Our Laguna: Snapshots of the news in 2011

Laguna Beach began 2011 by digging itself out of the mud. Homes, art studios, businesses, the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter and the Anneliese School suffered damage and destruction in the December 2010 rainstorms.

Recovery was on everyone's mind.

Outgoing Mayor Toni Iseman joked as her term ended that John Pietig had been city manager of Laguna Beach about 12 minutes when the deluge hit. But he responded as if he prepared all of his life for the job. Hands-on didn't begin to describe it.

Downtown was cleaned up in a matter of days. Laguna Canyon took longer, but no lives were lost — God's gift to the city.

Here are some snapshots of what made the news in 2011, culled from the pages of the Coastline Pilot.

Jan. 7: Dede Westgaard-Pike wept as she relived the night of terror and anguish suffered by her Laguna Canyon neighbors Dec. 22. Westgaard-Pike was among the folks who attended a meeting at City Hall to identify, locate and determine the needs of families devastated by the storm. The council and representatives of the Laguna Relief & Resource Center listened.

Jan. 14: A Planning Commission request for a moratorium on artist live-work projects was approved by the council. The moratorium was requested to allow commissioners more time to address their concerns that some proposed projects do not meet the stated intent of the city's general plan and zoning ordinance. Six projects already in progress were exempted from the moratorium.

•The City Council discussed its 2011 goals and priorities at its annual retreat. Controlling the city budget, while maintaining essential services, was the top priority, although not the only one. Council members listed as short-term priorities the needed repairs to flood-damaged infrastructure, and public and private assistance for disaster victims. For the long term, council members listed public safety, emergency preparedness, viable infrastructure and the ubiquitous traffic and parking problems.

Jan. 21: The California Coastal Commission rejected a local zoning ordinance amendments that prohibited marijuana dispensaries in Laguna Beach. "It is still a valid local regulation, just not part of the Local Coastal Program," City Attorney Philip Kohn said.

Jan 28: President Obama declared the December rains a statewide disaster, loosening federal purse strings for recovery efforts.

•Proposed plans for Main Beach lifeguard headquarters were expanded. The Coastal Commission accepted the proposal because it provides beach and bluff restoration.

Feb. 4: Two Laguna Beach women escaped the uprising in Egypt. Carol Reynolds and her daughter, jeweler Patti Jo Kiraly, arrived home after a harrowing week holed up in a hotel in Alexandria.

•Emergency repairs to Main Beach Boardwalk were approved.

•The council approved skateboarding bans on some of Laguna's steepest streets despite overwhelming opposition from local skateboarders and many of their parents.

Feb. 11: The Small Business Administration opened an office in Laguna to process low-interest loan applications from home and business owners who suffered damage in the December floods.

•Pietig was the guest speaker at the Laguna Canyon Conservancy's February meeting.

Casey Reinhardt set Valentine's Day for the grand opening of her store, Casey's Cupcakes.

Feb. 18: Aliso Creek Golf Course reopened with a fundraiser for folks who suffered damage in the December flood.

•The sculpture of a skateboarding chimp was stolen from Pamela Horowitz's North Laguna property.

Feb. 25: Tresor Properties sold a beach-front property home that came with a platinum LEED certification, honoring its sustainable design and materials.

•Some Arch Beach Heights residents thought the city was heartless to order the removal of a Valentine's Day display in their neighborhood. But Annette Wimmer-Huling was thrilled. "It is in my view corridor," she said. Other holiday displays on the same property also distressed Wimmer-Huling and her complaints eventually led to an ordinance governing holiday lighting.

March 4: The Police Employees Assn. asked the council to thaw the freeze on hiring for the department.

•Landscape architect Bob Borthwick, retired county official Eric Jessen, retired Temple City City Manager Karl Koski, retired engineer William Lawson, Laguna Canyon sculptor Louis Longi, retired civil engineer Carl R. Nelson, retired Marine Corps Col. Charles Quilter and one woman, Laguna Canyon businesswoman Susan Hamil, were named to join council members Verna Rollinger and Kelly Boyd and Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman on the Laguna Canyon Flood Mitigation Task Force.

Mark R. Tawfiq and his wife, Carol Nakahara, who planned to move to Laguna Beach, made a $50,000 donation to the Laguna Beach Community Foundation.

