Community Resilience, Recovery and Accomplishments Highlighted in 2020 Mayor's State of the City Address
On Tuesday, Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen praised the resilience of the community, the decisions of the City Council and the quick response of the City during the pandemic in his 2020 State of the City Address, held via Zoom.
"There was no playbook for this pandemic," Whalen told the virtual audience. "But from the overall response I have received from the community, I believe this group hit most of the right notes in balancing public health concerns with the need to reopen businesses and public services safely."
Whalen said larger decisions made by the City Council during the pandemic, like closing and opening City beaches, trailheads, canceling 4th of July events and trolley service helped protect public safety during difficult circumstances.
The City was also the first in Orange County to issue an Emergency Order requiring face coverings, the first to create a "Mask Advisor" program and distribute free masks to the public, and the first to successfully work with Governor Newsom to safely reopen City beaches.
"Closing and opening our beaches was among the biggest challenges. I want to thank Supervisor Bartlett for pushing the County to close and open beaches in South Laguna in coordination with what we were doing at the City, and Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris for helping us coordinate with the Governor's office for being the first City in Orange County to have a plan approved to reopen our beaches after closure."
Whalen commended the City's First Responders in Marine Safety, Police Department, Fire Department, Public Works and Water Quality Departments for working on the frontlines during the pandemic, providing critical public services and quick and flexible response to the ever-changing circumstances of COVID-19.
In light of the pandemic, quick revisions were made to the City's FY 19-20 budget to include $12.5M Citywide reductions and $6.5M in reductions to the General Fund, with the City not having to use any of the 20% General Fund reserve. Looking ahead to FY 20-21, the City reduced its budget by $18M and will continue to monitor and adjust as necessary.
"We believe we are heading in to the current fiscal year being able to preserve our General Fund reserve, and that should be very helpful to help us get through what is likely to be a multi-year recovery," Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig told the virtual audience.
As the City moved from a public health response to business recovery, Whalen commended Councilmember Sue Kempf, Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis and Chamber President Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold for their efforts in spearheading the City's Economic Recovery and Business Development Plan.
The plan includes new City programs to support local restaurants and businesses such as The Promenade on Forest, outdoor Parklets Pilot Program, streamlined Temporary Use Permit process and the "Clean, Safe, Ready" pledge program (in partnership with the Chamber and Visit Laguna). These programs have energized both merchants and patrons.
"I want to commend the owners and operators of our restaurants, retail stores, art galleries and businesses for your part in hanging in there to help your employees survive as best you could through these closures and reopen safely and in compliance with the reopening guidelines," Whalen said.
During the address, Whalen outlined the City's accomplishments of the last 18 months, including infrastructure improvements like the completion of the Village Entrance Project, Coast Highway Intersection Improvement Project, Temple Hills Pedestrian Improvement Project, new beach accessways and more.
Looking ahead, projects like the Coast Inn project, proposed renovation and restoration of the Hotel Laguna and the Laguna Movie Theatre, the proposed Downtown Parking Structure, South Main Beach Restroom Renovation and several other Public Works projects such as the Laguna Canyon Flood Control Project and Cultural Arts Programming were highlighted.
Click the video below to see all of the City's accomplishes over the last 18 months as highlighted in the 2020 State of the City Address.
"We must remain vigilant on the public health front - wearing masks, social distancing and adhering to reopening guidelines to avoid another step backwards and another surge," Whalen said. "The finish line is not yet in sight, but we are clearly on the right road. Let's all work together to get this job done and done right."
Local Businesses Take Extra Health and Safety Reopening Measures
For many small restaurants in Laguna Beach, the opportunity to reopen indoor dining ensures an increase in business. After about two months of restricted outdoor dining, restaurants have been forced to get creative with their seating. For Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach, this has meant closing off the main entrance to the street so the surrounding restaurants can place tables outside for customers.
One of those restaurants is 230 Forest. Up and running for 25 years now, the small upscale eatery has taken advantage of the new access to outdoor tables while exercising heavy precautions to prevent spreading the coronavirus. Head chef and owner Marc Cohen has ensured the safety of his staff comes first, starting with temperature checks upon entrance.
“We know it’s not going to save the world, but it makes the customers next to you feel safer and at the same time it helps my staff to feel a little more protected,” Cohen said. “We also have plexiglass in front of the hostess desks and all the way around the bar as well to protect the bartenders when we do go indoors. All the tables get sanitized after every use and all the menus are laminated with a heavy laminate so that they can be sanitized as well after every use.”
Cohen has also placed UPC codes on all the tables as a replacement for menus. Any customer can use their phone’s camera to scan the code and pull up the menu.
Though California has been enforcing masks for roughly five months now, Cohen has found there is still some resistance from customers. The issue at hand remains protecting his staff and other customers at the restaurant.
“It’s not about the business, it’s about respecting the people that are there,” Cohen said. “If you want to continue to have that luxury and continue to have us provide the food and the service that we do, we need your cooperation as a community to help us protect you.”
Kurt Bojarkman, general manger at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, has faced similar issues to Cohen when it comes to keeping his staff and customers safe.
“We take a hardline stance on the different social distancing and mask protocols so if a guest doesn’t want to wear a mask here, we don’t serve them,” Bojarkman said. “ I think we’ve trained people that if they want to have this experience and they want to be here and enjoy this, they got to play with us in this. Whether they believe in it or not, they have to do it.”
Bojarkman is currently able to run 120 tables on the outdoor patio at The Ranch. The movement of Orange County into a red or orange tier would allow him to open up 50 more tables. The precautions he takes to protect his staff and customers are nearly the same as Cohen.
Though he does not take the temperatures of customers in addition to his staff, Bojarkman does check his sanitation products on the CDC website every week to ensure they are the best ones to continue using. He also has his staff use hour glasses on the each table after it’s sanitized to allow the chemical to do its job for 5 minutes before customers are seated.
“We have somebody called a sanizar,” Bojarkman said. “Their only job during the day is to go around sanitizing surfaces.”
It’s through the actions of business owners such as Cohen and Bojarkman that California will be able to look at reopening indoor dining again. It takes the cooperation of customers and patience of waitstaff to ensure a safe reopening so that the state does not have to shut down again.
“It takes a few bad apples to mess it up for everybody, which is what happened last time.” Bojarkman said.
Take the Clean, Safe, Ready Pledge!
Developed in collaboration with Visit Laguna Beach and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Clean, Safe, Ready pledge supports the revival of our local economy and long-term sustainability for our City by safely reopening our businesses and restaurants.
These businesses have already taken the pledge to show their commitment to the health and well-being of our community of both residents and visitors:
- The Ranch at Laguna Beach
- 230 Forest
- Dawson Cole Fine Art
- Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry
- Art of Fitness
- Huit Laguna
- Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers
- Wine Gallery
- Brussels Bistro
- Candy Baron
- CJ Rose Fashion Boutique
- Catmosphere Laguna
- Laguna Candles
- La Casa Del Camino
- Laguna Art Museum
- T-Shirt Company
- Simple Laguna
- Surf & Sand Resort
- Harley Laguna Beach
- Studio Taka
- The Bead Shop
- Salon 828 by Rob
- Indigenous Salon
- The UPS Store
- Laguna Canyon Spa
- Thomas David Salon
- McCormick & Son Mortuaries and Crematory
Take Part in Next Week's Annual AlertOC Test
On Thursday September 24th between 9:00-9:30 a.m., Laguna Beach residents will receive test emergency alerts to their mobile device.
The test will replicate a large scale, regional emergency requiring thousands of people to be notified simultaneously across Orange County. This is the 10th annual regional test of the system and will include 21 participating cities.