Fireworks erupted at the conclusion of the final forum in the 2010 City Council race when Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman castigated Emanuel Patrascu for a quote by him on an election flier, which she said was a lie. Iseman was referring to a flier for which she said he had paid to be included that quoted him claiming that she had raised taxes by $11 million.
Quite a feat if true, Iseman said, since the entire council can't raise taxes without a vote of the people.
The flier also quoted Patrascu that he would never raise taxes.
Iseman said, in opposition to Patrascu's position, she proudly supported tax increases to pay for the purchase of property in Laguna Canyon and funding to help pay for the restoration of city infrastructure damaged in the 2005 Bluebird Canyon landslide. Both approved by the voters.
Iseman had been simmering throughout the forum and had tried earlier to respond to a statement by Patrascu, but was stifled by forum chair Piero Wemyss, who had decreed no rebuttals.
Until the last question of the forum, responses had been straightforward, rather than a launchpad for campaign rhetoric.
All questions but the first two were posed by members of the audience, mostly members of the forum sponsors: neighborhood associations representing Top of the World, South Laguna and Temple Hills.
A few written questions were submitted to the candidates and those responses will be published in association newsletters.
South Laguna Civic Assn. President Bill Rihn led the questioners with a query about the relationship of the city with the California Coastal Commission, which has been known to overrule city decisions on development, or try to, and what can be done to improve it. .
"We need to control our own city," said incumbent Kelly Boyd, his voiced raspy from a cold. "I don't think 'coastal' should tell us what we can or cannot do."
Mayor Elizabeth Pearson said the council, not the commission, is elected by the people of Laguna Beach to make decisions.
"But the commission is a factor and, as Toni says, people tend to do business with [those] you get along with. We can work on it."
Patrascu said the commission staff does not play well with others and the city should have control.
"The coast of California would not look like it does without the commission; otherwise it would be wall-to-wall Miami Beach," said Iseman, who served on the commission.
Temple Hills Community Assn. board member Ron Chilcote asked how the candidates felt about road extensions that intrude into the city's open space.
All four candidates said they opposed it. Incumbents pointed out that the city has bought lots that had the effect of blocking some intrusive development.
Bonnie Hano wanted to know how the candidates feel about anti-mansionization regulations with teeth.
Patrascu said he wasn't sure that he wanted a specific ordinance for fear of losing the town's architectural diversity.
"We don't want another Irvine," he said.
Iseman said curbing oversized homes starts with design review and complimented an unnamed local architect who has been known to refuse projects because of unrealistic demands by prospective clients.
"If everybody [architects and designers] were honest with clients, we'd have a hell of lot better neighborhoods," Boyd said.
The council set limits on lot coverage, said Pearson, and had created a disclosure statement that advised buyers that they might not get what they want in a remodel or new construction, regardless of the maximums permitted on a property.
"Some people come from out of town and they want what they want," Pearson said. "They learn that we are different."
South Laguna resident Tom Osborne asked what the incumbents had done to get the cooperation of up-stream cities to clean up Aliso Creek and what the challenger thought he could do.
None of them were sanguine about voluntary cooperation.
However, Iseman said relationships she had developed as the city's representative on Vector Control and the South Orange County Water Authority helped.
Iseman and Pearson have visited with officials of those communities, but Iseman expressed a fear that Laguna would be isolated and without support on other projects if it pushed surrounding communities too hard.
"When my grandparents settled there, the creek was pure," said Boyd, a fourth-generation Lagunan, who has photographs of those early days. "Fish swam in it. Birds flew in from Canada.
"I'd like to see the creek back to what it was then."
Pearson, who has been a diligent advocate of creek restoration, said she lobbied for funding in Washington D. C. and turned to Loretta Sanchez when Congressman John Campbell declined to help.
"We need to do it," Pearson said. "All our other beaches are clean."
Patrascu said he has been involved in water issues for the past five years as an employee of state Sen. Tom Harman.
The state Water Quality Control Board will hold Laguna responsible for run-off, Patrascu said.
"It will be very expensive," Patrascu said.
Aliso Beach is in the city, but is owned and operated by the county.
Next, the issue of damage done by staging for construction was raised.
The contractor should be held accountable, Boyd said.
Pearson said the council has included staging plans in its conditions of approval for projects and has forced some contractors to replace habitat that was destroyed. Fines might be a possible deterrent she said.
"We have to make sure staging is not so onerous that it makes it impossible to build," Patrascu said.
Iseman said if staging is too difficult it might be because the project doesn't fit the site.
In response to a question on how the candidates would enforce approved landscaping that has become overgrown, the incumbents cited the city's hedge ordinance.
Pearson said complaints about violations may be filed.
However, some properties were planted before landscaping was part of design review, and affected property owners have no recourse — especially if their relations with their neighbors are strained.
Boyd said the city needs an ordinance to stop the view obstruction.
Un-topped and un-laced trees that block views are unfair, hurt property values and are a fire hazard, he said.
Patrascu opined that vegetation should be treated like houses in terms of view blockage.
"Sometimes a tree makes one just as happy as an ocean," Iseman said. "It is difficult to suggest you can't have that. Unfortunately, we have spite."
