Our Laguna: Iseman highlights what's good in Laguna

May is Heritage Month in Laguna and what better time to take a look at what has happened to our town.

Last week, Mayor Toni Iseman spoke to two different groups, the Laguna Canyon Conservancy and the Chamber of Commerce, but her message was identical: Laguna is evolving.

"Our heads should be spinning because of all the changes," Iseman said, speaking to the conservancy.

She lauded some of the changes, lamented that budget constraints have impacted others, and loves the preservation of Laguna's indefinable "village character," including her home, which she said is virtually unchanged since she bought it in 1970.

"We limited smoking, and we took a lot of heat for that," Iseman said.

She said the ocean would benefit from the creation of a marine reserve that will ban fishing for most of the city's shoreline. Abalone will be back and the tidepools will be filled with critters, she predicted.

"We have a new park in Arch Beach Heights," Iseman said. Former City Manager Ken Frank was a master at getting property.

"There is a new hedge ordinance, a new Design Review Board guideline book [that shows how] people can have more space without the look.

"We have an environmental impact report for the Village Entrance. It is massive, but it covers every possibility. And we are going to have a lifeguard building [Main Beach headquarters] at last. It was controversial and that slowed things down, but the project got better."

One of Iseman's pet projects was the installation of parking meters that accept credit cards and the installation of a reverse 911 system that alerts residents to problems.

Iseman said if the system had been in place when the Bluebird Lift Station went kaput in 2008, people could have been called at 7 a.m. and told not to turn on the water.

"It could have reduced the size of the spill by about 80%," Iseman said.

With the installation, the city was able to warn downtown businesses to put up flood gates when the December storms hit last year. Some listened, others didn't, police volunteer Terry Smith said, but they had advance notice.

Iseman is proud of the Quiet Zone in Woods Cove designed to still neighborhood complaints related to late night noise as patrons and employees left Mozambique Steakhouse.

"So now you can't park there without a permit," Iseman said. "We are making the assumption that Laguna people are nice and quiet."

The council faced the choice of creating the zone or making the restaurant close earlier, but it is about the only place in town — not counting Jack in the Box — where late diners can find food.

"After 'Lagunatics' rehearsals, about 25 of us went there," Iseman said.

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What makes Laguna tick?

Of particular interest to the business community, Iseman said she has been cutting a lot of ribbons.

"We have a new travel agency, a new Argentine restaurant, a new legal service," Iseman said.

And although three restaurants have closed, they are being replaced.

"I can't gloat, it isn't nice, but I suspect that there is not another community where businesses are as optimistic," Iseman said.

But there are financial challenges facing the city.

"The budget is an issue, [employee] pensions are an issue," Iseman said.

But for once, Laguna cannot claim to be unique in that aspect.

"Costa Mesa is ground zero for anti-union," Iseman said. "They prefer to outsource. One of the most conservative people I've known is now the voice of reason on the [Costa Mesa] council. It is painful to watch. Even Laguna Beach Republicans are not acceptable to the rest of the county Republicans."

Outsiders tend to think the letters A and G should be left out of Lagunatics, she opined.

"I wish we had the money to fix everything at once, but we were able to [resurface] the streets because we found it was cheaper," Iseman said about Laguna streets.

The city has created southbound turn lanes on Coast Highway and stop signs at the crest of Third Street.

"Jane [Councilwoman Egly] is pushing Complete Streets," Iseman said. "[Councilwoman] Verna Rollinger is the Queen of Sidewalks and Kelly [Councilman Boyd] and I are in agreement on the Ocean Avenue crosswalk."

Iseman and Boyd want to see the crosswalk moved to the north side because most of the traffic turning off Ocean is headed south and hampered by pedestrians.

Iseman also wants to see utility poles buried on arterial streets.

"This is not for pretty," Iseman said. "If a pole goes down on Laguna Canyon Road, there is no ingress or egress. It is a big issue for me. We will probably come to you and ask for your vote."

As for the government's evacuation plans if San Onofre blows?

"The government said folks in San Clemente evacuate through Laguna Beach, and we are told to stay in our houses," Iseman said.

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Laguna History through the eyes of a Jahraus

If you want to learn more about the history of Laguna, you might consider starting with "Jahraus: A Family History," by Linda Jahraus.

The family's fingerprints are all over town, from the Normandy Revival Style of the buildings throughout town to the tiny triangular park across from the Laguna Art Museum.

Family patriarch Elmer Ellsworth Jahraus moved to Laguna in 1902 and opened a cigar factory and curio shop. He eventually went into real estate and had the largest realty office in town. He was in the Chamber of Commerce, on the board of the Laguna Beach Art Assn. and the school board.

His son, Joseph Richard "Joe" Jahraus, was among the men who found a new source of water in 1925 when the wells in Laguna Canyon began to run dry. They floated a couple of bonds to fund the incorporation of the Laguna Beach County Water District and pay for land in Huntington Beach that kept faucets running in Laguna.

Joe Jahraus also started the Laguna Beach Lumber Co., which did business on the site where the Lumberyard Mall now stands, until it was moved to Laguna Canyon Road. The office was replaced by a restaurant, at one time the hangout of a coterie of celebrated cartoonists.

Joseph Richard "Dick" Jahraus II, presided over the district for 25 years. The reservoir at Alta Laguna is named for him. He also served on the boards of the Festival of Arts and the Boys & Girls Club when it was on Main Beach before girls were included.

His sons Joe and Jeff continued to support the club and ran the family business until it was sold to Ganahl Lumber. Joe and his wife, Susan, a longtime supporter of the Laguna Playhouse, and Jeff and Linda, who teaches at Top of the World Elementary School, raised the fifth generation of Jahrauses in Laguna Beach.

BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 302-1469 or coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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