This post has been updated to include comment from Mayor Sue Kempf.
Seven candidates, including two incumbents, are running for three open seats on Laguna Beach’s City Council in the November election.
The candidates include Ruben Flores, Mark Orgill, Jerome Pudwill, Louis Weil, and Alex Rounaghi and incumbents Peter Blake and Sue Kempf.
Three ballot measures are also before voters: If approved, Measure S will amend the city’s municipal code to create a minimum wage of $18 an hour for hotel workers and establish workplace standards and protections. Measure Q would create an overlay zoning district and require voter approval for major development projects, and Measure R would do the same for hotel development projects. More details about the measures can be found here.
All of the candidates responded to an election questionnaire sent by the Voice of OC. Here is what they had to say on some of the issues, in their words:
Question: What would your top three priorities be if elected?
Blake: Law and order, property rights, reduced business restrictions.
Flores: 1. Support wise development in line with small town urban mosaic nature 2. Slow down desire to overbuild downtown and ensure safe growth underground power lines work with Caltrans make Canyon and Coast Highway safe. 3. Watch over fire safety work with the fire department to ensure weed abatement is done and get more water-dropping aircrafts to make the town beautiful. It’s losing its polish.
Kempf: (1) Public Safety: Continue with efforts related to fire prevention and added more officers to our Police force which is a problem common to every OC city. (2) Housing: Plan and create 394 units as required by state mandate. Housing opportunities are currently very limited in Laguna Beach. (3) Quality of life for our residents.
Orgill: My first priority would be to help bring transparency to City Hall, in order to ensure that the community is completely informed in advance of decisions. Secondly, there is an urgent need for a tourist management plan. Third, we need to overhaul the budget process and ensure best practices across the board and fair resource allocation citywide.
Pudwill: Improve the quality of life for Laguna residents (improve traffic, parking and safety, manage tourism, promote resident-service businesses). Restore a Residents’ First form of government (reinstate transparency and civility; listen to residents, not just vested interests).
Preserve Laguna’s charming village environment (prevent overdevelopment).
Weil: 1. Fire & public safety resources, 2. Infrastructure improvements (undergrounding utilities, parking, parks, sidewalks), 3. Civility.
Rounaghi: Public safety and fire prevention. Preserving the uniqueness of Laguna, especially regarding housing and environment. Data-driven governance.
Question: What do you think the biggest issue in Laguna Beach is at the moment? How do you plan to address it?
Blake: We have a decaying downtown, and our town is full of decrepit buildings. I will work to incentivize property owners to remodel their buildings, and I’ll work to streamline our permit process to ensure an effortless progression. I will work to create a sophisticated and cultured retail experience coupled with world-class dining.
Flores: Growth of our town, of our wants, of the surrounding cities, of tourists visiting. Plan growth and how to handle incoming popularity, how to slow down growth or redirect or filter or manage or thwart. Our town is made of incredible people with wonderful talents. Work within (the) city to use the human resources to benefit the town (and) take care of residents first.
Kempf: The threat of fire is my biggest concern. We had two fires in a 3 month period last spring and were very lucky that onshore winds prevailed in both instances.
Orgill: The biggest issue that Laguna Beach is facing at the moment is our lack of consensus and civility. There has always been some of this sort of tension, but it’s been intensified recently due to a mix of factors.
Pudwill: Restore a Residents’ First form of government. By being elected, I will be helping restore balance to the City Council, which has been dominated by developer-backed members. I want to reach out to the community so that they can participate in our process so that we can preserve our small town character.
Weil: Development standards: to address it I would prioritize staff and the public process to work on updating our codes, coastal program, specific plans for alignment and clarity. To better align and streamline our property rights, and protect our heritage through stretching our current cultivated standards.
Rounaghi: Public safety is my top priority, and wildfires pose an existential threat to Laguna Beach. I strongly support our 2019 Fire Mitigation Plan to tackle this threat. Most importantly, I want to underground the utilities along Laguna Canyon Road, whose proximity to our wilderness and one of our major thoroughfares makes them an unallowable fire risk.
Question: How do you plan to keep the beaches in Laguna safe, eco-friendly, and family friendly?
Blake: I initiated the single use plastic ban and plan on removing the grass from Main Beach and other parks while we’re experiencing a water shortage. I will step up policing to ensure the safety of my residents.
Flores: Resource management is crucial. Our beaches are world popular. Our lifeguards are a great support. Reward their success. Continue on the current path. We can do better at cleanliness, trash management, and the ingress and egress to each beach. We must be mindful of climate change and how it will affect the sand level and tide levels.
