Spotlight: Chelsea Williams of The Salty Suites

By October 21, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach Events, Spotlight
Chelsea Williams of The Salty Suites

Chelsea Williams of The Salty Suites

Chelsea Williams has been writing and performing her own music from the age of 13.  By the age of 17, she took the stage, on her own, performing first at clubs and coffee houses.  While some of her early songs are still hits with her fans, she has continued to develop as a writer, penning over 100 original songs to date. Chelsea is also known for making her living by busking—selling tens of thousands of homemade demos, one by one, on the street.  Her magnetic personality draws in the fans; her songs set the hook. Most recently, Chelsea was featured on a Chevy commercial, which made its debut on Simon Cowell’s hit television show, the X FACTOR.  Kate Buckley recently caught up with Chelsea to learn more about her background and upcoming projects.

KB: Chelsea, I first “discovered” you, playing with your band, The Salty Suites, at The Cliffs in Laguna Beach. I’d been invited down by our mutual friend, Russell Boston, to come hear this amazing talent. I was blown away by your unique sound and talented songwriting, and I’ve enjoyed learning more about your story. You’ve really done it old school, haven’t you—busking—building your base one person at a time?

CW: I started singing on the street when I was 20, and to be honest it was one of the only things I felt like I was good at and enjoyed doing. A lot of my heroes were buskers at some point—Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan. That was definitely part of the allure. But I think I was also partial to the idea of being so close to the audience. On the street, there’s no barrier between you and them, where at most venues there seems to be this giant chasm. The stage can almost make the artist seem untouchable. A lot of bands play into this by taking on a larger than life persona. You know, they wear a costume, whether it’s a skin colored bikini, or a freshly pressed suit with polished shoes and put on a well rehearsed, thoroughly choreographed show. Not to say that I don’t appreciate and enjoy a well rehearsed show with costumes, lights and the occasional smoke machine. But the kind of music that I’m drawn to is much more conversational and intimate. The artists that I’ve been the most impacted by, consider themselves to be on the same level as their audience: speaking and singing to them as friends and fellow human beings. Musicians that let their heart and soul rest comfortably on their sleeve with an irreverence to the way a “show” is supposed to look or sound.

As far as building a base/audience, that hasn’t been something I’ve consciously attempted. I just try to enjoy what I do, go where I feel creative and hope that people enjoy it so I can keep playing shows.

Chelsea Williams

Chelsea Williams

KB: You count Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Billie Holiday among your musical influences, but I understand you have another musical influence a little closer to home. 

CW: When I was around five or six years old, my mom was writing a lot of music and playing shows occasionally. She was a beautiful singer. There were always musicians jamming in our living room. She had this friend with a recording studio in his garage (this was back in the day before everyone and their grandmother had one). We would stay over there late and I remember so many nights, falling asleep listening to them write and record. I didn’t realize how much that would impact me as an adult. Years later, my sister started playing guitar. She showed me a couple chords and I kind of had this aha! moment like, “Oh, this makes sense to me.” It was a way of using up my creative energy without getting into trouble—which I was prone to do.

KB: What’s your first or fondest memories of music?

CW: Without a doubt, listening to my mom sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” It was her signature song at shows and parities. She sang it so much that I thought she wrote it. When I asked her about it she said, “If I had written that song, Chelsea, we wouldn’t be living in this apartment.” I didn’t get what she meant then, but I do now.

KB: Have you ever performed with your Mom? 

CW: No. And it’s kind of silly, because I first learned to sing by listening to her so much as a kid and then later, she started to teach. I took lessons from her for years. But I love the idea of families singing together. The Carter Family is a great example of that! There’s nothing like the vocal blend that a family can get. There’s another group called the Wood Brothers. Their harmonies make me melt just a little every time I hear them.

KB: The Wood Brothers are on my iPod as well—fantastic sound. Chelsea, where did you grew up? 

CW: In the San Fernando Valley in a little town called Sunland, a suburb of LA. It always smells a bit like horse manure and meth. But it’s right at the base of the Angeles Crest Mountains. Really beautiful back there. I used to drive deep into the mountains with my guitar and sing into the valley below. It made me feel like less of a city girl. I live in Glendale now, near Hollywood. While I love the city sometimes I dream of moving to Montana or something.

KB: You have a huge fan base in Laguna. What’s your connection to Laguna Beach? You play shows here quite a lot! 

CW: The Salty Suites played the Sawdust Festival about three years ago and Rick Conkey saw us playing there. He has been instrumental in getting us booked around Laguna at quite a few venues. Those venues have been stepping stones to playing places like The Festival of Arts. [Click here to hear Chelsea and The Salty Suites playing at The Festival of the Arts.] Rick is such a passionate genuine guy. It seems like he’s always scheming/organizing to help the community through music. Between his help and support from a host of other Laguna Beach locals, it’s become a kind of haven for us here.

KB: That’s great, Rick’s another mutual friend—you’re right, he does so much for music in Laguna. Chelsea, what do you love most about Laguna Beach?

CW: Well it’s obviously out-of-this-world beautiful. But more than that, there’s such an appreciation for art and music in Laguna. It’s hard to have a genuine voice and be heard in LA. There seems to be a lot of importance placed on image and “cool” in the music scene there. While there’s something to be said for having a “product” that people wanna buy, I think the quality gets lost in that process more times than not. The feeling I get in Laguna Beach is much more relaxed and honest. You can just sing your little heart out and people respond. You don’t have to put on a facade and sacrifice yourself to the music machine gods.

The Salty Suites

The Salty Suites

KB: How did you and fellow bandmates Scott Gates and Chuck Hailes get together to form The Salty Suites? 

CW: We all got to know each other through mutual friends, playing in the same circles. But I think ultimately John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was the reason we all met. I met Scott at a John McEuen show that he had invited us both to play. And we both met Chuck shortly after that through John’s son, Nathan. It wasn’t till a couple years later that we started playing together. It was kind of kismet that we were all playing at a benefit show up in Paso Robles (a show that John McEuen was headlining). We had something like four hours between sound check and showtime, so we learned a couple songs and ended up playing them that night. Still, it was more than a year after that, that we formed the band as it is now.

KB: What’s your vision down the road, Chelsea? What’s your dream outcome for The Salty Suites? 

CW: I just love playing music with those guys, whether it’s in the living room or opening up for Dwight Yoakam. I guess I’d just love to be on the road most of the year and still be able to pay my bills. And if someday we can afford 20 dancers and a pyrotechnic show…I’ll die happy.

KB: When did you open for Dwight Yoakam? What have been your other memorable shows to date?

CW: We opened for Dwight last year, in Orange County and Santa Rosa. I enjoyed opening up for the Avett Brothers, Colin Hay was great too. (Funny enough, he’s playing the Laguna Music Festival on November 2nd—small world). My favorite show ever though, was playing the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Pete Seeger was there along with Old Crow Medicine show and Jeff Tweedy from Wilco (God, I sound like I’m name dropping). I was just so excited to be there. I would have paid money just to SEE the show, but to be able to get up on stage pretend to be worthy was really memorable.

Chelsea Williams

Chelsea Williams

KB: And you’ve got another fabulous show coming up right here in Laguna Beach where you’ll be part of the opening night for the inaugural KX93.5 Festival of Music. Tell me about that. And where can we get tickets to come see you?

CW: We are so excited to be part of the pre-show on November 1st for this exciting festival benefiting the Mauli Ola Foundation, The Tony Hawk Foundation, and The Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, and to be playing at the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course (it’s gorgeous, I’m told!). Like I said we LOVE Laguna Beach and we’re so happy to be included in the community.

