CITY COUNCIL MEETING RECAP — 1/24/2023
Staff Reports Available
George Weiss: Staff Reports on City Council proceedings are always readily available.
To read the Staff Reports on any of the items below, go to:
Summary of this Recap:
George Weiss: In this recap I cover City events and Council Agenda items in order of discussion: The 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Library; CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Compliant Climate Action Plan; Artwork for a Pride Lifeguard Tower at Camel Point Beach; Consulting agreement for an Organization-Wide Classification and Compensation Study; Bluebird Canyon Drive Speed Calming Hump; Police Dept Accomplishments and Hiring Status; Balloon Sale Ban; and, Interim Use Plan for St. Catherine’s School.
Kids learning about our local sea life at the Library celebration
GW: On January 14 the Laguna Beach Library celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a big party that included a fairy scavenger hunt, live tidepool, cookies and cake with cops, and a live guitar performance. Despite the rain, 450 attended, including a bunch of excited and happy kids and their families. I spoke about the history of our library and the unique and varied roles libraries play in communities. They are the only place one can go to read, attend classes, poetry readings, kids’ storytelling, use computers, get a movie or cd, do research and be tutored---all FREE. Our library is a community resource and meeting place, too, as well as being located in the heart of our town.
On April 12, 2022, the site of our Library was in danger of being sold. At that time, Mayor Sue Kempf, and City Manager, Shohreh Dupuis, placed the purchase of the library on the Council Consent agenda along with provisions that were NOT previously discussed or approved by City Council---namely a 3-year lease to the County (the previous lease was for 50 years) and notice that City staff was looking for other sites. On top of these unmentioned clauses in the recap, the hearing took place during Spring Break, a time when many families are away. Fortunately, word got out and over 100 letters opposing this action were received by City Council and 35 people showed up to say NO to moving the library. See attached "Story of the Library" for more information.
Due to all of your input, the good news is that in 2023 we have the opportunity to create plans to refurbish, restore and re-imagine the Library using the original monies we paid to the County of $4.2 Million and an additional $2.8 Million the County has earmarked for this purpose.
Item 4: CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Compliant Climate Action Plan, Passed 5-0
GW: I sponsored this at last year’s Council Strategic Planning Session. It is going to be implemented over the coming years incrementally as we prioritize our goals and objectives for carbon reduction that has the best return on investment and benefit for residents.
I want to recognize ESC (Environmental Sustainability Committee) members, Steve Chadima, Shelly Benneke, City liaison Fauna Shrago, Sr. Analyst Jeremy Frimond, and ECPC Chair, Mat Lawson for their review of the RFP and selection of Place Works, Inc. as our consultant. Place Works wrote a book about developing Climate Action Plans, and helped develop one for the State of California.
What is next: We hope to execute this plan in 2023. There is a lot more to the Climate Action Plan, so check out Irvine’s, our neighboring City’s, website to learn more about the components that comprise a city climate plan:
In upcoming recaps, I will highlight what steps we are taking and how you can learn more about the City’s implementation of the Climate Action Plan, and how you can participate, too.
#Item 9: Artwork for a Pride Lifeguard Tower at Camel Point Beach, Passed 5-0
GW: Residents Mark Porterfield and Steve Chadima have generously donated $10,000 for this project commemorating the long history of Laguna as a mecca for the LGBTQ community and their contributions to the cultural and artistic life of our town. Mark’s and Steve’s longtime philanthropic activity, sponsorships and donations are singular in the history of our town.
#Item 11: Consulting agreement for an Organization-Wide Classification and Compensation Study: Deferred to future Council meeting 5-0
GW: The City has not conducted a formal review of job classifications, pay scales and compensation in 20 years for all City Staff. While this seems like a good idea, it will cost $181,000. Councilman Orgill asked for more time to study this before bringing it back to Council, which we all agreed was a good idea. I was concerned that four of the seven objectives involved compensation, salary and benefits, rather than job skills, training, review criteria and promotion tracks. Many residents have expressed concern that the City has been hiring additional employees, even as our population remains the same. What is going on?
#Item 14: Bluebird Canyon Drive Speed Calming Hump Passed 5-0
History: For over 10 years nearby residents along the 800 block of Bluebird Canyon Drive have complained about dangerous speeding cars along this stretch of road. The road has no sidewalks so residents, walkers, and families using nearby Bluebird Park have to be very careful walking along that street and have been dodging between parked cars.
Good News: This time the residents, led by Jack Robbins and Natalie Hall, and assisted by Keith and Kara Lee, and Julian Harvey presented compelling evidence of speeding along this stretch of roadway. Additional residents spoke to share their experiences, many in support of the presenters’ claims. Council agreed and voted unanimously to install a speed hump and have City Staff look at other ways to improve public safety along this road, including a possible sidewalk. Congratulations to the residents for their persistence in getting this done.
