Laguna Beach City Council
CITY COUNCIL MEETING RECAP — 8/2/2022
Library Purchase Update
George Weiss: As many may have read or heard elsewhere, the City of Laguna Beach now owns 363 Glenneyre Street — home to the Laguna Beach branch of the Orange County Public Library. The City Council approved the purchase of the property from the County of Orange with a 25-year lease agreement with the County for continued library services. Congratulations to all who spoke and sent emails about this to the City Council. Your efforts were rewarded. Our next step is to create a plan for refurbishing, remodeling and re-imagining our library. Please contact me if you’d like to be a part of this effort.
CONSENT CALENDAR — (pulled items for discussion)
Item 6 – Resolution To Temporarily Increase Overtime Pay And Hiring Incentives Passes 5-0
George Weiss: The Staff Report states that our police department is facing “multiple headwinds” in recruiting and hiring new police officers. The department has a budget for 55 sworn officers, ranging from the chief of police down the chain of command, as well as 11 dispatch personnel. When Chief Calvert took over the department a year ago, there were 45 “mission-ready” officers and nine dispatchers on board. With four officers on long term-injury status, and with the recent departure of two more officers, there are currently only 43 “mission-ready” officers available for patrol duties.
It's clear that despite wages and benefits that are among the highest in Orange County, and a city that on the surface appears to be a very desirable place to work, we nevertheless have significant challenges recruiting and retaining police officers.
Some say this is a result of labor shortages in general. Others have mentioned the “defund the police” movement. That movement had some momentum because of the George Floyd ruling but has since faded. No major city in the United States has taken action to defund their police departments.
So, what has caused this precarious state and near crisis situation? Does the low morale documented below play a role?
Excerpts From Laguna Beach Independent Article
Regarding Low Police Morale – Dated Jan. 21, 2022
Read the full article here:
“Police union leaders also spotlighted that 72.5% of survey respondents said they definitely would or probably would leave the city for another opportunity. ’Our inability to attract and retain the best people is directly related to the quality of service that we strive to provide to our community. That’s concerning to us, and it should concern our community,’ the Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Association Board of Directors said in a statement.
“Jarrod Sadulski, a police stress researcher and former police officer for Sunrise, Fla., said city leaders and residents should take notice of the union survey results that suggests some employees are experiencing poor morale and low levels of trust in command staff.
“’It impacts the quality of police services in a significant way that can have an adverse impact on the community,’ Sadulski said. ‘Low morale causes officers to become solely reactive, instead of proactively going out actively trying to stop crime trends… because they don’t feel they have the backing of the administration, and that’s bad. It’s bad for communities and correlates to increases in crime.’”
George Weiss: The City Manager’s comments below seem a bit cavalier regarding the turnover of police officers:
“I’m not really that concerned about it,” Dupuis said. “When you are part of a small police department, there are not a lot of opportunities if you want to specialize. A lot of younger police officers, when they go to work for a small organization, they want to work for a larger organization like the Sheriff’s Department.” – Laguna Beach Independent, Jan. 21, 2022
George Weiss: Conditions within the Laguna Beach Police Department (LBPD), a lack of trust in command staff, and a lack of respect between the department and City management have all contributed to making Laguna Beach a less desirable place to work. Bad relations between LBPD — especially the rank and file — and City management has been talked about by other city police departments for many years. A bad reputation earned over many years may be hobbling our efforts to attract police officers. Laguna Beach should be a very desirable place to work, but the facts show that is not the case.
It's also a little shocking that this situation, as important as it is, was placed on the Consent Calendar rather that on the Regular Agenda, where it must be discussed by Council and allow public input. Fortunately, it was pulled from the Consent Calendar by Councilwoman Toni Iseman.
For those unfamiliar, the Consent Calendar – also known as a Consent Agenda – is used for agenda items that require no separate discussion and allows all of the items on it to be approved without any discussion. (Note that the $4.3M library purchase and its possible conversion into a parking lot was very shadily put on the Consent Calendar, where it would have automatically been passed had residents not gotten wind of it.)