Please visit our site for information on upcoming shows (we’re playing The Cliffs in Laguna again on October 24th), and to get on our mailing list. And visit KX93.5 for ticketing information on both the pre-show (where we’re playing with Deborah Magone on 11/01/13 at the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course), and the main event with Colin Hay and Matt Costa on 11/02/13 at the Festival of Arts Grounds. Spotlight: An Interview with Larry Nokes

By October 7, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Local Politics, Spotlight
Laurence P. Nokes

Laurence P. Nokes

Larry Nokes received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Utah in 1979 and his Juris Doctor Degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1982. He enjoys the coveted AV Rating from Martindale-Hubbell, and has been recognized for inclusion by Super Lawyers in its publication. Larry’ s practice includes litigation and transactional work.  He appears in all California State and Federal Courts. He’s been a featured speaker in seminars hosted by the Society of Professional Engineers on issues concerning design and construction defects, and served three years as Chairman of the Board of Managers of the South Coast YMCA; he also currently sits on the Advisory Board of the University of Utah College of Social and Behavioral Science. A tireless advocate for business in Laguna Beach, Larry is a Board Member of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, for which he is the President-Elect. He and wife Cathy have a daughter, McKenna, who is a senior at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, where she will graduate with degrees in business and communications this spring. Larry and Cathy soothe their “empty-nesting” by caring for two rescue Shi-tzus, Roxie and Rupert, in Laguna Beach.

KB: Larry, it’s been fun getting to know you through the Chamber! I always enjoy your sense of humor and ability to work with differing view points, so it was no surprise to hear you work as a mediator and arbitrator. Did you always want to be an attorney?

LN: Not always. But my dad was a lawyer and I had uncles on my mom’s side who were also lawyers, so once I got into college, going to law school just felt instinctive. I’m glad I made this career choice. It gives me a chance to see a lot of different businesses and industries from the inside out. For example, when you represent a client in a commercial case, you need to understand that person’s business before you can understand the complexities that led to the litigation. It gives you the opportunity to satisfy a lot of different professional curiosities. My younger brother is also a lawyer, he is married to a lawyer, and my youngest brother is also married to a lawyer. So it seems as though we never really get away from it in our family. Family dinners are always interesting affairs where we invariably wind up re-litigating one another’s cases.

KB: You grew up in Salt Lake City where you also attended undergrad, then moved to Sacramento for law school. What brought you down to Orange County, specifically Laguna Beach?

LN: I did not want to practice law in Salt Lake City. While I loved growing up there, professionally I wanted to be somewhere else. In 1982, when I was getting out of law school, Southern California was very active legally. I wanted to try cases and decided that this is where I would have the best opportunity to do that. I interviewed with law firms in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. When it came time to select, I chose to work for the Newport Beach office of a Los Angeles-based insurance coverage firm. It was a great place to start—and then I became a partner in that firm. I met Cathy during that time and we were married in 1989. I then left my first firm to accept a partnership in a Chicago-based law firm. Our daughter McKenna was born in 1992; I resigned my partnership in the Chicago firm the next year and founded my own law firm, Nokes & Quinn.

Larry with law partner, Thomas Quinn, and the team at Nokes & Quinn

Larry with law partner, Thomas Quinn, and the team at Nokes & Quinn

KB: You opened your own firm, Nokes & Quinn (along with partner Thomas Quinn) in Newport Beach, then made the decision to relocate the firm to Laguna Beach. Why that decision, and did the move affect business?

LN: We opened the firm in Newport Beach in 1993; in October 1995, we decided to relocate the firm to Laguna. It was partially a matter of convenience, and somewhat of “family necessity.” I would drive to work in Newport in the morning, and wind up driving all the way back for some preschool event or other meeting or activity involving the family. I began to consider whether it would be wise to simply move the law practice to Laguna. My partner and I decided to move down here, fearing all the while that if we weren’t in Newport, no one would hire us. We discovered what we should have known all along: that the practice of law is about relationships and it really doesn’t matter where you’re physically located so long as those relationships are strong. Being in Laguna allowed me to enjoy every bit of my family life—it was a good and worthwhile move.

KB: Along with your wife Cathy, you’ve really put down roots in Laguna. Not only did you move your business here and raise daughter McKenna here, but you’ve also been deeply involved in community service: Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, South Coast YMCA, SchoolPower Board, and the GAC Committee. What’s been your most meaningful contribution to date?

LN: That’s really hard for me to say as contributions might be viewed differently by different people. Personally, I am most pleased with the fact that Cathy and I were able to raise a great kid in a great town. We have terrific friends and we like our community. In terms of recent events, I think I’m most pleased with the work on the view equity committee in helping to draft a proposed ordinance for view and vegetation issues that arise in town. I think we came up with a pretty good legislation that will help resolve issues as they arise.

KB: What led you to become involved with the Chamber, particularly the Board of Directors? 

LN: I observed that it was incredibly difficult for businesses to navigate the waters of Laguna Beach regulations. It seemed that people would come to town with a dream to open a particular type of business and would be confronted with a wall of “no” when it came time to get their businesses or CUPs approved. Businesses that went through the process were sometimes modified to the point that the business that entered the approval process looked different than the business that came out of the end result. The Chamber seemed like a great and natural organization to help advocate for these businesses. Over the last four or five years, the Chamber has become more active in following issues that are before the elected City Counsel and the appointed boards, and have made an effort to help businesses through that process. We have also made an effort to ease some of the regulations that may make it difficult for certain businesses to exist. The City Council and the planning commission have been very open to the process, and the Chamber has worked with them, as appropriate, to facilitate dialogue to help the commercial aspect of the city thrive.

KB: What sort of law does Nokes & Quinn practice? 

LN: We are a general commercial litigation firm. We become involved in anything relating to real estate—including the purchase and sale, issues relating to construction, issues relating to land use, issues relating to disputes between adjoining landowners, insurance coverage issues, landowner liability issues, design and construction issues, real estate brokerage issues and land subsidence issues. We also become involved in business litigation cases such as unfair trade practices, defamation, and other general business disputes. Personally, I have a mediation practice, and I’m also called upon from time to time to assist the court in help parties resolve discovery disputes. In the last 10 years, our firm’s become more involved in personal injury litigation. We have tried several cases dealing with psychological and emotional injuries suffered by plaintiffs as a result of another person’s tortious conduct.

KB: And where are most of your clients located? 

LN: We have clients all over the country, but I think it is safe to say that 50% of our practice is related to Orange County. Approximately 5% of our work comes from Laguna Beach. Regardless of where our clients come from, we endeavor to get cases resolved as rapidly as possible. Litigation is the “sport of kings.” It’s expensive, time-consuming and worrisome. If you ever lose track of that as a lawyer, you aren’t paying attention to your clients. We approach every case from the perspective of our clients, being as clear as we can as to their goals in the litigation, and trying to meet those goals. We also encourage our clients toward resolution in the early stages of the conflict. While it is not always possible to resolve cases rapidly, we at least try to do it efficiently.

KB: And you also volunteer with the courts as a mediator. What sorts of cases do you handle?

LN: Mediating cases is among the most rewarding work you can do as a lawyer, and I really enjoy it. I’ve mediated everything from estate disputes (will and trust) to complex personal injury/wrongful death cases. Successful mediations always involve getting people to honestly evaluate the merits of their cases, to get beyond their “position” and to really get in touch with their “interest.” Sometimes positions and interests are not that different, but, more often than not, they are miles apart. Getting those concepts to come together is at the heart of a successful resolution. Being able to help people resolve differences is a rewarding enterprise.

Larry Nokes

Larry Nokes

KB: What’s the most interesting case you’ve ever worked on? 

LN: Without a doubt, it was a racketeering case involving a bunch of lawyers who were scamming an insurance company. It was a civil RICO case in federal court in LA. The case settled the night before it went to trial— and within a few days of the civil settlement, many of the lawyers were indicted by the US attorney in San Diego. The case was covered by 60 Minutes. Very exciting.

Another recent case involved extortion of a contractor by one of his clients. The extortion led to psychic trauma of the contractor. We started trial on the case, dealing with a few evidence issues before the jury was impaneled. The case settled just before jury selection.

KB: You were recently appointed by Mayor Kelly Boyd to serve on a committee charged with drafting new legislation governing views for the City of Laguna Beach, AKA the “View Ordinance.” Tell me about that process.

LN: We were given the charge by the Mayor to come up with an ordinance that had some “teeth.” The concern was that some people maintained vegetation in a way that needlessly blocked views from houses that formerly enjoyed views. Sometimes it is difficult in the City to convince people that they need to maintain their vegetation, and sometimes is just difficult for neighbors to talk to one another. I got the opportunity to work with an incredibly talented group of people that formed the committee. We were fortunate to have a tremendous amount of interest—and had seven hearings which were all very well attended. As the hearings went on, all sides of the issue were allowed to present their views, and I think we were able to come up with an ordinance to present to the City Council that addresses, in one way or another, concerns from all those who gave input. I was pleased with the work our committee did.