Kempf: We have a new team in the Police Department called Park Rangers. Their primary responsibility is to keep our beaches safe for all residents and visitors.
Orgill: For starters, the city should assume responsibility of the Aliso Creek Beach from the county. We should fill open positions on our police force and increase our park ranger patrol. We should also be investing in new technologies for water recycling.
Pudwill: By maintaining the ongoing cleanup services and ensuring that the sewer system is brought up to full operating standards. I’d also see to it that South Laguna would get public restrooms. I’d also assess current beach policing standards and hire more rangers if necessary.
Weil: Two issues: 1. Expanding our marine protective zones. 2. Continue to improve our access points and evaluate expanding access of public restrooms for residents, tourists and the environment’s benefits.
Rounaghi: We must safeguard Laguna’s beaches from climate impacts like coastal erosion. I support a comprehensive Climate Action Plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and make Laguna’s people and environment more resilient. We must also mitigate visitor impacts on beaches by enforcing and building on the Neighborhood and Environmental Protection Plan.
Question: As for Measure Q, what would you do to ensure that proposed large developments in Laguna Beach are in keeping with the city’s character, and do you oppose or approve the measure?
Blake: We already have a robust municipal code and are known for being difficult at best to build in. I’m adamantly opposed to Q. It’s merely an attempt by some long term activists to usurp the power of the voter via ballot box planning.
Flores: I approve of Q if nothing more than to slow down large development in LB. Also if our city government can buy a parcel of land for a fire station without getting an appraisal then say wait get another parcel and put it here, what’s to stop them from giving a green light to a project that is perhaps considered too large/ ambitious for our small town
Kempf: I oppose Measure Q. We already have very strict regulations for mass, height and scale of any proposed developments. These regulations have been followed for decades. Measure Q also makes it very difficult to open small businesses, the lifeblood of our commercial offerings. It has many flaws that were never properly vetted.
Orgill: I do not support Measure Q. Instead let’s apply our small-scale standards to all commercial projects, equally: that, with sound leadership, will do more to preserve Laguna’s special character. And let’s streamline no-variance home applications — residents should be treated at least as well as the big developers!
Pudwill: I support Measure Q because it gives residents a vote and a say in projects that will have major, long-term impacts on the community – a say that can’t be overridden by City Council members and insider politics. It’s residents’ only insurance policy against overdevelopment.
Weil: I am opposed to measure Q. Being on the Design Review Board and seeing hundreds of residential projects to find the right balance for the development of those developments. Larger scale projects would be treated the same way.
Rounaghi: I’m against overdevelopment, but Measure Q is not the answer. Complex ballot initiatives are not conducive to the expertise and flexibility required for sound land-use policy. Council members must listen to all stakeholders, make responsible land-use decisions that meet residents’ needs, and ensure that Laguna remains the unique place we all love.
Question: Orange County has released a report providing research showing a significant reduction in homeless individuals living within Laguna Beach. How do you plan to continue the reduction rate and maintain the current homeless population that remains?
Blake: Law and Order! Cracking down on criminal transients and making sure no one ever feels comfortable breaking the law in Laguna Beach. I will fight to make my community the safest coastal community in Orange County. We already house over 75 transients on any given night. We balance law and order with a robust social program to help transients.
Flores: Continue the course and make all efforts to decrease it even further. Orange County is a great resource for assistance. Work with neighboring cities and agencies to support caring for the homeless and mentally ill. It’s not a burden Laguna should shelter alone, given many individuals are not from our town.
Kempf: We will continue working with the Friendship Shelter to place homeless individuals, utilize the Care Court for service resistant people, leverage the 1.5M grant for Be Well services courtesy of Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie Norris and support our Police Department outreach officers.
Orgill: Safety of Laguna residents is a number one priority. We need to fill empty police positions and enforce our laws. We should continue working with local nonprofits to provide housing and shelter whenever possible.
Pudwill: I’d continue to press for more county and state involvement to address the homeless’ many varied needs. I will continue to support the Friendship Shelter and the Alternative Sleeping Location which help give the stability needed for recovery. It will be interesting to see what effect CARE Court will have next year – hopefully for the better.
Weil: Continue the efforts the community has made over the last 4 years, as those efforts have improved the issues to reduce the counts and incidences. This is a critical issue around safety and one that I would champion for more regional support.
Rounaghi: I support the city, police department, and Friendship Shelter’s work to reduce the homeless population in Laguna Beach. Homelessness is a regional problem that requires a regional strategy. I look forward to the rollout of the Care Court program, which will address the needs of the most chronically homeless individuals with severe mental illness.