top of page


RECAP of December 12, 2023, CITY COUNCIL MEETING


Summary: In this recap we cover the upcoming open Committee positions that could use your expertise; the appointment of a new Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem for 2024; residents’ public comments; the public hearing and balloting for Woods Cove Undergrounding District; the working report from the Environmental and Sustainability Committee; the Downtown Specific Plan Update Phase II; the Housing and Human Services recommendation to establish a Housing Trust Fund; and, the  upgrade of the Public Safety Records Management System.  I’d like to start first with the big community news---the reopening of the South Coast Theater by Rivian. 


COMMUNITY NEWS                 


South Coast Theater Reopens—Thanks to Rivian:


























































It has been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it. Our iconic, 1937 landmark movie house, which was closed since 2015, has been restored and renovated by Rivian that produces all-electric commercial vans and adventure vehicles—complete with electric batteries that can be removed and reused.


The grand opening of the beautifully restored South Coast Theater was held on December 9th, and the restoration qualified for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. While the original Edgar Payne paintings had been removed by the previous owner, Rivian hired SoCal artist, Ariel Lee, to create two replacement murals (see one above).  The restored theatre will serve as a showroom for two of Rivian’s vehicles and as a movie theater (see photo) and host to community events. Read more about this project and the Rivian story at the URL below:


GW: I was pleased to play a small role in getting the theater opened sooner rather than later. Here is the back story: Rivian originally had City approved plans that replaced the historic doors with stainless steel doors. That, and other features, while approved by the city, were not as authentic historically as they could be. 


The Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition sought to bring these issues to Rivian’s attention, but the only option was to file a CEQA lawsuit that would have delayed the opening of the theater. Instead, I brokered two meetings with Rivian and members of this historical preservation group and a compromise was struck which benefited all parties. Rivian’s restoration became historically authentic as evidenced by it qualifying for the National Register of Historic Places. This is the kind or restoration, reuse, and collaboration that benefits our community and our visitors.  Bravo to all whose hard work that made this happen! And, thanks to Rivian, for leading the way as a real green business. Welcome to the neighborhood, Rivian!



Committee Opening Announcements: 

Background: The City Clerk is accepting applications until 1/19/24 for the following Committees: Design Review Board; Heritage; Parking, Traffic and Circulation; Environmental Sustainability Committee; Recreation; and the View Restoration Committee.

Those elected to serve on these committees will start on April 1, 2024.

Design Review Board:  Has 2 open positions for a 2-year term, and meets on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month.


Heritage: Has 2 open positions, and they meet on the third Monday of the month at 6 p.m. 


Parking, Traffic and Circulation: Has 4 open positions, and meets on the fourth Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. 


Environmental Sustainability Committee:  Has 4 open positions, and meets on the third Monday of the month at 6 p.m.


Recreation:  Has 4 open positions, and meets on the second Monday of the month at 6 p.m. 


View Restoration Committee:  Has 2 open positions, and they meet on the second Wednesday of the month at 5 p.m. 


GW: If you have the interest and passion for public service, please join the many hundreds of Laguna residents who have served our community by volunteering their time to serve on a City Committee. You will meet lots of interesting people and help solve problems for fellow Laguna residents. See the attached media release for more information or go to this URL:



Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem Appointments: 

Background: Each year at the first City Council meeting in December the Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem are elected by a vote by the majority of their Council peers. 


GW: As was rumored for the past few months the Mayor Pro-Tem, Sue Kempf, was selected by the Council majority to be the Mayor with Alex Rounaghi, the person for whom she campaigned in 2022, serving as Mayor Pro-Tem. While the tradition since the 1980’s has been to rotate these two positions among the Council members—with rare exceptions---the rotation between outgoing Mayor Whalen and incoming Mayor Kempf continues despite a majority of input from residents at the 11/21/23 Council meeting. These residents requested a change from this switch-off and a return to the earlier practice of rotation.  However, both Mayor Kempf and Mayor Pro-Tem Rounaghi explained during the 11/21/23 Council meeting that the first duty of the Mayor and Pro-Tem was to work with the City Manager, City Attorney, and City staff---which might serve as a surprise to residents who voted for them.  And, here some of us thought that Council’s first duty was to Laguna’s residents and our community…


Notable Items from Public Comments


Land Use Issues: Alan Boines, Delores Cordero, and Christy Miller spoke about decisions made or allowed that affected their property rights. In Mr. Boines case it involved a project that is blocking his views. In Ms. Cordero’s case it was a project that did not observe the normal setbacks and was approved without DRB review and permits. For Christy Miller the property right issue was an unnoticed communications antenna on commercial property that impacted her views and was installed without any Planning Commission review. 