KB: When you’re not working or serving civically, how do you and Cathy spend a typical weekend in our beautiful village?

LN: We spent a lot of time with friends and family. We love to cook. We love to play tennis, and do a lot of hiking around town. Cathy also works with me at the office—she has a business background and has tremendous strength in the area of consumer products. This translates well into identifying issues in a case that may or may not resonate with the jury, and she is incredibly helpful in terms of developing a meaningful presentation.

KB: Larry, why do you feel so passionately about the community of Laguna Beach?

LN: This is home. I have lived here since 1984—nearly half my life. There are a lot of things that we do very well in this town: it’s a beautiful place to live, I’m a big fan of the schools, and I love the community feel. There are things that need to be addressed, in our own way. We can always have a respectful discourse, and while certain elements of the community sometimes try to speak over the tops of others, it seems that all views ultimately are heard, decisions are made, and we move on. This is a great place. Spotlight: An Interview with Chris Prelitz

By September 23, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach Events, Local Politics, Spotlight


Chris Prelitz

Chris Prelitz

Chris Prelitz is principal of Prelitz design/build in Laguna Beach. A designer, artist and a naturalist, he’s the co-founder and president of the sustainability group, Transition Laguna. Chris served on the Environmental Committee for the City of Laguna Beach, and currently serves on the Complete Streets Task Force. He’s the author of “Green Made Easy: The Everyday Guide for Transitioning to a Green Lifestyle,” and is a 30-year resident of Laguna Beach.

Chris, after majoring in art at Cal State Fullerton, you trained at Disney in the art and theatre departments. Tell me about that. What sort of projects did you work on?

CP: I was at Disney for six years, during which time I worked on a variety of projects, and truly learned how to combine high tech with art to create magic. I quite literally learned, in classic Disney fashion, how to “make dreams come true.”

And then, after traveling around the world, you came back to California and settled in Laguna where you’ve now lived for 30 years! Why Laguna?

CP: After traveling around the world, I kept thinking Laguna: our sand is better than even Monaco, the weather is better than almost anywhere else, it’s full of artists, bohemians, and cultural creatives—seemed like a perfect fit.

Most people describe Laguna as much more bohemian and far less crowded 30 years—and also a hotbed of environmental activism. What happened?

CP: I think Laguna became very famous rather quickly, and that changed us a lot. We went from sleepy artist village to an international resort destination in less than a decade. Home prices skyrocketed and many counter-culture types sold and ran—or couldn’t afford higher rents. Laguna really was San Francisco South, and now most of our gay community and many artists have moved away. Many small, affordable craftsman cottages were razed and replaced with glass and steel contemporary urban abodes.

Chris, a lot of people call you an environmentalist but you prefer the term naturalist, why?

CP: Naturalists include us humans! I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy the same exquisite beauty of nature that I’ve been blessed to experience.  We have been given a miracle of a planet and I like to take time to remember that. We seem to have too many people, using too much stuff, and that’s putting a toll on our very life support system: Mother Earth. I believe that we can learn a lot from nature about how to live lightly and enjoyably on our planet.

Chris Prelitz, author of "Green Made Easy"

Chris Prelitz, author of “Green Made Easy”

You carry this philosophy into your design/build work as well—I understand you built the first solar home in Laguna. Tell me more about your work.

CP: My grandfather built a passive solar home in the 1940’s, and I experienced the deep comfort and indescribable feeling of living in a solar home—one that works with nature intelligently. You can experience something similar in the Old Missions like in San Juan Capistrano, all designed  before the advent of electricity, A/C or forced air.

I want homes to be safe, secure and comfortable for people, even if one we were to lose grid power for some reason. When you design with these time-tested principles in mind, beside being more comfortable and healthier, the operating costs of the buildings are significantly less. You need very little added mechanical heating and cooling to “fix” poor building design.  I strive to blend the best passive principles with my artist energy and the best high-tech and green solutions to create a perfect expression and balance of the client’s dreams and desires.

In addition to designing/building the first solar home in Laguna, I’ve consulted nationally and internationally. Some of the projects include: a LEED Silver Mercedes dealership in Arizona and a city scale renewable energy/art Project in Dubai. I also consulted on our Suzy Q Senior Center, recommending opening windows, skylights, cement siding, nontoxic, natural lights—basic, subtle things that make a difference in the “feeling” and longterm sustainability. But residential work in Laguna Beach is my real love. I do everything from historic renovations to new custom homes, even remodels and additions.

Chris with a friend at a Transition Laguna event

Chris with a friend at a Transition Laguna event

You’re also the co-founder and President of Transition Laguna Beach (TLB), now 1500 members strong. Can you tell me a bit about its origin and aims?

CP: The Transition initiative is an international movement based around transitioning cities to more sustainable living and resilience. Since current society is fossil fuels-based, we’re incredibly vulnerable. The more we can “re-localize” the easier time we’ll have.

One of our initiatives is edible gardens: TLB has done close to 80 thus far in Laguna. This is important because food is very reliant on fossil fuels for everything from fertilizers and pesticides to transportation. TLB  just held our annual Harvest Celebration on a  new local urban farm in Bluebird Canyon. It’s an amazing redevelopment that saved the old 1930s buildings and is creating a real working farm. Quite inspiring!

Laguna Beach imports most all of its food and water (we are one of the only cities in the area not to use reclaimed water, despite the fact that we have a wastewater treatment plant!) What Transition Laguna really does though, is build community. It’s friends and neighbors coming together, sharing, giving, learning, laughing and, from time spent together, knowing you have friends you can count on.

Transition Laguna is preparing to deliver a letter to the City Council detailing concerns around the currently proposed Village Entrance Project (VEP). Why?

CP: In my 30 years in Laguna, I’ve never seen a public outcry as loud, as caring, and as inclusive as what’s happening over the VEP. Our desire is to add our voice to that of the other organizations that feel very strongly this is not a project we can support for a multitude of reasons.  Bottom line: We’re designing a structure for an outdated paradigm—moving and storing cars, instead of moving bodies. The current VEP is a 20-year-old plan that’s not very forward thinking, not looking at what’s best for Laguna.

The proposed site of the current VEP is on a brown field. They are proposing building on a toxic dump site which, by the way, is located on top of a creek. Who knows the cost to mitigate that! And, in the meantime, we’ll lose parking, the Farmers Market, etc. for 5+ years.

The good news: The City just approved a $20,000 study to make Laguna multi-modal. I would think we’d want to wait for the results of the study before we proceed on any multi-million dollar project. There is a City Council meeting on October 1st and I would invite any concerned citizens to come share their views.

Either way, we still need a comprehensive plan to move both residents and tourists. Based on your research and world-travel, what are some innovative solutions we should be considering as a City and as a community?

CP: I will agree with others that say Laguna Beach deserves the best in urban planning so that we can solve our circulation problem once and for all. The corner where Laguna Canyon Road meets Forest Avenue is probably our most prized real estate. What is the best and highest use of that space? Let’s get a world-class urban design team and really see what’s possible before throwing any more money toward a 20-year-old piecemeal project. Spotlight: An Interview with Rosemary Swimm of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association

By September 9, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach Events, Spotlight
Rosemary Swimm, Executive Director of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association

Rosemary Swimm, Executive Director of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association

Rosemary Swimm is the Executive Director of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association (LPAPA). Founded in the 1996, this nonprofit organization builds upon and promotes the renowned landscape painting heritage of Laguna Beach. LPAPA serves its members regionally, nationally and internationally through events, programs and education, and enhances the visibility and livelihoods of its artists through the prestigious Plein Air Invitational and other programs. 

Rosemary, I understand that the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association (LPAPA) was founded in 1996 by a group of local Plein Air artists. How and when were you selected to serve as Executive Director? 

RS: I was introduced to LPAPA by friend and professional colleague Warren Cook, interviewed for the position, and was brought on board in 2009.

Have you always had a strong interest in the arts? Are you a visual artist yourself?