March 11: Blue skies were shining on the Patriots Day Parade, and the mood was sunny. Al Roberts and Ken Jillson were the grand marshals. "Welcome Home" was the theme of the 45th annual parade, a salute to the veterans returning home from the Middle East. "To all of them we gratefully said by our actions and words: 'Welcome Home,'" parade committee President Michael Lyons said.

Jason Farris had no idea what his job entailed when the Laguna Beach Police Department tapped him to work with the city's homeless population, nor did city officials. "You stepped into a really difficult situation, and I don't think we could have found a better person to do the job," said Iseman.

March 18: Mission Hospital Laguna Beach invited the public to attend an hourlong presentation Tuesday to hear about its long-term plans. "We look forward to seeing everyone there and seeing how in five, 15 or 30 years Mission Hospital will be committed to providing excellent care to this community while also being a good neighbor," said hospital spokesman Michael Beck.

•Verdun Fine Chocolates was among the new stores opening in Laguna.

March 24: The council split on the Quiet Zone parking permit plan, 3 to 2, with Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly and Rollinger opposed. The program was triggered by complaints about lewd activities, alcohol use and excessive noise by patrons of the restaurant and bar who were parking their vehicles on neighborhood streets rather than use valet parking provided by Mozambique.

It was to be reviewed in September.

April 1: The Laguna Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau paid $3,000 for an editorial page in the Gay and Lesbian Travel Industry Directory, which listed Laguna Beach as a gay-friendly city.

•Top of the World Elementary School fifth-graders collected and donated $700 to the Laguna Beach Community Clinic.

•Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. honored retired City Manager Ken Frank at the annual Legacy Ball. Frank said the honor belonged to Susi Q volunteers. "There are a lot of people here who donated their time and they should be recognized," Frank said.

•A California Highway Patrol attempt to stop a speeding vehicle ended in a fatal crash at Broadway.

April 8: The owner of the Laguna Canyon Winery painted over a Laguna College of Art & Design mural, one of six and the largest public mural painted by students in 2003. The winery owner was to meet with the college officials and the property owner to rectify the error.

April 15: Mission Hospital Chief Operating Officer Peter Bastone resigned after more than a decade with St. Joseph Health System.

•Tales of woe flooded City Hall on April 9 as survivors of disasters in Laguna shared their experiences at a workshop led by council members Elizabeth Pearson and Kelly Boyd.

•The council approved at the April 12 meeting additional funds for the renovation of the Animal Shelter to shore up the creek in front of the shelter and rebuild the bridge, which were severely compromised by the winter rains.

April 22: Citizens for the Preservation of Open Space announced its intent to seek voter approval of a 20-year, $10-a-month parcel tax to raise funds to buy open space within the city limits.

•Almost 2,000 people attended the Kelpfest on Main Beach, coordinated by Nancy Caruso through Get Inspired Inc., her nonprofit organization.

April 29: Rotary went solo last year to sponsor Grapes for Grads, which raises funds for scholarships for Laguna Beach High School graduates and students at LCAD. "It was our most successful Grapes for Grads to date," said Rotary President Linda Saville.

Elizabeth McGee took first place in the "Art That's Small" competition, which drew 126 entries. The program is funded by the Business Improvement District, hotel and motel owners' voluntary addition to the bed taxes to promote art-related institutions, programs and organizations that bring tourists to town.

•The council approved Municipal Code amendments related to the definition of hedges and provisions for claims of sun, air and view blockage that reduces the cost of filing a claim and refunds 50% of the filing fee if the claim is upheld.

•Police announced on April 22 that major crimes dropped 10% in 2010.

May 6: May is Heritage Month in Laguna.

•Three days after the reported death of Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, two metal beams salvaged from the destroyed World Trade Center Twin Towers arrived in Laguna Beach. The acquisition was a collaborative effort by the Laguna Beach Fire Department and the Arts Commission, funded by local arts patron Mark Porterfield. The beams were to be incorporated in a memorial sculpture.

• "LagunaTots" rehearsals were underway for May 13 opening.

May 13: Laguna Playhouse, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, LCAD and the Visitors and Conference Bureau celebrated milestone anniversaries on May 10 at Main Beach. All of them are important to Laguna's tourist industry, which added an estimated $8 million to city coffers in 2010.

•Ladies who Lunch and Read showed off their best hats and shared their favorite books at the annual Laguna Beach Library fundraiser at Sapphire.

