From disaster planning to politicking and the economy, there will be no lack of issues to watch in 2012 in Laguna Beach.
It will be a robust political season in this presidential election year, when city voters will decide whether to tax property owners $10 a month over 20 years to raise money for open space acquisitions, and also choose two of the five-member council.
Councilwoman Verna Rollinger got an early start on campaigning by announcing her bid for reelection in September. Councilwoman Jane Egly is also expected to run for reelection to one of the two open seats on the five-member council. Others considered likely challengers include former Mayor Steve Dicterow, and former Planning Commissioner Bob Whalen. To date, no one but Rollinger has formally tossed a hat in the ring.
New rules governing fishing went into effect Jan. 1 in Laguna Beach, and we'll be watching to see how the Dept. of Fish and Game is enforcing the marine reserve regulations, which prohibit taking of sea life along the coast in most of the city, and what the impact is locally. Whether the marine reserve status will prove a draw for eco-tourism, as predicted, and/or become an enforcement issue for the cash-strapped state, are some questions we'd like to see answered.
We'll also be following court proceedings in the trial of rug merchant Saeid Boustanabadi Maralan, accused of sex crimes against 11 women, some in the Laguna Beach store he managed, Sirous & Sons Rug Gallery. Maralan was released Oct. 31 on $1.5 million bail. He faces a maximum sentence of 60 years to life in prison if convicted.
Another court case we'll be watching is the long-drawn-out saga of Laguna Terrace mobile home park. In the latest twist, the owner of the park sued the California Coastal Commission in December, seeking to get the property out from under the jurisdiction of the commission, which has stymied efforts to turn the park ownership over to residents.
Efforts to stem future flooding in Laguna Creek — which inundated Laguna Canyon neighborhoods and downtown in late December 2010 — will be a high priority for the city this year. A Flood Mitigation Task Force has made a number of recommendations, including an early warning system for torrential rains, and we'll be watching to see how the city, which faces some financial hurdles of its own, will proceed with the proposals.
Developers and artists alike have a keen interest in the city's efforts to encourage affordable artist live/work spaces. Six projects are in the pipeline, but the question has always been: Can such projects be truly affordable for financially vulnerable artists? City planners have spent many hours hashing out the details, and we'll be interested to see if any of the proposed developments — exempted from a moratorium placed on such projects in February — bear fruit. City planners were given until the first of this year to work on a zoning ordinance that would govern such projects.
A "quiet zone" to dampen complaints about noisy patrons at Mozambique Steak House continues to be a point of debate, as some residents in the zone are delighted by parking restrictions that favor residents, while nearby neighbors complain that the noise from late-night revelers has simply moved over to them. We'll be interested to see if spillover issues rise to the boiling point on this one.
Other issues that seem to rise and fall with the tides in Laguna: the economy and the homeless. We predict that both will be in the news in 2012.
It's a new year, and we hope it's a good one for you and your loved ones.
CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 302-1469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.