RS: I have been surrounded by art most of my adult life.  I am not a visual artist myself, but am married to a wonderful artist, Tom Swimm.

Who helps you implement the mission of LPAPA and administrate the association? 

RS: LPAPA has a wonderful Board of Directors led by President, Greg Vail. Being the sole employee of LPAPA the day-to-day workings and administrative duties are handled by me. However, depending upon which event or program that LPAPA is currently presenting, I have an amazing part-time assistant, Lynn Vail, as well as an artistic advisor, Jean Stern (Director of the Irvine Museum), and volunteers that I can call upon.

For the uninitiated, can you give us a working definition of “Plein Air” painting?

RS: “Plein AIr” is a French term that loosely translates to “outdoors.”  Simply stated, a plein air painting is one that is done outdoors or “in plain air” usually on location.  Artists have found this approach to be the best for capturing the ever-changing natural light of their subjects.  Each artist interprets this light to suit their individual artistic style, thus rendering a unique image.

When and where will the 15th Annual Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational take place this year?

RS: It will take place October 13 – 20, 2013. The full weeklong celebration of artists painting on location will be hosted by the beautiful Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course in Laguna Beach.

Didn’t the invitational used to be under the umbrella of the Laguna Art Museum, and how is the event different this year?

RS: The 14 previous invitationals were collaborative events between Laguna Art Museum (LAM) and LPAPA with both organizations handling all aspects of the events.  The museum was the base of operations for the previous events in regard to space for all of the events associated with the week long invitational.

While LPAPA and LAM collaborated on this vent for 14 years, LAM decided this year to move in a different direction.  We were faced with many obstacles that needed to be overcome, among them—how and where would we hold an event of such proportion, how would we raise the funds necessary to hold an event of this size, and what kind of support could we expect from the community?  LPAPA reached out to the community and the community response to our needs has been astonishing—beyond anything that we could have hoped for.  We are eternally grateful to our donors.

Artists Demo's (Heisler Park, Aliso Creek, Treasure Island); Artist, Josh Clare

Artists Demo’s (Heisler Park, Aliso Creek, Treasure Island); Artist, Josh Clare

What events does the Invitational entail, and are there ways for the public to participate?

RS: I’m so glad you asked! The Invitation features many exciting events including a Meet and Greet Reception with the Artists, a Quick Draw Silent Auction, a Kid’s PaintOut and Cupcake Reception, Fine Art Lectures and Presentations, Outdoor Artist Demonstrations, and much more—and the public are all enthusiastically welcome! Please visit our event website for more information.

We’re also very excited about our Collectors’ Party/Soiree, “Coastal Chic at Aliso Creek,” at Aliso Creek Inn on Saturday, October 19th from 6pm – 10pm.  Attendees at this event will have the first chance to view and to purchase, in advance of the general public, the artworks created throughout the week by the participating plein air artists. Please see our website for ticketing information.

Beyond its artistic support to its members, are there any other overall benefits the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association offers Laguna Beach and the surrounding community?

RS: LPAPA’s artists help honor our plein air arts heritage; every time they create a work of art they are not only creating a painting, but also helping to promote the preservation of our surroundings. As Laguna Beach is a tourist-based economy, LPAPA’s programs and events help bring national acclaim to our arts colony.  LPAPA has been working on developing its new educational programs and we will be launching these shortly. And our new Director of Education and Mentorship Outreach, Jeff Sewell, will be working directly with local schools to help educate them in the field of plein air art.

Kid's PaintOut

Kid’s PaintOut

Where do you see the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association in 10 years? 

RS: Bigger and better.  We have an amazing Board of Directors who are continuing to work hard to help develop new programs that not only will benefit our members but also the local communities as well.  Education is a big part of LPAPA’s future.

How do you spend a relaxing weekend in Laguna Beach?

RS: I have to say it’s been a while since I could just have a relaxing weekend, but sitting on the beach listening to the waves and reading a book is one of my favorite things to do. Walking around and enjoy the many art galleries comes to mind as well.

What do you most love about Laguna Beach? 

RS: What’s not to love about Laguna Beach! Spotlight: An Interview with Jonathan Burke, President of Laguna College of Art & Design

By August 26, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Spotlight
Jonathan Burke

Jonathan Burke

Jonathan Burke is currently president of the Laguna College of Art & Design in Laguna Beach, California, a dual accredited, degree-granting college focusing on drawing, painting and sculpture, graphic design, game art, illustration, and feature animation. From 1985 to 2011 he was the dean of fine arts and gallery director at LCAD. In addition he taught freshman through graduate levels in fine arts and continued an exhibition career. While gallery director he brought a Rodin figure sculpture exhibition to the college gallery. Jonathan’s background is in representational drawing and painting with still life and landscape as his main emphasis. He holds B.F.A. degree in painting from Kansas City Art Institute and M.F.A. degree in painting from Boston University. 

Jonathan, your name keeps coming up in conversation—most recently when Bob Whalen shared your commitment to better integrating the college (LCAD) into the community of Laguna Beach. It was a pleasure to sit down and chat with you in person and learn more about you, as well as LCAD. I was so impressed with what I learned! And I hear you have major plans for growth as well—is it true that you’re looking to expand from approximately 450 students to 650 – 700?

JB: Yes, the reality is the college is steadily growing and we have to plan for the future. In 2008 we had 322 full time students. We are projecting 470 full time students in the undergraduate and graduate programs for this fall. We were fortunate that the property directly across from main campus became available and through a generous gift from alumna, Suzanne Chonette, the college was able to purchase and improve the property. There is an efficiency and economy of scale at 650 students. We’re strategic and moving towards that number, but slow and steady growth means we can focus on improving the quality of education incrementally.

LCAD's President, Jonathan Burke, with Festival of Arts exhibiting artist and LCAD Alumna, Elizabeth McGhee

LCAD’s President, Jonathan Burke, with Festival of Arts exhibiting artist and LCAD Alumna, Elizabeth McGhee

What are some ways you’re looking to integrate the college with the town? I know you’re partnering with Mark Orgill to add student housing next to Art Affair, and will be transplanting LCAD’s art gallery to Allan Simon’s upcoming One Laguna project (an e-commerce enterprise to be housed at 225 Forrest Ave.). Are there other plans in the works as well?

JB: This is the fourth year we’ve had housing and each year have added capacity. We are now at 57 beds and could not ask for a better location, only three blocks from the downtown and the ocean. We have other partnerships as well: Laguna Art Museum exhibits student art in our Masters of Fine Arts program each spring. The Festival of Arts has many LCAD alumni and faculty exhibiting during the Festival.  The Laguna Playhouse is generous and allows space to exhibit student art.

You’re originally from Kansas City, but have lived in New York, Boston and San Francisco. What brought you to Laguna Beach?

JB: I was hired to Chair the Drawing and Painting Major. The Director of the college in 1980 was Lou Cohen. He was an excellent figurative sculptor and wanted the fine arts program to be focused on a figurative tradition. I had a classical drawing and painting background and was thrilled for the once-in–a lifetime opportunity to develop the best representational drawing, painting and sculpture program in the country.

Jonathan, you’ve served LCAD as full-time faculty, chair, dean, VP of academic affairs, and then, in 2011, became president. That’s quite a trajectory! Did you always want to be in arts education?

JB: It wasn’t till I taught a class a Massachusetts College of Art a year after graduate school that I found how much I loved teaching, and that it improved my art as I was helping others. I never planned consciously to take on more administrative responsibilities. I love all our art majors and feel honored to have supported them as a dean, VP of Academic Affairs and now as President of this extraordinary college of art and design.

And all the while you’ve been actively painting, exhibiting and teaching—“what I teach is what I do.” Do all faculty members at LCAD actively practice their disciplines?

JB: Yes, there isn’t a faculty in studio or liberal arts that isn’t active as an artist or scholar at some level. Our degrees are professional and not in education. All faculty are specialized, skilled and passionate about teaching their discipline.

You’ve said your goal is to “create a healthy interaction and support system for all the arts” (eschewing the politics that pervade so many art programs—including the one I attended for my undergrad!). That’s a lofty and worthy goal. What steps are you taking to implement it?