Comments on City Council: Residents Peggy Wolfe, Matt Lawson, and Barbara McMurray congratulated Bob Whalen for his service as Mayor; and, Sue Kempf and Alex Rounaghi for becoming the Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem. 


Comments on the Sewer Spill: Mike Morris and MJ Abraham spoke about the sewage spill. Ms. Abraham also spoke about the high turnover in some City departments, and that employees cited a hostile work environment under the previous City Manager. Mr. Morris also took issue with the Council leadership rotation and said that elected officials should be held accountable for “kicking the can down the road” as it relates to upkeep of the sewer system. See VOC article entitled, at this link:


Comments on LBHS Pool Proposal: Gary Kasick informed us that the LBUSD will decide Thursday on increasing the size of the pool to fifty meters which would do away with the kid’s pool and double the costs for maintaining the pool. See more at:


Update: At the School Board meeting LBHSD voted to increase the size of the pool at its existing location, or to build a new pool at the tennis courts and then remove the old pool. 


The City has a key role to play in this decision as we cover 75% of the maintenance costs. Sensible Laguna, (see URL above) formed to look out for the interests of the neighborhood, say these costs will double under either of the above scenarios.


Item # 19: Public Hearing and Balloting for Woods Cove Undergrounding District: Passed 4-0 (I recused myself as I live in the district)


Background: This is likely the largest district to underground in Laguna Beach and took the efforts of many resolute residents to succeed over a close to ten-year period.   Long time residents, Karen Klammer and Larry Ulvestad, played leadership roles, including as grass roots volunteers, which they also helped recruit.  There were many volunteers. The vote was 60% for and 40% against. Only a simple majority was needed to succeed.


GW: Congrats to the leaders and volunteers who made this happen. The outcome seemed to be in doubt for awhile as there were a lot of households who waited until the last minute to cast their ballots. Based on conversations volunteers had with residents, a considerable number of district voters who were in the “For” category changed their mind to “Against.”


This will be a two-year project, starting in late spring of 2024. I hope this talented group of residents creates a Case Study of this endeavor. It would provide a guidebook for the remaining 30-40% of neighborhoods that are not undergrounded. The many benefits are increased public safety, less drastic pruning of trees near wires and poles since these will be removed, and better views.  


Item # 21: Environmental Sustainability Committee Workplan, Passed 5/0

Presentations were made by the heads of the various subcommittees within this committee to take the following actions:

The Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP); The OC Goes Solar Plan for clean energy and the electrification of City fleets; implementation of complete streets; and, expanding the Marine Protected area to include all of South Laguna, including 3Arch Bay. 


GW:  I have been the Council representative to this Committee since I joined the Council in 2020, and have been so impressed with the hard, investigative work of this group and their commitment to helping our environment.  It has been an honor to work with them.


Item # 22: Introduction to the Downtown Specific Plan Update Phase ll, (No vote taken)


Background: Phase ll of this project includes providing more permissive development standards for building housing downtown, including increased density; parking requirement reductions; increasing the building height up to 3-stories; incentivize smaller size units; and, pricing the downtown housing at market rates versus at affordable housing rates. Comments by Mayor Pro Tem Rounaghi and Mayor Kempf downplayed the need to develop affordable downtown housing, and supported unlimited density.  (Note: Mayor Kempf, though, said that the north side of lower Forest should be kept to 1 story at most, rather than the three stories advocated by Rounaghi, Orgill, and Whalen).  Councilmember Orgill noted that Forest, Ocean and some of Broadway are on a flood plain, which makes building up risky.  The majority of the public comments with one exception said that affordable housing should be the priority, and kept to the forefront since downtown restaurant workers, sales people, City staff, and seniors need more affordable housing.


GW: I am puzzled that my colleagues on Council assume that small downtown housing units are mainly needed by singles living alone versus for couples, roommates, or families.  I wasn’t presented with any data that supports this claim that only singles living alone are in need of downtown housing, and that if they’re working at home, that they won’t need much space.  I am in favor of incentivizing developers to build low-income units---maybe every other one or every third one?


