Laguna Beach council candidates talk city issues at forum

The five Laguna Beach City Council candidates had their feet held to the fire by members of the local press and the public at City Hall on Tuesday night as they addressed city issues, such as parking, pension reform and the Village Entrance.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly called it the Village Laguna entrance.

Robert Whalen, Robert Ross and Steve Dicterow are challenging incumbents Mayor Jane Egly and Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger for two open seats.


Around town

Traffic circulation and parking were two of the biggest issues discussed during the public forum.

Orange County Register reporter Claudia Koerner asked the candidates how they planned to make it easier to get from point A to point B in town.

Egly pointed to her work with Complete Streets and said she wants to continue pushing citizens to get out of their cars and enjoy the town by foot.

Dicterow called traffic circulation a two-month problem, an issue that only arises during the city's busy summer months. Instead of increasing congestion with a potential parking structure, he suggested satellite parking and a year-round trolley system.

Whalen said it is hard to get a spot in town 12 months out of the year. He suggested putting parking underground, expanding the trolleys, adding sharrows in town and a bike path in the canyon.

"There's no silver bullet," he said. "It's a combination of things that have to be worked on."

Rollinger suggested adding parking to the Festival of Arts admission. Parking could be outside of town, she said, and people could be shuttled in. Dicterow, who serves on the festival board, said he wouldn't support adding parking to the ticket.

Ross said he'd like to see the city buy the trolleys, which they currently lease.

When it comes to buildings, all of the candidates, except for Ross, supported the 36-foot height limit, although Whalen said he didn't think any zones permitted buildings above the limit.

Rollinger and Egly said they'd vote yes on the Open Space Initiative, which would tax property owners to raise money for open space purchases. Dicterow and Whalen said they'd vote no, both citing issues with the taxation.

"I don't know. I haven't studied it that much," Ross said about the issue.

The candidates also addressed whether the city offered a hospitable climate to new businesses.

Egly pointed to the economy and landlords as the two main issues for shuttered shops. She mentioned the Planning Commission's Open for Business meetings as an informative forum for business people interested in coming to town.

Laguna Beach Independent Editor Andrea Adelson asked Egly if she believed there was anything in the city's policies that might make it difficult for businesses to open.

"Whether there are other impediments other than economic, I don't know what they are," Egly said.

Ross said rents are too high for businesses.

"I hate to say this. Rents have to come down 25%," he said. "Ultimately, the bank will take the hit on this."

In regards to the Village Entrance, everyone except Ross agreed that when the funding is sorted out, they'd like to see a park and some form of parking. Ross suggested an equestrian trial.


Newcomer, new ideas

While most candidates offered alternatives to issues that have been heard before at City Hall, Ross offered new ideas.

These included getting rid of the California Coastal Commission, turning a lighthouse into a "discotheque" and fixing a local waterfall.

He also suggested having the county tackle Laguna's homeless problem and suggested Santa Ana use an abandoned bus terminal to house them.

He said he'd like to "get ride of the city manager's office and city attorney's office as it exists today."

Ross, a newcomer to city politics, isn't a stranger to City Council meetings, where he has frequently voiced his opinion during public comments.

Koerner asked Ross about a comment he made during one council meeting, where he questioned if the city attorney is Jewish. She asked if he thought his comment could be seen as anti-Semitic.

"I don't recall that at all. I'm very sorry, I don't," he said. He went on to say, "There seems to be a whole lot of Jewish influence in that whole ACLU lawsuit."

Dicterow spoke up a few moments later and addressed the issue. He said that when religion is brought up in a context where it is irrelevant, then it is anti-Semitic. Members of the audience clapped in approval.


Pension reform

The candidates also addressed pension reform, an issue Gov. Jerry Brown addressed the same day in Los Angeles.

"Employees and the city will always look at pensions from very different perspectives," Dicterow said. "From the employee, it's how much am I getting out of it. For the city, it's how much is it costing us. I think it's important to bridge those two perspectives."

Dicterow said he wants to investigate alternatives to CalPERS, such as a defined contribution plan.

Whalen said he doesn't want to scrap CalPERS and suggested a 50/50 system, where employees pay for half and employers pay for half.

Rollinger agreed with Whalen.


Public safety

Diaster-preparedness is an important issue to Whalen, who said he wants to make sure the city has adequate reserves, increased citizen training and better coordination between organizations and institutions in the city.

Rollinger believes it would be smart to have a local water source in town, in case of an emergency, instead of relying on imported water, she said.

"If we lose power, we can't pump our water," she said. "We're just turning on the tap for everything and that tap might not always be running."

She also mentioned the Police Department bringing back a foot patrol officer who would get to know the locals, the homeless and business owners — an idea that Dicterow supported. He suggested it be a paid position, not a volunteer.

"It could solve a lot of problems before they got out of hand," Rollinger said.

The candidates also addressed what they would do to keep pollutants from Aliso Creek flowing into the ocean.

Rollinger said the pollution stems from inland cities that use Aliso Creek as a "trash receptacle."

"It is almost impossible when a stream is really degraded to clean it up," she said.

Whalen suggested working with inland cities and charging run-off or discharge fees collected through the sewer.

Dicterow said "what's going on is obviously against the law" and said it is an issue of monitoring and enforcement.

The forum's panel members included Koerner, Adelson, Barbara Diamond from the Coastline Pilot and Stu Saffer from Stu News Laguna.

The event was moderated by Village Laguna's John Monahan.

Twitter: @joannaclay

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