JB: Respect and admiration for all the visual arts we teach can’t be faked. I don’t see one form of art making higher than another. Though I was trained as a painter, I adore all visual art disciplines and ask them to aspire to the highest aesthetic level possible. Everyone should realize that we live in an environment created by artists, whether its products we use, what we see at the movies, what’s on our computer screens or art in galleries and museums. Artists are there to make the world a more interesting and beautiful place.

You’ve also said your mandate is nothing less than excellence, and becoming the premier art college in the country—the Juilliard of art colleges, if you will. What sets LCAD apart? 

JB: My mandate is to be the best at what we do and be the art college of first choice. Our respect for a tradition that is skill based sets us apart. LCAD students have an art education that would be familiar to an art student in the Renaissance or Baroque period. How they assemble images and describe content is contemporary, but the endemic knowledge of form, structure, composition and light logic is timeless and must be mastered to have creative choices.

LCAD’s newest major is “Game Art.” How has technology affected LCAD’s offerings and the methodology behind the instruction in art and design?

JB: LCAD from the beginning had fine arts, illustration and design majors. Each had their own technology and techniques for creating meaningful images. However, technology has impacted visual communication majors, (animation, design and digital media, game art and illustration) more than fine arts. They have to learn traditional representation and pictorial organization while becoming proficient with complex and sophisticated technology. We teach art, not computer programs. Students learn how to use technology to create art they imagine and to think in a new medium. It is important our students are technically and conceptually adept and professionally prepared by graduation to meet the requirements of their creative industry.

LCAD President, Jonathan Burke meets a participant in the first-ever LCAD/Chuck Jones Center for Creativity collaborative portfolio development program for high school students

LCAD President, Jonathan Burke meets a participant in the first-ever LCAD/Chuck Jones Center for Creativity collaborative portfolio development program for high school students

And you have corporate sponsors of certain classes—Nike, Vans, Hurley, etc. Tell me a little about that.

JB: Catharin Eure, Chair of Design and Digital Median, and her faculty have created a world-class design department. Few design departments create a curriculum and environment that teaches print, advertising, web, 3-D modeling and animation, package design, video and iPad development. LCAD is known, throughout the design industry, to produce high-level students. These stellar companies see value in partnering and sponsoring a master design class at LCAD. It gives so much to students to interact with experienced top designers at these companies and the companies get their pick of fresh new talent and help the next generation of designers.

LCAD’s mission statement states that “We champion the belief that great art changes minds and shapes culture.” Why do you feel so passionately about the arts, and how do you feel LCAD can shape or does shape the culture of Laguna Beach?

JB: I see evidence continually how great art brings out the best and transforms people. Art is a direct link to our emotions and to the unconscious mind. We guide students to make art that is life enhancing, so hopefully they will create art that lifts and elevates the spirit.  The experience of looking at art that has humanity and imagination can inspire new thoughts and touch the viewer to see the world differently and make us a part of a larger community.

What upcoming LCAD project or event are you most excited about?

JB: Relocating our college gallery to 225 Forest Ave. is game-changing. The college produces world-class exhibitions. Few people visit the main campus college gallery. Now with the location in the heart of Laguna Beach, we can participate in the vitality of the downtown art community and share our professional exhibitions with the public.

What is it you most love about Laguna Beach?

JB: To be in Laguna Beach is to be in one of the most beautiful locations in the world and the most inspiring creative environment of any art college. Laguna is a city centered around and devoted to all the arts. How extraordinary that one small city has an accredited college of art and design, a museum, playhouse, three summer art festivals numerous smaller non-profits and a plethora of artists and galleries. It can’t get better than that. Spotlight: An Interview with Jodie Gates, Founder of the Laguna Dance Festival

By August 12, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Spotlight
Jodie Gates

Jodie Gates

Jodie Gates is a thirty-year veteran in the professional dance field with a wide-ranging career as an innovative choreographer, director, educator, producer and dancer. She is internationally recognized as a leader in the dance world with her choreographic work for professional companies. As the newly-appointed Vice Dean and Director of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (welcoming its first BFA freshman class in fall 2015), Jodie hopes to shape the next generation of extraordinary artists and curious thinkers in the dance field. Jodie is also founder and artistic director of the award-winning Laguna Dance Festival. Founded in 2005, this nonprofit organization serves the community by offering diverse educational opportunities and presents performances at venues throughout Laguna Beach. Kate Buckley recently caught up with Jodie to learn more about her background and upcoming projects.

Jodie, you’ve got quite a C.V.: prima ballerina, choreographer and teacher, vice dean and director of the new USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance [soon to be constructed on the USC campus], and founder and artistic director of the Laguna Dance Festival. Did you always want to be a dancer? Did your family and community support your aspirations?

JG: Yes and Yes

I understand Robert Joffrey [of the Joffrey Ballet] discovered your dancing in your native Sacramento. What happened next? 

JG: At the age of 16, I joined the Joffrey Ballet and began a professional performing career. I danced with the Joffrey Ballet for 14 years, touring the globe and dancing some of the most classic and iconic ballets along with a repertory from an eclectic array of choreographers. It was an exceptional time to be living and performing in NYC and touring the finest cities in the US and to counties including Australia, Asia, Europe and South America.

Jodie Gates dancing the role of Carmen

Jodie Gates dancing the role of Carmen

And then you went on to performing before presidents and with a Prince—that is, the artist formerly known as Prince. Tell me a little about those experiences.

JG: It was an honor to represent dance and  perform at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, I shared a dressing room with Celine Dion at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and appeared with other artists such as Will Smith. I also was partnered with Ronald Reagan Jr. quite often and performed many duets with him (he is a wonderful person and was a terrific dance partner). I had the opportunity to met President Reagan as well as President George Bush Sr. At the time it was a whirlwind of events, but I also knew that those were some of the best moments of my life!

Meeting and working with Prince was also thrilling and performing to his music was a delight. Prince is such a talent and his compositions are awe-inspiring.

After your time at Joffrey, you danced as a principal ballerina with the Frankfurt Ballet, the Pennsylvania Ballet and as an international guest artist. To what do you credit your success?

JG: I think I have very good timing, was blessed with some talent and luck, I work very very hard and don’t take no for an answer! I am a passionate person and have always taken such delight in dance as an art form and have been curious to investigate different styles and techniques as well as roles within the field including administrative duties, producing events and directing projects.

Jodie, you’ve been all over the world to dance and teach. Why did you choose Laguna Beach as the stage for the next chapter of your life?

JG: Laguna Beach gives me peace of mind; it has an energy that embodies creativity and fosters imagination. I feel at home in Laguna Beach, and I have a real sense of community.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, appearing at the Laguna Dance Festival this September

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, appearing at the Laguna Dance Festival this September

How did you form the Laguna Dance Festival and what’s your mission? Who helps you implement this mission and administrate the Festival?

JG: The core mission is to educate and present dance in our community  The concept of a dance festival in Laguna was my idea and dream. I then reached out to friends in the community when I first moved here—Janet Eggers and Christine Rhoades, Stuart Byer and Nancy Meyer not only guided me but also are founding board members. Janet Eggers is our founding and past president, now she still comes to the performances but is no longer on the board of directors and Stuart Byer is also a past president of LDF and still attends performances. Nancy and Christine are gems and dear friends that have believed in the vision from the start and are still active board members. I also credit the City of Laguna and so many eager patrons and supporters.

As for the implementation of our mission, our organization consists of an unbelievably hardworking Board of Directors that is led by Joy Dittberner, our current fearless leader and board president. Aside from myself, there is an Operations Manager, Technical Director, Graphic Designer, and Barbara McMurray our Public Relations and Marketing expert.

You’ve said you feel the Laguna Dance Festival “suits the fabric of the culture.” How so?

JG: It’s a performing art that completes community. Just as music, theater and the fine arts reflect our culture, dance is part of that recipe to deepen a greater understanding.

We spoke a bit about the exciting renaissance happening in the arts, particularly in multi-disciplinary and multi-media approaches. How do these ideas inform your teaching and choreography?

JG: Collaborations are key, and inventing new expressions through conversation and active projects enable creativity to thrive.

