Review of my first year on City Council
Since I promised all of you that I would work for greater transparency while on City Council, I’m offering you a review of my hits and misses in the first twelve months.
December 23, 2020
Based on discussions I had with the Ed Sauls (President of the Presbyterian Church) and the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, I made a motion for the City to fund $250,000 for residents and Laguna workers in need due to the impact of the pandemic on their income, which would be matched by the Laguna Beach Community Foundation (LBCF). The City Council agreed and approved $300,000 as a matching grant to funds contributed by private donors to LBCF. A total of $600,000 dollars was given out to residents and local workers.
In February 2021, Mark Christy and I brokered a meeting with Rivian, (www.rivian.com) an electric vehicle manufacturer, and the Laguna Beach Historical Preservation Coalition to help them find common ground on the restoration of the historic Laguna Beach South Coast Twin Theater. A few weeks after this meeting Rivian and the Coalition came to an agreement on issues related to the restoration. Rivian closed escrow on the purchase of the Laguna Beach South Coast Twin Theater and intends to complete the restoration by June 2022. Rivian will be restoring the theater closer to its vintage 1935 roots and using it as a showroom for its vehicles and as a 150-seat, state-of-the-art movie theater. Organizations who qualify will be able to use the theater for talks, movies and other educational and cultural activities. Rivian will also be programming their own films and events.
After receiving multiple emails and calls from residents about personal verbal and written attacks from Council Member Peter Blake, I sponsored an agenda bill to censure him for violations of the City’s Rules of Decorum and Civility Policy, passed on September 18, 2019 (before I was on City Council). As then-Mayor Whalen said before the censure vote, “I am going to support a censure tonight. I think we should have standards. I think the standards outlined in the rules of decorum and policy are appropriate ones for public officials to conduct themselves by.” The Council voted 4-0 in favor of censure with Councilman Blake abstaining.
Mixed – Mr. Blake's censure failed to curtail verbal and written attacks on residents, only reduced them somewhat.
Since 80% of the carbon created in our City is produced by transportation, I proposed going electric on City-owned or leased vehicles when they need to be replaced. The City Council voted unanimously in favor of this proposal so to mitigate air pollution in Laguna and contribute in the effort to do our part to mitigate climate change. The Council unanimously agreed to hire a consultant that would create a database of City-owned vehicles by department, use and size so that when any fossil fuel vehicle is up for replacement, an electric vehicle will be selected that meets the size, type and use conditions.
Prohibition of the Sale of Tobacco Products
As we’ve learned from presentations from our fire chief and consultants, Laguna Beach is in a high to severely high fire region. Smoking is a health hazard as well. I presented a proposal for a ban on the retail sale of tobacco and vaping products to reduce the risk of fire from cigarettes and vaping; limit teens’ access to addictive smoking products; and lessen the amount of cigarette butts and cartridges on our streets, trails, beaches, and ocean. My proposal contained an exception for hotel gift shops for their guests and current smoke shops until their leases ran out. The Council voted 3 to 2 against it.
Appraisal for Property Considered for Purchase
I proposed an appraisal requirement for real property valued over $500,000 being considered for purchase by the City prior to the City’s purchase offer. I brought this agenda item forward as the City’s current policy does not mandate an appraisal for property the City considers buying or selling. The CC members passed it unanimously.
TIMELINE OF CLOSED SESSION ISSUES:
June 29, 2021
As City Attorney Phil Kohn later described on August 24 (see page 9-minutes), the intent of the Closed Session discussion of the Hotel Laguna was for staff to provide the Council with a status report, after which, the City Manager asked if the City Council concurred with the staff’s decision. I expressed concern and questioned this presentation and vote since an update on the Hotel Laguna was being discussed in closed versus open session.
I made calls to past LB City Mayors and attorneys re. whether the Brown Act’s four closed sessions’ exceptions of personnel issues, labor negotiations, real estate negotiations, and litigation would also cover progress reports on commercial property renovations within the City and was told they would not. I had an in-person meeting with a past CC Mayor and 8-year former CC member regarding this topic as mentioned by Mark Fudge at the July 27 CC meeting. I learned that it was a violation of CA Legislative Government Code 54957.7 for a CC member to vote and pass an unagendized item without the public’s knowledge or input. Following the rules of the Brown Act, I called the District Attorney and followed up with a confidential letter to his office as instructed.
August 10, 2021
The City Council ignored mention of the Village Laguna cure letter regarding the City Manager’s report to them on June 28 about the Hotel Laguna topic to be discussed in closed session on June 29, and instead went after a censure motion of Council Member Iseman and me. Part of the testimony against me, included by the City Attorney and Mayor that “everyone knows there is potential exposure to litigation” (p. 10 of August 24 minutes). That means that any closed session topic, whether it is a Brown Act closed session exception or not, could be secret—which is antithetical to the purpose of the Brown Act.
When Mayor Whalen asked if I disclosed the stop work order meeting, I freely admitted that I did since the topic was neither a confidential exemption under the Brown Act or under CA Legislative Government Code 54963.3e (1-3).
Phil Kohn (summary report, second paragraph) advised that per the Brown Act, a councilmember should have filed their complaint with the District Attorney. Since I already had and been advised to keep it confidential while the DA was undergoing their investigation, I didn’t mention that I already had. The City Council voted 3 to 2 to censure me. The City Council has so far refused to rescind this censure.
September 21, 2021
The District Attorney sends the City Attorney and me a letter that based on their review, there is substantial evidence that the City Council Members violated the Brown Act with respect to June 29’s closed session, and significant evidence that I may have potentially violated the Brown Act. The prescribed a remedy of six months of recordings of closed sessions and the retention of those recordings for one year. See
www.georgeweisscitycouncil.org to read a this and the letter from the DA of October 14th.
October 12, 2021
Phil Kohn and the City Manager met with the DA and admitted that they had not engaged in best practices in closed sessions, but moving forward would provide more expansive and detailed descriptions of closed session agenda items and that minutes would be taken for all closed sessions held within the next six months and retained for one year thereafter.
October 14, 2021
The DA sends Phil Kohn a letter confirming acceptance of his October 12 suggestions to “log official minutes for all closed session meetings” and the admonition that “closed session discussions are strictly limited to the subject matter justifying the closed sessions and are confidential”. The DA’s letter means the closure of the June 29 meeting was NOT determined to be compliant with the Brown Act, and that disposition of the matter required remedial measures. The DA’s letter was silent on any Brown Act violation by me.
A huge hit for greater transparency on decisions that impact our community and equal rules for all businesses and residents!