I would also like to mention that a couple of years ago, ADUs were supposed to create affordable housing, and yet to this date, there have been very few ADUS built for affordable housing versus to expand the square footage of the primary homeowner’s property. Exhibit A of poorly thought through policy decisions.


One noted developer recommended not considering affordable housing at all in the Forest, Ocean or Broadway area and instead creating incentives to build market rate housing as supported by the previously mentioned councilmembers. That could work if condominiums were allowed to be built but likely these would be high priced and gobbled up as vacation homes. We already have over two thousand homes in that general category now. What problem are we trying to solve?


My recommended solution is that we access a fee on unoccupied homes and use that as a source of revenue to build affordable housing and the purchase of privately owned open space.

Item # 23: Upgrade of Public Safety Records Management System, (RMS) Passed 5-0


Background: The “emergency” action taken by Council in approving this item was to upgrade the public safety department’s record management system for $1,004,509.00; spend an additional $94,200 for mobile field reporting software; and, another $15,000.00 to fund unforeseen challenges during implementation.


GW: In 2019 the city erred in selecting a vendor for a RMS system which forced us to terminate their contract. We are making up for that lost time and wasted effort.  We will have the new system up in September 2024 barring any unforeseen circumstances. I asked if this software has a web interface that allows residents to access information on crimes wherever they occur. The City of San Mateo has one which provides an easy-to-use graphical interface to access this information.

See this URL:


Another concern is that this software run on servers at City Hall rather than being hosted on the “internet cloud”. Cloud based subscription services like Microsoft Office 365 are the prevailing trend. An upgrade to the Computer Aided Dispatch system will be brought to the Council in 2024.


Item # 24: Consideration of the Housing and Human Services Committee’s Recommendation to Establish a Local Housing Trust Fund, Passed 5-0


Background: Council agreed to establish a fund into which some revenue from the Short-Term Lodging Guest taxes will flow. This source or revenue is restricted and may not provide the revenue needed to fund affordable housing projects. It is a start, but we will need more funding.


GW: Laguna Beach has not built a single affordable housing unit in over thirty years. In fact, we lost 15 units of senior low-income housing in 2020 when those units were at the end of their thirty-year agreement with what was then known as the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.


We will not solve the affordable housing problem, but we should take steps to assure we replace the affordable units we lose and build as many as we can. It is the right thing to do.



Laguna’s Santa with me and Santa’s Helper, Community Volunteer Extraordinaire, Sandie St. John


GW: A little Christmas Story of Good Will: A couple of weeks ago we replaced the carpeting on our stairs and one of the workers left his tool kit. He returned from his home in Los Angeles on Sunday to pick it up but as he was transitioning from the driveway to the street his brakes failed, and he found himself halfway between the driveway and the street. We found a brake line broken with lots of fluid coming out. How do you get a brake line repaired on a Sunday afternoon? I called Kent, Downtown’s Master Fix-It Guy, who seems to know how to repair just about anything. We called a towing service, but the cost was $300 to tow the car one mile to Laguna Auto Repair at Thalia. That was not in the budget for the carpet installer, Gabriele. The truck could not stay sticking out into the street, so Kent instructed Gabriele to use the emergency brake and drive and park the truck just up the hill on Summit. Kent then ordered the part from his thoughtful contacts at Barnhorn, and by 4PM Monday had the brakes repaired. Gabriele paid Kent a modest sum, and hugged him for his work.


Kent is one of those kind folks we have in Laguna who work to keep the restaurants going and serve the “fix it” needs of many residents.

The Christmas spirit lives here.


Happy Holidays to One and All


This picture was taken at the house located on Brooks Street.


All representations made in this email reflect the views of the author and are not official statements of the City of Laguna Beach or City Council.
Any mistakes or  omissions are the sole responsibility of the author, George Weiss. No public funds were expended on this website.

Do you find my City Council Recaps helpful? If so please share this recap with a friend.

Sign up for my recaps here:


Disclaimer: All representations made in this email reflect the views of the author and are not official statements of the City of Laguna Beach or City Council. Any mistakes or omissions are the sole responsibility of the author, George Weiss.


Have a question about city government, need a document, or help finding the right person to talk to or anything else, please know that our City Clerk, Ann-Marie McKay is there to assist you professionally and capably. Email: or call 949-497-0309

bottom of page