When we last spoke, you were in Cincinnati working on a project for the Cincinnati Ballet. Are you often commissioned to choreograph works for different companies? Tell me a little how that process works.

JG: I am currently in Cincinnati and going to Tulsa and Kansas City next, then back home to begin my exciting new role as vice dean and director at USC and the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. I am commissioned at least three times a year to either stage a production or create a world premiere for dance companies nationally and overseas. This is my research and is considered my way of publishing work—similar to a writer who writes three books a year.

The process of creating a new work involves collaborating with a composer or choosing an existing musical score, I also work with lighting and costume designers as well as spending weeks in the dance studio working with the dancers and tailoring a new dance to their talents. It is exhilarating to bring the process together and design movement invention that is specific to each dance company.

And up next you’ve got the new season of the award-winning Laguna Dance Festival. How do you select the artistic talent that comes to Laguna for the festival? How would you characterize your audience? What kinds of dance do they most like to see?

JG: I enjoy and support all forms of dance, particularly contemporary dance and innovative new dance works. I choose companies that are an appropriate size for our venue, up-and-coming artists and nationally recognized talent—keeping it fresh and exciting, thrilling our audiences with versatility, poetic movement and a sense of athleticism.

Whenever I am traveling, I keep my ears and eyes wide open, always eager to find new talent and rediscover the companies that have sustained a long fruitful career in the field. We have companies that come back to the festival because the audience loves them (this season’s Parsons Dance and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet are a perfect example!). I create a balance of introducing new dance as well as bringing artists that our community has embraced in the past.

Parsons Dance, appearing at the Laguna Dance Festival this September

Parsons Dance, appearing at the Laguna Dance Festival this September

What can audiences look forward to this September, and where will the festival take place this year?

JG: The performances this year will continue to challenge and excite, Parsons Dance and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet are two of the best dance companies in the nation! Beginning next year (our 10th year anniversary), we are expanding the vision and will present two weeks of theater performances as well as our master class series and dance on film series, as well as a choreographic competition—on which we are collaborating with the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Beach Live!

Beyond its artistic contributions, are there other overall benefits the Laguna Dance Festival offers Laguna Beach?

JG: Educating dance audiences in Southern California as to dance companies they would never see otherwise and bringing children and families to the theater to see dance in a boutique accessible setting. It feels like visiting with family when you come to our shows, it gives people so much joy and adds to our already wonderful city. These dance companies we bring in tour the world, and they are dancing on a stage that you can practically reach out and touch them. This is a unique experience.

How will you balance your duties as a choreographer, director and vice dean of a new school at USC, and dance festival artistic director? Will you stay involved in the festival?

JG: I have managed to balance my crazy busy life thus far and will continue to do so. I love multi-tasking!

Where do you see the Laguna Dance Festival in 10 years?

JG: It will continue to grow into being a premiere dance festival on the West Coast with continued artistic collaborations—supporting the reasons why Laguna Beach is a destination town. Laguna Dance Festival is a reason to spend long weekends in Laguna to soak up not just sun but fine dance! Spotlight: An Interview with Former Mayor and Current City Councilmember Elizabeth Pearson

By July 29, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Local Politics, Spotlight
Elizabeth Pearson, Former Mayor & Current Laguna Beach City Councilmember

Elizabeth Pearson, Former Mayor & Current Laguna Beach City Councilmember

Elizabeth Pearson is a former Mayor of the City of Laguna Beach and current City Councilmember/Mayor Pro Tem, and has served almost 11 years in this capacity.  An experienced fundraiser and marketer, Elizabeth served as Executive Director for the non-profit South Coast Medical Center Foundation as well as the hospital’s Marketing Director—and, more recently, as the Director of Development for the Laguna Playhouse. In addition to championing and raising funds for Laguna’s Senior Center, Elizabeth has also served as a consultant to numerous nonprofits and governmental agencies in fundraising and/or marketing capacities.  She operated her own marketing consulting agency, off-and-on for 17 years and worked in the corporate sector for a dozen years as a marketing and/or advertising manager, as well as a division manager for Bank of America.

Kate Buckley recently sat down with Elizabeth to learn more. (This concludes Kate’s series of interviews with the Laguna Beach City Council. Read interviews with Mayor Kelly Boyd and City Councilmembers Toni Iseman, Bob Whalen, and Steve Dicterow here.)

Elizabeth, you were born in Ft. Benning, Georgia, and moved extensively—including Japan and Germany and along the eastern seaboard—in conjunction with your father’s service in the army. What a fascinating childhood you must have had! Do you speak any other languages? How do you feel your international upbringing influenced the adult you became?

EP: It was very difficult to move an average of every two years growing up.  But, what I lacked in an ongoing, stable environment, I made up with in developing social interaction skills.  What I learned was that the fastest way to meet new people and make friends was to become involved in organizations and volunteer.  While I took German from the 2nd grade through college, it doesn’t help me much in Southern California.

You’ve now made your home in Laguna Beach for the past three decades. You’ve said you moved here for love. Can you tell us more about that?

EP: I’d met someone while I was living and working in Cleveland, Ohio who lived in Laguna Beach.  He was also a marketing person who also loved the arts.  I was studying Shakespeare and he read “Macbeth” to me one Saturday afternoon and evening and that was it.   After a year of dating, I moved to Laguna.

You served on the City of Laguna Beach Planning Commission for 6 1/2 years prior to running for City Council and have called your time on the commission the best training ground for serving on the City Council. Why is that?

EP: A large part of what we do on City Council relates to land use and compliance with our many plans and policies.  It is easy to recognize those on Council who have worked on Planning Commission because they know the code best and the ins and outs of how they work.

What do you see as your role on the Council—what do you bring to the table?

EP: I bring corporate management, strategic planning and marketing experience to the job.  I tend to like to look at the bigger picture…the long term causes and effects.  I also recognize the need for communication and process. Interestingly, I tend to calm down in a crisis.  I think these attributes have helped me to get some things done.

Elizabeth, you’ve served as Mayor three times thus far—including a rare consecutive term after the 2005 landslide.  I imagine leading the City out of the landslide was a challenging time both in terms of the demands on your time and also emotions, working hand-in-hand with the families involved. What was that experience like and how long did it take to rebuild?

EP: It was 18 of the most difficult months of my life—both in terms of demands on my time and emotional strain.  Watching the families as they tried to recover from their losses was very difficult.  Not all of them made it.  Now that we’re on the other side, I know that the experience made me a better person.  It certainly has given me much gratification to know that I made a difference in a few lives.

All the City Council Members I’ve interviewed have said that their top priority is public safety.  I know you share this commitment. What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing Laguna Beach today in regard to public safety?

EP: I think that being prepared for a disaster is critical.  It is one of the reasons I initiated the creation of the City’s Disaster Preparedness Committee.  One of the key investments we need to make is in the area of undergrounding, especially at our 3 entry/exit ways (Laguna Canyon Road and North and South Coast Highway).  We should also look at boxed canyons and major arterials as priorities for undergrounding.  This will be an expensive, long-term project that will need to be phased, but there’s no better time than now to start.  I think there is unanimity on Council on this issue.

What other initiatives do you feel are of immediate concern and why?

EP: The residents told us in a survey last year that their biggest concerns are parking and congestion.  The Village Entrance, expanded transportation services, and peripheral parking have always been key areas of focus for me.

The City Council—after years of proposals and studies—recently voted 3-2 to proceed with the Village Entrance plan, a $42 million park and parking structure. You, along with Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen, voted in favor. Why do you feel this plan is the best of those proposed? 

EP: It creates a bigger green-scape, promenade and biking area for the beautiful gateway that has been talked about for nearly 30 years.  It restores a historical building, it connects the downtown to the Arts District, and it creates more parking next to the downtown—something that will relieve downtown congestion from inbound Laguna Canyon Road traffic and support the businesses, year-round.

How do you believe we can best retain the essential character of Laguna Beach and still address the key issues of traffic, tourism and infrastructure?

EP: I think that many of the qualities that make Laguna unique were created by those leaders who came before me:  an arts community, an open-mindedness for all types of people, a height limit, a sign ordinance, the purchase of Canyon parkland, a focus on water quality, and a Design Review process, to mention a few.  We have to celebrate and protect those accomplishments and continue to ask the residents about their top priorities and focus on those.  Parking, congestion and undergrounding [utilities] is what I’m hearing the most about now.

