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Our Laguna: Chamber hosts State of the City

Laguna is in pretty good shape, according to city officials who spoke at the Chamber of Commerce State of the City luncheon, held Tuesday at Montage Laguna Beach.

Mayor Kelly Boyd was the star, with a supporting cast of council members, heads of city departments and chamber leaders.

Boyd was featured in a video, peeking over shoulders and poking into every aspect of community activities, accompanied by The Police's hit song, "I'll Be Watching You."

He also received a Congressional Citation, a flag previously flown over the nation's capitol and compliments from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher presented by Howard Hills.

"Your votes for personal freedom and responsibility, along with limited government, are a legacy rooted in the pioneer spirit of early Laguna, in which your family played such a fabled role," Rohrabacher wrote.

The presentation surprised Boyd.

"I didn't have a clue," he said. "I understand that Michael Kinsman arranged it."

Chamber President Kinsman was unable to attend the luncheon. In his absence, Larry Nokes served as master of ceremonies. He had the pleasure of introducing a U.S. Marine Color Guard for the salute to the flag, led by Councilwoman Toni Iseman. Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau President Karyn Philippsen gave the invocation.

Board member Gregg Abel was tapped to report on the state of the chamber.

"We have had an awesome year," said Abel, chamber Government Affairs Committee chair.

He announced that membership has grown to more than 350, with the goal of reaching 500 members by New Year's Eve.

Other accomplishments include seminars for small businesses on identity theft, shoplifting — "not how to, but how to prevent" — social media, customer service and crisis communication and implementation of a community calendar on the chamber website.

A new group was formed of young professionals who are interested in becoming involved in the city, led by Aaron Talerico. Abel also acknowledged city grants that enabled the chamber to survey 100-plus businesses and bring office equipment up to snuff.

Boyd led off the city's speakers.

"I am supposed to make the State of the City speech, but about half of the staff is here and they want to give my speech," Boyd said.

Nonetheless, he noted the highlights: the 18% reserve funds in the city budget, increased tax revenue, the Planning Commission's effective "Open for Business" program, successful water conservation efforts and revisions to the view ordinance, which he supports.

He also took a stand on the Village Entrance project.

"I will not vote for it unless it goes to a vote of the people," Boyd said. "I am not willing to spend up to $50 million on behalf of the residents without their approval."

City Manager John Pietig spoke about the city budget, which he probably could do in his sleep after wrestling with its preparation, reviewing it for council and the public at a workshop and making revisions.

In short: The city is in recession-recovery mode, with reserves and an allocation for future spending that you don't see many governments able to do, he said.

City staff is also working on reducing the transit system deficit and improving — you got it, traffic congestion — while making an effort to better manage existing parking spaces before adding new ones.

Pedestrian congestion has also been addressed, Pietig said.

"We have weekend traffic control in the summer and on selected weekends," Pietig said.

The trick is to guess which weekends so no one is just standing around in their spiffy vests. Staff speakers included Laguna Beach Police Department Capt. Jason Kravetz, Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow, Planning Department Manager Ann Larson and Public Works Director Steve May.

First up was Kravetz.

"My goal is to take away Steve's title as the funniest member of the staff," Kravetz said.

That can be kind of hard to do when you deal with crime, but there are bright spots.

The department has assigned Cpl. Zack Martinez to bring more police presence to downtown, modeled on former Reserve Officer Harold Griswold, whom many at the luncheon remembered with high regard. Kravetz also called out Community Services Officer Jason Farris for his outstanding work with the homeless.

Kravetz commended the city's preparations for disaster, including the 79 graduates of Community Emergency Response Team training, who will assist police in emergencies and help out at big events, such as the Fourth of July.

Snow's job is to supervise the staff of lifeguards who each year make more than 3,500 rescues, 125,000 preventative actions, perform emergency medical aid in about 4,000 cases, make 20,000 ecological contacts and run the two Junior Lifeguard programs, all from temporary quarters until the new headquarters is completed, expected to be in early 2014.

Larson is staff liaison to the Planning Commission, which is currently working on revisions to the Downtown Specific Plan and the mobility element of the city's General Plan and hopes to be reviewing the city's landscape element before the end of the year.

The commission develops ordinances for council approval and recommends which business can open in town and how they should look.

May announced that in order to attend the chamber luncheon he had to sacrifice an invitation to a Rubber Slurry Surfacing affair.

His department is responsible for such fun stuff as resurfacing streets, storm drains and the transit system, as well as buildings, beaches and parks.

Projects include Broadway Beautification and the right-hand turn pocket on to it from Coast Highway, both partially funded by grants, and undergrounding utilities at Big Bend.

Among the luncheon attendees were Council members Bob Whalen and Steven Dicterow, Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Renae Hinchey, Planning Commissioners Ann Johnson and Linda Dietrich, Taxypayers Assn. President Martha Lydick, Laguna Beach Live! founder Cindy Prewitt and Kevin Cartwright, on his first day as the new development director of Laguna College of Art + Design and his boss, Jonathan Burke.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call 1 (714) 966-4696 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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