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New Laguna Beach City Council brings colorful optimism

New Laguna Beach City Council brings colorful optimism
Recently elected Laguna Beach City Council members Toni Iseman, Sue Kempf and Peter Blake, from left, take the oath of office Tuesday for four-year terms. (Photo by David Hansen)

Peter Blake admits he is dyslexic but he has no trouble with the No. 3.

In fact, as he sat in his Laguna Beach City Council seat for the first time on Tuesday night, he had a hard time thinking about anything else.

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Three votes.

In his mind, that’s all he needs to do his job. If he gets two other council members to agree with him on any issue, anything is possible.

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“A lot of people said ‘he would never get elected’ or ‘he’s unelectable,’ so now they’re all looking at me thinking, ‘Oh my God, he got elected,’” Blake said before the meeting.

Blake was the unabashed renegade candidate and yet he got the most votes, 4,881. He was 89 ahead of incumbent Toni Iseman and 398 ahead of third-place winner Sue Kempf.

All three now join Bob Whalen and Steve Dicterow. Kelly Boyd retired and Rob Zur Schmiede dropped out due to a family issue.

So now the biggest question is: What happens now?

Clearly the campaign was brutal for everyone. Social media was littered with unfair candidate bashing and outrageous comments.

Blake, unlike the other two winners, embraced the online challenge. Iseman and Kempf stayed off the message boards. Blake, however, spent hours defending himself. If someone attacked his character or misrepresented his views, Blake fought back with matching R-rated vigor as needed.

Even as Blake prepared for his swearing-in ceremony, online antagonists kept lobbing threats.

“One guy said he was going to bend me over like a cheap lawn chair,” Blake said. “Another said he was going to urinate on the back window of the council chambers while I was getting sworn in.”

There were even worse comments, but Blake persisted.

“I owned it all,” he said. “Despite myself, I actually won.”

Now, he’s looking forward to making good on his word.

“I’m hitting the ground running,” he said. “I’m going in right away and do what I said during my campaign.”

That means trying to solve tough, intransigent issues.

“Get the criminal transients off of Main Beach and out of the canyon,” he said. “I’m going to get this crime thing down. I’m going to get the conditional use permits changed so we can allow cool businesses to come back into town. And I’m going to take the handcuffs off of people from building and expressing themselves in town.”

For these complicated tasks he’s going to need help, but he thinks his colleagues will be willing to assist.

“What I’ve learned in my short political career is that politicians know what votes look like,” he said.

Kempf, for her part, agrees that there is a different attitude in town because of the toxic political realities nationwide.

“That’s just the political environment we’re living in locally and across the country,” she said.

Sitting in her new chair after her inaugural meeting, Kempf told me she is looking forward to the challenges.

“I was definitely excited tonight. I need to make my mark now,” she said. “The very top issue for me, having watched the results of all these big fires in the state, is to work on something substantial for fire safety, especially since Measure P didn’t pass.”

Measure P wanted to raise the sales tax to fund the under-grounding of the power lines.

Kempf also believes the economy might sour, which would further strain downtown businesses.

“I think in the next couple years we’re going to see a little slide in the economy, which is going to impact our town,” she said. “We’re going to see more vacancies. The Downtown Specific Plan is nearing completion, and we need to enact that, and change a few rules to make it easier for businesses to come to town. I see that as a problem.”

Kempf, who previously served on the Planning Commission, brings a voice-of-reason approach to the issues. In an odd way, I see her complementing Blake’s passion with a practical know-how.

If the council wants to make unprecedented progress on deep and wide problems, then this quirky group of five will need to meet somewhere in the middle – or at least three of them.

“When you’re working on issues, you tend to get a little more constructive when you’re sitting up here,” Kempf said, anticipating compromise.

Blake said he welcomes working with his peers, as long as he satisfies his campaign promises.

“Once those issues are taken care of, I’m happy to sit down and talk about some kiddie slide in a park somewhere or an endangered ant that’s out in the middle of the canyon,” he said.

Ever colorful, Blake knows he sometimes embellishes for effect.

But that doesn’t mean he’s kidding.

Welcome to the new Laguna Beach City Council, where anything just might happen.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.

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