Special Guest Community Service dog Cooper visiting City Council Chambers
#Item 15: Police Dept Accomplishments, Organizational Growth & Opportunities: (no vote needed)
Chief Calvert and Captains David Dereszynski and Dave Nichols gave a presentation on the above. For details see this URL for more information: https://lagunabeachcity.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1926&meta_id=153727
GW: Policing is the most challenging and dangerous work of any performed by our City employees, which includes working nights, weekends and holidays. My hat is off to those who chose this vocation to keep us safe and for their service to our community.
The Good News: I commend the Chief and his Command Staff for their dedication to Community Policing, enabling the Park Ranger Program, adding Cooper, a Support Service dog, and working with Newport Beach to create a joint SWAT team. I would urge more collaborations with agencies and even with academic institutions. UCI has a highly regarded multidisciplinary “Criminology, Law and Society” Department which bestows undergraduate, Masters and PhD degrees. Could we not recruit from this pool and collaborate with this Department?
The Bad News: LBPD has a critical staff shortage with nine experienced officers having left for other agencies since May 2021. These seasoned officers will be hard to replace and new recruits costly to train. While there is a nationwide shortage of police officers, shouldn’t wonderful Laguna Beach be a place that draws recruits and experienced police officers to work here? A disappointing statistic is that LBPD has NOT recruited any police officers from another Orange County city in 7, going on 8, years. Our recruits come from County Sheriff agencies and other sources, and while that is OK, we need to recruit from other cities as well. Other OC cities recruit from us. The City of Irvine hired 5 of the 8 officers who left and one civilian employee.
It’s not just about the pay and benefits: City Council has taken recent action so that LBPD is now second only to Irvine for pay and benefits. The Chief’s and Command Staffs’ presentation stated that we have 42 mission-ready officers ---less six command staff---so the number of officers available for patrol is 36, which leaves us short. This shortage has caused three detectives to be moved to patrol duties and forced a lot of overtime and stressing of the existing short-handed workforce.
I have interviewed 18 current and former LBPD officers and 2 civilian staff members and unfortunately those who left did not do so for more pay. Instead, they indicated that issues in the workplace shaped their decision to leave. They cited reasons such as:
“Moral is very low, and a lack of transparency and honesty is endemic”
“Chief is not running department.”
“If you leave LBPD, you can’t come back”
“100% is about turning the department into a toxic work environment.”
GW: There were 86 additional comments I collected about problematic issues, including about leadership and the workplace environment. This must change so we have a better chance of retaining experienced police officers and recruiting the best from other agencies. I hope that subsequent collaborative and transparent practices are implemented so that all officers and civilian staff feel valued and treated equally and fairly.
#Item 17 Restriction of the Sale, Distribution and Use of Certain Balloons: Passed 5-0
Background: Ann Marie Girtz, a member of the Environmental and Sustainability Committee (ESC), initiated this measure and the Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee endorsed it, bringing it to Council. Mayor Bob Whalen and I worked to develop the agenda item and Jeremy Frimond wrote the Ordinance with the help of City Staff. Good job all around!
Why do this: “Lighter than Air” mylar balloons when released have been known to cause damage to electric utility equipment which pose the risk of fire. Mylar and latex balloons whether “lighter than air” or not are also an environmental hazard to ocean creatures, birds, and open space.
Good News: To address this problem the Council unanimously decided to ban the sale and distribution within city limits of lighter than air balloons, and prohibit the use of all types of balloons on public property. “Lighter than air” balloons of all types can still be purchased and brought into private homes and hotels, with the exception of The Ranch which has not allowed balloons for over four years. (Bravo to The Ranch!)
What is Next: The City will work on an education and exit plan so businesses who sell balloons have a chance to shift to these new rules and sell out (or return) existing inventory. The ordinance takes effect on January 1, 2024.
Thanks to all the local organizations and businesses like Surfrider, Coast Keepers, Laguna Beach Bluebelt, Laguna Canyon Foundation, Project O, Sierra Club, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Hobie Surf Shop, Tuvalu, and Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching for their letters of support and public comments.
#Item 18: Interim Use Plan for St. Cathrine’s School Property Passed 4-1
Background: The Staff’s proposed use presentation included the immediate occupancy of two offices for recreation staffing and programming; the first-floor offices for city operations, fire administration, and an emergency operations center. In addition, some monthly licensing agreements would be explored for drop-in basketball, indoor pickle ball, and perhaps portable skate ramps by the summer. Staff also suggested converting the grass field into 70 parking spaces. Council did not agree.
Open house events for residents and key organizations to tour the facility are planned in February or March depending on when the property is cleaned and ready. (The facilities haven’t been used for 3 or more years).
GW: I opposed this action because residents and local organizations have not had an opportunity to see the site and provide their input on how the site can be best utilized to serve residents and the community. While I was not opposed to the suggested uses, I felt it was premature to act without residents’ and organizations’ input.
It seemed disrespectful to the community to move City staff and fire operations onto the property since residents’ and community organizations’ use of this property was touted as the reason for buying the site.
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