•The Business Assistance Task Force reported the opening of several dozen new stores in the past 12 months. No applications were turned down, announced Pearson, who co-chairs the subcommittee with Iseman.

•A beehive was installed at Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course, to be the home of more than 40,000 bees. Honey produced in the hive will be used by the inn's culinary staff.

May 20: The city's population dipped by about 1,000 people, according to the U. S. Census, from 23,727 in 2000 to 22,723 in 2010. Realtors conjectured the dip might be due to real estate prices in town and more property owners declaring their Laguna residences as second homes.

May 20: The council extended the BID for another year at the May 17 meeting. Laguna's hotels and motels will pour $1.33 million into the city's pool of art-related institutions, programs and organizations in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

•LCAD graduation was held. College President Dennis Power retired.

May 27: Tom Aherne closed the doors on Latitude 33.

•The Laguna Board of Realtors' 16th Annual Taste of Charity raised a record $50,000, with proceeds to benefit local nonprofits.

•Pietig was the guest speaker at the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. luncheon at Aliso Creek Inn. His topic: the city budget.

•Three suspects were arrested in connection with the robbery of the U.S. Bank on Glenneyre Street.

•The city announced plans to host a California Preservation Foundation workshop on the identification and assessment of significant properties on June 2.

June 2: Laguna Beach police, firefighters and marine safety officers ran 5.5 miles along Laguna's Coast Highway to raise money for the Southern California Special Olympics.

•The cause of clothing designer Jonas Bevacqua's death was undetermined pending an autopsy report, but no signs of foul play or suicide were announced.

•Tight Assets owner Heidi Miller reopened World Newsstand on Ocean Avenue after storm damage was repaired at both businesses.

•Heal the Bay gave almost all of Laguna's beaches As for the summer months, but Aliso Beach received an F during wet weather

•The City Council stayed close-mouthed about regarding possible litigation about camping and sleeping on public property, which was discussed in closed session. The Brown Act allows discussions about litigation to be held behind closed doors.

June 10: After four years and about $140,000 spent to sell or even give away cottages moved from Third Street, the City Council approved their demolition by the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

•Coastline Pilot City Editor Cindy Frazier returned from a two-month medical leave for cancer treatment. She began to share her story with the Coastline Pilot readers.

•Former game show host and animal activist Bob Barker participated in the reopening of the visitors center at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which was damaged in the December floods. Barker donated $250,000 toward the center's renovation.

•The city rehired the goats for another three years of munching a firebreak around Laguna. The South Laguna Civic Assn. opposed the grazing in some spots on the hillsides.

Fred Karger announced a fundraiser at his Laguna Beach home to help pay for his presidential campaign.

•Regardless of any calendar, summer begins in Laguna Beach with the annual Exchange Club picnic, held on Memorial Day.

June 17: Visitors to Laguna often see migrating whales along the city's coastline, but one whale migrated from Third Street to Heisler Park. Jon Seeman's sculpture "Breaching Whale," created to fulfill the city's public art obligation for the senior and community centers, but the city council decided an ocean-front park was a more appropriate site than busy downtown street.

•Some Laguna Beach nonprofit organizations lost their state tax status, but the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Assn. was not among them, although a now-defunct organization of a similar name was.

•Police arrested Stephen Reginald McDow, 34, of Laguna on suspicion of failing to return a $110,000 tax return erroneously deposited in his account.

June 24: The city budget for fiscal year 2011-12 was approved, with spending expected to slightly exceed revenue, but city officials said the shortfall was covered. "Laguna Beach is in much better shape than other communities," said Pietig. However, future fiscal health is a question mark, particularly if the recession continues.

•Laguna pays some of the highest salaries in the county, but none were deemed to be overcompensation by the Orange County Grand Jury. However, the report dinged the city for its lack of transparency in making salaries accessible to the public.

•The annual Fete de la Musique drew more musicians and a bigger crowd than ever. Music ranged from opera to bluegrass.

•Two city electric car charging stations opened in the parking lot near Forest Avenue and Broadway.

•The Community Clinic kicked off a drive for a $10-million endowment fund with a $250,000 commitment from George Heed. Heed made the announcement at the clinic's annual Sunset Beach Party at Twin Points.

More to come next week.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (949) 302-1469 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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