Laguna Niguel is gaining another new council member in order to fill the second vacant seat this year — both by appointments.

The council saw two city council resignations within two months and chose to fill both seats through appointments by a council vote instead of holding a special election.

After interviewing 20 applicants Wednesday afternoon, council members appointed Foster “Gene” Johns, a former deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County and private investigator. He will be sworn in June 20.

Johns has lived in Laguna Niguel for seven years and has served on the traffic and transportation commission since 2021.

“Commissioner Johns has a lifetime of service,” Councilmember Ray Gennaway said at Wednesday’s special meeting. “He’s had a high level of management skills where you’re not just dealing with the loss of time and money. In his profession, you’re dealing with life and death situations.” 

Johns also spent 24 years as a detective with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He worked to disrupt and dismantle international drug cartels while working with the DEA, according to his application.

Gennaway was the first to nominate Johns.

“Showing up matters,” Gennaway said. “We often have council meetings where not very many people show up, and we have meetings where a lot of people show up, but in all those meetings you can count on Gene Johns showing up.”

Since Johns still does private investigator work today, Councilmember Stephanie Oddo asked Johns if he could promise not to “spy” on his fellow council members and city staff.

Johns responded by saying, “Absolutely.”

“Integrity is everything,” Johns said during his council interview. “I only investigate those people that I’m hired by somebody else to look at and only the cases that I think really deserve it to help someone … I would never ever ever cross that line.”

Oddo was the only council member to not support Johns’ appointment since he said he is planning on running for the seat in 2024. 

“This council is giving them the advantage of incumbency, which in this country, has an 85% success rate,” Oddo said at the meeting. “For me, that’s stacking the deck too much for me to sleep at night. I don’t feel I should have that kind of power.”

Gennaway said he didn’t consider whether or not the council members want to run for a full term in 2024.

“I think more than anything we have to look at the qualifications of the candidates,” Gennaway said at the meeting. “Frankly, there’s candidates in here that are highly qualified. Some say they will run, some say they won’t, but I think we enter dangerous territory when we start considering future candidacies, the next election and we try to factor that in as park of our decision.”

Johns is filling the vacant seat left by former Laguna Niguel City Councilwoman Sandy Rains, who resigned abruptly May 10 after citing safety concerns.

“An environment that is not safe to disagree in is an environment that is not focused on growth — it is an environment that is focused on control. I no longer feel I can effectively serve our community in this hostile environment,” she wrote in a resignation statement sent to Voice of OC last month.

[Read: Another Laguna Niguel City Council Member Abruptly Resigns]

In February, Rains stepped down as the city’s mayor after Oddo and Gennawey publicly called for her removal from the mayoral office.

Her colleagues demanded Rains step down from the largely ceremonial mayor position after she called for a debate on firing City Manager Tamara Letourneau.

[Read: Laguna Niguel’s Mayor Abruptly Resigns]

Rains’ resignation came roughly a month after former Councilmember Rischi Paul Sharma abruptly resigned on April 6. Sharma’s April 6 resignation letter didn’t give a reason why he was resigning.

Last month, the council appointed current Councilmember Stephanie Winstead to fill Sharma’s vacant position.

Winstead ran for election in 2022, but failed to make the cut. She came in third place with 20.28% of the vote, behind Gennawey and Oddo. 

During public comment periods at previous meetings, multiple residents called for the council to appoint Jeff Von Waldburg this time around since he also ran in 2022 and came in fourth place behind Winstead with 17.2% of the vote.

Laguna Niguel resident Melissa Crew supported Von Waldburg and said Johns is part of the current council “clique.”

“[Von Waldburg] should’ve been the logical choice if they were actually listening to the voters,” Crew told Voice of OC in a phone interview Thursday morning. “There was a complete disregard for what the voters and taxpayers wanted.”

“There were 20 applicants, and when you look at the experience, education and qualifications of the applicants, there were people that would far better serve their city,” Crew said.

Johns will be sworn in June 20. He has the opportunity to run for a full term in 2024.

“Now instead of knocking on doors and telling people, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do when I’m elected’ — they’ll see me sitting there with you and see what I did and they can decide for themselves whether or not I deserve to be elected to the seat for four years,” Johns said during his council interview.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.


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