Elizabeth Pearson at the Suzi Q Senior Center & Community Center

Elizabeth Pearson at the Suzi Q Senior Center & Community Center

Elizabeth, how would you like your legacy to be remembered in Laguna Beach? What do you view as your crowning achievements thus far?

EP: I wanted to play a part in creating a beautiful senior and community center and it is my pride and joy.  Helping others recover from the landslide and really making a difference in individual lives has given me a sense of really making a difference.  Seeing the Village Entrance come to fruition (something I have worked on for 18 years) and supporting undergrounding will most likely be my last major contributions to Laguna Beach.

What is the future you’d most like to see for Laguna Beach?

EP: That it remain as unique as it is today.   That it be flexible in adjusting to the needs of the residents and business owners who are enjoying our little town during their short time on earth.  We are all stewards of Laguna Beach…fundamentally, I think we all want to keep it special, there are just different priorities that each of us has.

What’s the best thing and the worst thing about serving on the City Council?

EP: Best thing:  To use the job/title to make a difference. Worst thing:  The personal time you have to give up to do the job right.

Why do you feel so passionately about the community of Laguna Beach?

EP: For someone who grew up not really having one place to call “home” (other than North Carolina, where my family has remained for several generations), it has been nice to settle down and develop long-time friendships with a diverse group of people.  It is my intent to always maintain some type of residence in Laguna Beach. Spotlight: An Interview with Former Mayor and Current City Councilmember, Steve Dicterow

By July 16, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Local Politics, Spotlight
Steve Dicterow

Steve Dicterow Spotlight: An Interview with Former Mayor and Current City Councilmember, Steve Dicterow

A former three-term mayor of Laguna Beach, Steve Dicterow is a practicing attorney with 30 years of experience in private practice. He is the former COO of International Racers, Inc., manager of world championship motorcycle racers, and co-owns a franchise, AdvantaClean of Southern California. Steve has been deeply involved in Laguna Beach Civics and Arts including the Festival of Arts, North Laguna Community Association, Laguna Beach Neighborhood Watch and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from State University of New York (Albany), and is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. Steve lives with his wife, Catrina, in North Laguna. 

Kate Buckley recently sat down with Steve to learn more. (This is part of a series of interviews with the Laguna Beach City Council. Access interviews with Mayor Kelly Boyd and City Councilmembers Toni Iseman and Bob Whalen here; interview with Elizabeth Pearson to follow.)

Catrina and Steve Dicterow

Catrina and Steve Dicterow

Steve, you’re originally from Brooklyn, NY, but have lived in Laguna Beach since 1983. What brought you here?

After graduating college, I moved to California to go to USC Law School.  After practicing in Los Angeles for three years, I joined a great firm in Orange County.  All the attorneys lived in Laguna and they encouraged me too as well.  When Catrina and I visited, we instantly fell in love with Laguna and moved here in 1983.

You first served on the City Council from 1994 – 2006, including three terms as mayor (the position of Mayor is non-elected in Laguna Beach and rotates among the City Council Members). What led to your decision to run again in the 2012 election?

I decided to run in 2012 for two basic reasons.  First, I really missed serving.  I think it is critical that Councilmembers love what they do.  To me, enthusiasm is a requirement to serve.  Serving is very time-consuming and often without a lot of positive feedback.  Therefore, you must be passionate about serving in order to be effective. Second, I was approached by a number of organizations and individuals who felt that it was important to the future of Laguna that I be back on the Council.

What do you see as your role on the Council—what do you bring to the table?

There are two areas in which I hope to be instrumental.  I want this to be an “action” Council and get things done.  Too often, particularly on big items, we wait until we have a perfect solution and unanimity in the community.  This is an impossible standard.  We need to have the confidence to move forward after we have properly analyzed a situation.  Second, I want us to be problem-solvers.  This is tied closely to the first point.  If people feel there is a problem, let’s come up with the best solution possible and move on.  We cannot wait until there is a perfect solution.

The City Council—after years of proposals and studies—recently voted 3-2 to proceed with the “Village Entrance” plan, a$42 million park and parking structure. You, along with Elizabeth Pearson and Bob Whalen, voted yes. What was your reasoning behind this?

The Village Entrance is a good example of what I mean.  This project has been discussed and analyzed for over 50 years.  The vast majority of people in town want us to deal with it and then move on to other items.  No project will be perfect to everyone.  Additionally, there is far more similarity among the proposals than differences.  I do not believe that further study or discussion will yield a materially different or better project, so I wanted to vote on this, get the project going, and move on to other critical issues.

Consumer behavior being what it is, there’s a concern that people won’t use the parking structure as intended and will still circle downtown for beach-close parking. You’ve mentioned developing a smart parking app to contend with this. Can you tell us more about this?

As far as the smart app, I would refer people to the recent Parking Management Study provided to us by our consultants.  It has the details.  However, technology is constantly changing and making communication more effective.  One aspect that will certainly impact us is a smart app which will let tourists know where the spaces are and how much they cost.  With dynamic pricing, I am confident that the new structure will be maximally utilized. 

City Council Members Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen

City Council Members Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen

Steve, you’ve stated that public safety is your #1 concern, and at the last City Council meeting you (supported by Kelly Boyd and Toni Iseman) proposed increasing police presence—foot and bike patrols—in the downtown, Main Beach and Heisler Park areas. Has there been a marked increase in crime to warrant this? Would this be year-round or only in the summer months? 

I want a year-round foot and bike patrol of the downtown, Main Beach, and Heisler park areas, with a greater intensity at peak times.  The measure of need is not necessarily based on crime statistics; it is also based on perception.  I have had an overwhelming number of complaints from residents, downtown businesses and tourists that feel that these areas are “seedy” and unsafe.  The perception is deterring them from utilizing these areas as much as they should.  A highly visible patrol should give them the sense of security they need.

Additionally, I think patrolling is an excellent use of the police department’s  resources.  We have the reputation of using our police to only write tickets.  That is not good for our image.  I believe that a community policing approach is better for everyone.

Another public safety initiative you’ve mentioned is undergrounding the wires in Laguna Canyon. What’s being proposed around this and how will the City pay for it?

As far as undergrounding of utilities, Councilmember Toni Iseman and I have an agenda bill scheduled for the July 16th Council meeting.  That bill is intended to jumpstart the process.  Virtually everyone wants to see this done, but is unsure of how to do and fund the project.  The agenda bill will make clear that we all want to do this and, if approved by the Council, will result in hiring a consultant to guide us on how to best achieve our goals.

You’ve said that, to be effective, the Council should only handle a limited amount of initiatives at a time. In addition to the aforementioned measures (Village Entrance, increased police patrol and undergrounding wires), are there others you’d like to see implemented?

My five highest priorities are the three you have mentioned as well as the View Preservation Ordinance and getting a skateboard park.  Obviously, there are many more items I care about, but my experience is that councilmembers should focus on getting a few items done.  If your agenda is too big, nothing ever gets accomplished.

You’ve said that change in Laguna is “an evolution not a revolution.” To that end, how do you believe we can best retain the essential character of Laguna Beach and still address issues around traffic, tourism and infrastructure?

I believe that the highest long-term priority for most people in Laguna is for Laguna to retain its essential character and charm.  The challenge is to do this in spite of changes that will inevitably occur.  The greatest danger I see is one that most people do not believe is possible.  That danger is that the number of housing units could increase from approximately 12,000 to some much greater number.  This could occur through zoning and other changes that would result in single family dwellings being converted to multi-unit dwellings.  My greatest fear is for Laguna’s population to go from 22,000 to some number such as 100,000.  This would not occur overnight, but is theoretically possible.

What is the future you’d most like to see for Laguna Beach?

For Laguna to retain its character and charm, the population needs to remain relatively constant and the number of housing units needs to remain relatively constant.  This one area would maximize our ability to retain our essential character regardless of other changes that may occur around us and that are beyond our control.

One thing I would really like to see in going forward is greater civility in our discourse.  It’s fine for us to disagree and debate, but too often the dialogue becomes nasty and personal.  Most of the time the substance of the message gets lost when the rhetoric overheats.

