposition to “earmarks” of any kind in spending bills, he “did not participate in the earmarking process.” Huntington Beach is represented by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who apparently has no problem going after government money for his constituents.

A check of the website set up to dispense information on the stimulus plan, recovery.gov, reveals that L.A.-Long Beach-Santa Ana will get by far the largest single chunk of the state’s $2.56 billion in infrastructure funds released, coincidentally, the day of the luncheon. A hefty $268.31 million is heading this way to rebuild roads and bridges.

SBA ‘rapid response’ program

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For those who don’t want to wait for a government bailout or earmarks from a congressman who doesn’t “believe” in them, the chamber presented an excellent, but poorly attended, program the previous week with representatives from the Small Business Administration who outlined their many programs to help business owners set up shop, manage their money and plan for sustainability.

Here we heard some truly scary numbers. According to SBA spokeswoman Jill Andrews, the downturn has caused a 30% to 50% reduction in the number of businesses all over Southern California, with San Bernardino and Riverside counties faring worst. That’s a lot of businesses going down the tubes.

When one business goes under, others are affected all along the “food chain,” she warned.

So, in November, the SBA launched a “rapid response” Tiger Team of business experts who will go out to troubled businesses and try to get them back on their feet.

“We try to stop the hemorrhaging, put them on a path to survival and keep the doors open,” Andrews said.

Sallie Salinas, of the Institute for Women Entrepreneurs, said her agency also provides help at no cost, including the services of counselors and a new, $9-million software system that can forecast the future and tell a business owner where they might be bleeding red ink they don’t even know about.

“We are passionately committed to helping you and you are welcome to use whatever we have,” Salinas said.

The Women Entrepreneurs group can be reached at (714) 480-7455.

This is an energetic and positive group of folks, and chamber Executive Rose Hancock says she hopes to get them to bring their programs to Laguna Beach in the near future.

In the meantime, the SBA’s website is sba.gov.


CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or cindy.frazier@latimes.com.


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