She would like to see neighbors collaborate, sharing the cost of trimming trees, taking advantage of the fees charged the city, which are lower than individual jobs.
In response to a later question about view blockage, Pearson said she has always supported the right to a view. The city formerly had a tree ordinance, which she helped to craft while a member of the Planning Commission.
"I am sorry we didn't continue it," she said.
Boyd suggested uncooperative neighbors could be invited to trade homes for a month.
"See how they like it," Boyd said.
Arnold Hano asked what has happened to the park promised when the city's corporation yard was moved to ACT V, a question also posed at the Village Laguna forum.
A park and coastal commission-required parking spaces were planned to be constructed on what is known as the Village Entrance in the first of many compromise solutions on which Iseman and Pearson have teamed.
"I want a park," Pearson said. "We all want a park, but what we would have to do is eliminate 167 parking spaces. The commission requires they be replaced in the vicinity."
Suggestions that the parking be distributed around the city won't fly with the commission, Pearson said. They must be in the same area as the eliminated spaces.
Patrascu said the Village Entrance project should start with the park and be built piecemeal, but did not offer a way to fund it.
"We'd have to raise taxes if we did that," Iseman said.
Iseman and Boyd both feel a large parking structure on the site would be empty most of the year.
"That just doesn't pencil out," Iseman said.
Boyd said it was not wise to take away 167 spaces to build something that stays empty most of the year.
Smaller would be better, he said.
Asked if the city should be a marine reserve, Iseman responded, "Yes," and left it that.
Boyd responded, "No," then elaborated, citing his dislike of control of the city by an outside entity.
"Once we give the state control, we will never get it back," Boyd said.
Pearson said a state commission, not the city, will make the decision. She supported the city-wide reserve because it has a five-year-sunset.
"Beyond that, I'd have to look at it again," Pearson said.
Patrascu blamed commercial fishing for the perceived problem of over-fishing, which he opposes.
Village Laguna President Ginger Osborne asked what the incumbents have done about promoting alternative energy use and the challenger what he would do, if elected.
Incumbents said the council encourages solar power projects, convinced Waste Management to accelerate the conversion to cleaner-fueled vehicles, and authorized the purchase of more energy-efficient vehicles for city use.
"Laguna was one of the first cities to adopt the green building code," Pearson said.
Patrascu said Harman worked with a solar-power company that leased its product at no cost to the property owners, but there was one problem: when the sun doesn't shine.
"We can push the next wave of alternatives in Laguna Beach," Patrascu said.
Iseman noted the city has waved fees for solar power installations, but they shouldn't interfere with views, and has enacted water-saving regulations that save energy.
Bruce Hopping claimed the council had been lax in responding to his suggestions about a more elaborate monument to the city's war heroes, year-round telephones back on beaches, the lack of awards for young artists and a proclamation for Stu Saffer.
Patrascu said he would respond to all suggestions submitted to him. He liked Hopping's idea about Monument Point, would have to look into the lack of phones, be happy to recognize young artists and Saffer, whom Patrascu called a great guy.
Incumbents replied they preferred the serenity of Monument Point as it is, cell phones have replaced the Lifeguard lines, and young artists are prominently exhibited at the Festival of Arts, participate in the holiday palette contest and in exchanges with Laguna's sister city in France.
As for the risk of fire in Laguna, the candidates said residents must be vigilant in prevention techniques, especially during fire season and take advantage of the city Fire Department's program of free home inspections and advice in the Ready! Set! Go! pamphlet.
"We should have a pampas grass day, when we all go out and annihilate pampas grass," Pearson said.
Iseman announced she is pursuing the undergrounding of utility poles on Laguna's main streets and Laguna Canyon, which can spark fires and when damaged by storm or accident and block egress from the city during an emergency.
Asked whether the alternative sleeping location in Laguna Canyon is a permanent or temporary solution for the local homeless population, the incumbents said it has been an amazing success and is permanent for now.
Patrascu, who has voiced opposition to the shelter in the past, said the city is bearing the burden for the entire county. He said he heard high-ranking Corona del Mar officials talk about shipping their homeless to Laguna.
"We can't afford that," Patrascu said.
Use of the shelter is limited to the homeless population with connections to Laguna and open to others only if space is available.
Forgotten pathways from the hills to the beach could be explored incumbents said in response to a complaint that private property owners have blocked them.
"Carol's Way to the Highway" on a sign in South Laguna is testimony to one woman's campaign to restore safe paths to the beach for neighborhood children, Iseman said.
In response to the final question of the forum: people need to walk more if they want to get motorized vehicles off city streets.
"We recently addressed the issues of sidewalks," Iseman said. "We are going into a regime change [City Manager Ken Frank's replacement, as yet unannounced] so we will have some opportunities."
Iseman then took the opportunity to chastise Patrascu on his flier.
More than 40 people attended the forum.
Candidates closing statements were eliminated in favor of getting a couple more questions answered before Wemyss called a halt to the proceedings, which ended about 15 minutes later than 9 p.m. limit, with some questions still unasked.