Thank you to Councilwoman Iseman for bring this police pay item out into the open!
Read the Staff Report here:
Footnote: I met with Chief Calvert two months ago to discuss police training and the “We Care” program that Huntington Beach and other cities use for non-violent related interventions such as mental illness and domestic disputes. These services offload some of the duties police officers now carry out. At no time during our discussion were recruiting challenges brought up. Why?
Item 7 - Laguna Canyon
Channel Replacement Passes 5-0
George Weiss: About two years ago, a section of the Laguna Canyon Channel between Laguna Canyon Road and Frontage Road (think Sawdust to Woodland Drive) collapsed. It was more than 50 years old, so it may have just reached its end of life. The California Department of Transportation, County of Orange, the Orange County Flood Control District, and the City of Laguna Beach are all involved. Most of the discussion centered on the trees, the pocket park near the Thurston Trailer Park, plant screening for residents, and resident parking during the proposed construction from September 2022, to May 2023.
The City Council sent the project back to the Laguna Beach Planning Commission with the following directions:
The City should work with the residents on a suitable parking plan during construction.
The landscaping, including the choice of trees, should be compatible with the Village entrance.
Steps should be taken to save as many of the seven large existing trees as possible.
The Planning Commission should review the required setbacks for conformity with the City’s General Plan and zoning.
Larger shrubs should be planted where needed to screen residents living near the areas impacted by the plants being removed during construction.
Item 9 – Majority Council Members Pass New Resolution To Stifle Minority Council Members From Presenting Agenda Items, 3-2
George Weiss: True to form, the council majority brought forward a new policy that restricts elected representatives from submitting agenda items to the public for discussion. This anti-democratic measure was drafted and sponsored by Mayor Sue Kempf with the alleged intention of increasing efficiency.
During council discussion, no evidence was presented to substantiate the inefficiencies of the current process which allows Council members to submit items for discussion directly to the Council without the City Manager’s approval. Under the old policy, discussion items presented new ideas and these typically took little time to discuss and determine what if any, action should be taken.
If the truth be known, this was a move by the majority to marginalize the minority, consisting of myself and Councilwoman Toni Iseman. Its not good for our town, and an improper transfer of power from the people’s representatives to an appointed official.
The City Manager’s job is to act upon the Council members’ bidding, not decide on what Council members do and don’t get to discuss. A true suppression of democracy and a denial of residents’ right to unfettered representation.
See my City Council Recap of July 19 to read more about this.
It’s available on my website at: www.GeorgeWeissCityCouncil.com
Read the revised policy here:
Private Members Only
George Weiss: This last weekend, the Hotel Laguna roped off a large section of the public beach behind the hotel and adjacent to Main Beach, placing signs on the sand announcing a section of the beach was closed and for “Private Members Only”.
This despite an earlier order issued to the previous owner by the California Coastal Commission that called for the removal of all signs and other obstructions to the beach.
It’s not a private beach. The Anderson’s had claimed that the public beach was allowed to be privatized, but couldn’t submit any documented evidence. The hotel also has multiple Coastal Act violations that have yet to be adjudicated.
Despite this, Mr. Mohammed Honarkar and his company, Laguna Beach Company, Inc. — with the City’s assistance — is lobbying the Coastal Commission and pressing a historic claim to privatize a public beach for commercial gain.
According to local residents who have inquired about the Beach Club, membership is running around $30k for the initiation fee, plus a monthly membership fee. It’s disconcerting that City officials would again help a developer, one who shows so little regard for the City’s rules.
Last year, the City Council was cited by the Orange County District Attorney for Brown Act violations that allowed construction of the red tagged restaurant to continue without plans, permits, and most inspections. This decision was secretly voted upon in a closed-door session without providing legally required agenda notification to the public.
Evidently, Mr. Honarkar – who helped contribute campaign funds to Mayor Kemp and Councilman Blake – has some special relationships with City officials that provide him and his partners with special treatment in development of his projects. There are a number of examples of this occurring and it’s wrong.
I totally support refurbishing Hotel Laguna, but developers need to follow the rules – as most do – and not expect special treatment by City officials.