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Laguna Beach should not allow business group to sponsor State of the City address

Laguna Beach should not allow business group to sponsor State of the City address
Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen speaks during the State of the City address at the Montage Laguna Beach resort on May 2. A reader writes to say that the city’s Chamber of Commerce should not sponsor the event. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

While the Chamber of Commerce is a vital part of our community, it is not representative of the majority of Laguna Beach’s residents. In fact, the chamber represents a small share of our total resident population.

Why is it then that the State of the City address is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce? It makes it sound as if chamber members and their guests are more important than the rest of Laguna’s residents. Unfortunately, giving a State of the City presentation at a chamber event gives the impression that the chamber dictates (or at the least has an outsized influence) on council’s decisions for our community.

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For example, the city has prioritized new development projects with the support of the chamber. I’m guessing that the majority of residents would not share fast tracking development as the most important strategic goal of our City Council.

A large number of residents feel that local government isn’t responsive to their needs. We heard from residents at past council meetings of how they’ve become frustrated by their experiences with the Design Review process. We have also heard complaints that special interests, like some developers, get special treatment, such as accelerated design and planning review for large projects. There’s also a concern about too much money spent without fiscal caution.

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Here’s a suggestion. We have all heard about town hall meetings. These are held by elected officials to share ideas, answer questions and solicit the views of residents during hours when voters can attend, at similar times as City Council meetings. These meetings can be held at the Artist Theater or other venues at a low cost.

The City Council might be surprised to learn that residents of diverse political views want the same thing from the council: direct communication with residents as well as greater transparency and accountability.

We can do better than this. It has to start with setting a level playing field, which takes residents’ views into account instead of marginalizing them. Let’s work to keep all residents involved and informed. It is all of our community.

George Weiss lives in Laguna Beach.

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