What’s the best thing and the worst thing about serving on the City Council?

There are so many things that are wonderful about serving on the Council.  For me, I love feeling that I am helping to improve the quality of life for people in our community. There is nothing negative or worst for me about serving on the Council.

Why do you feel so passionately about the community of Laguna Beach?

My passion is really about serving.  In a representational form of democracy, I believe it is a moral imperative that we all participate and contribute in some way.  This is my way of fulfilling that duty. Spotlight: An Interview with City of Laguna Beach Council Member Bob Whalen

By July 2, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Local Politics, Spotlight


Bob Whalen, Laguna Beach City Council Member

Bob Whalen, Laguna Beach City Council Member

Bob Whalen is an attorney at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth and a first-term Laguna Beach City Council Member. He has 30 years experience as a public finance lawyer assisting cities, counties, school districts and other public agencies throughout California with legal and financial issues, including the financing of a wide variety of public infrastructure projects. He’s served in leadership roles in many of the Laguna Beach community service organizations. He was elected to the Laguna Beach School Board and served for over nine years, and served four years as well on the Planning Commission. He lives in Laguna Beach with his wife, Laguna Beach Festival Artist, Kirsten Whalen. 

Kate Buckley recently sat down with Bob to learn more (interviews with the other City Councilmembers to follow; read Kate’s interviews with Mayor Kelly Boyd and City Councilmember Toni Iseman here).

Bob, you’re originally from Boston but have lived in Laguna Beach for almost three decades—and all in the same house! What brought you here?

BW: After graduating from UC Berkeley School of Law in 1978, I went to San Diego for a year to clerk for a federal judge. Beginning private practice a year later, I wanted to be closer to the Los Angeles legal community but not in Los Angeles.  Orange County was the perfect middle ground.

In addition to your current service on the City Council, you’ve served on the Planning Commission, the School Board, and many other community service organizations. What led to your interest in public service?

BW: I have always been active in civic activities dating back to high school on the student council. My parents had a lot to do with that, I think, as they were active participants in local politics in the small town where I grew up in Massachusetts. I have always derived a great deal of satisfaction in trying to improve the community that I live in.  You meet a number of very interesting people that way and, hopefully, make things better for others along the way.

City Clerk Lisette Chel swears in newly-elected Council Members Steve Dicterow (L) and Bob Whalen (R) along with Treasurer Laura Parisi

City Clerk Lisette Chel swears in newly-elected Council Members Steve Dicterow (L) and Bob Whalen (R) along with Treasurer Laura Parisi

You were voted to the City Council in November 2012 and finished first—garnering 27.4% of the vote in a challenging race. You collected endorsements across the board, including: City Council Members Kelly Boyd, Toni Iseman and Elizabeth Pearson and past City Council Members Kathleen Blackburn and Wayne Peterson, as well as the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association, Orange County Professional Firefighters Association, and the Orange County Deputy Sheriffs Association. Why do you think people were so eager to support you?

BW: I believe that people were attracted to my campaign for a variety of reasons but  the two primary ones were my extensive background in Laguna organizations and my professional background as a municipal finance lawyer.  Local voters were pleased, I think, with my track record on the school board, including with my effort to spearhead the bond issue to rebuild our schools. I also think that voters liked the fact that I have an open mind on issues and  view each issue on its merits.

What do you see as your role on the Council—what do you bring to the table?

BW: I view my role as trying to develop a consensus on issues to move the City forward on a number of key initiatives such as increased public safety measures to protect against fire dangers, and traffic and circulation improvements throughout Laguna.  I bring an expertise in municipal finance that is unique among the Councilmembers and will help to implement a number of the initiatives going forward.

Bob, your campaign emphasized the importance of public safety and disaster preparedness. What steps has this City Council taken in this regard, and what do you think is still important to be implemented?

BW: I was very pleased at the outcome of an agenda bill that I brought forward to the Council in June on fire safety. The Council approved an additional $130,000 for increased fuel modification efforts in some of the interior canyons that have not been worked on ever, or in many years. I also recommended, and my fellow Council members unanimously agreed, to have the Planning Commission draft a defensible space ordinance to allow for the clearing of brush and debris near homes to further minimize fire risk. The Council has also directed increased police foot patrols in the downtown area and has asked the Police Chief and City Manager to come back to the Council with recommendations on how to further improve police services for local residents.

City Council Members Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen

City Council Members Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen

The City Council—after years of proposals and studies—recently voted 3-2 to proceed with the “Village Entrance” plan, a $42 million park and parking structure. You, along with Elizabeth Pearson and Steve Dicterow, voted yes. What was your reasoning behind this?

BW: Parking and traffic circulation concerns are regularly identified by residents as the number one problem in Laguna. The Village Entrance project will be a big step in relieving the parking problem downtown and will improve traffic circulation as well. The project is on the periphery of downtown and I envision it becoming a multi-modal transportation hub.  People will be able to park there and walk or take a trolley or tram downtown, or walk or take a trolley to the Art Festivals. I hope that we will have a bike rental service there as well for people who would prefer that mode. I also envision the Village Entrance area as being the start of pedestrian and bike trails out the Canyon past the Laguna College of Art and Design and, hopefully, to the open space areas in the Canyon. I think it would be terrific if people could safely bike or hike from downtown out the Canyon to the open space.

Another critical feature to adding parking at the Village Entrance is that it will allow us the flexibility to remove parking spaces downtown to create more pedestrian and retail friendly shopping.  Without the added spaces, the Coastal Commission would not allow the removal of existing spaces downtown. Finally, I think it is very important to realize that the added parking will allow for modifications to the existing parking regulations for new businesses. Right now we hear regularly from prospective new business owners that the parking restrictions imposed on a building by building basis discourage new business from moving in. With the added spaces we can relax or perhaps remove the existing parking restrictions on a building by building basis.

I am also supportive of the financing plan for the Village Entrance. The Council has approved increases in the parking meter rates over the next several years. All of the payments for the bonds to be sold to finance the Village Entrance will be paid for from new parking revenues not existing revenues. The plan demonstrates that it is possible to finance up to $29 million of bonds if needed. As was stated at the June meeting approving the project, the goal is not to spend $42 million if we can spend less, and the Council will continue to refine the design and look for ways to reduce costs and obtain grants for the project.  In fact, with the increase in rates, we will be able to finance much more than the Village Entrance. I think that this is important as we need additional parking throughout Laguna in both the north and south as well as central areas like the Hip district. I intend to work on a plan for these additional parking areas throughout Laguna in the next year.

You’ve said the new parking structure also opens up the possibility of a greener and more pedestrian-friendly downtown. Do you support closing Forest Avenue between Glenneyre and PCH, creating a pedestrian-only experience a la Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade? 

BW: I do support creating a pedestrian-only area on the first block of Forest. I believe that the way to do it is to follow the model that you see in a number of European cities where you can close the area off to traffic for key shopping time periods but still allow it for traffic at other times for deliveries and other needs. To accomplish this you would create a pedestrian plaza area without curbs so the entire area would be one level. The access would be blocked off by poles that come up out of the ground at PCH to create a barrier to traffic. When you want to readmit traffic, the barriers retract into the pavement. It will be important to develop the concept in concert with the merchants and retailers on that block, but I believe that it could provide a real boost to downtown retailers.

Bob, apart from parking, what do you think are the most critical issues—or opportunities—facing Laguna Beach?

BW: As I said at the Council meeting last month, public safety always is the number one job of local government.  So we need to remain vigilant in this area to reduce fire safety risks and provide the proper level of police services to the community. Another critical public safety issue is developing a secure source of local water supply.  The Council sits as the Board of Directors of the Laguna County Water District which is looking at participating in a desalinization project in Dana Point and increasing access to groundwater supplies. These are important initiatives.

Kirsten and Bob Whalen

Kirsten and Bob Whalen

You and your wife Kirsten have three adult children who live respectively in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Do you think Laguna Beach is a viable place for young people to make their home? Why or why not? 

BW: The major challenge for young people in Laguna is housing cost. It is a wonderful place to raise a family if you can afford it. It is safe, the schools are great, the people are interesting and diverse and the environment is beautiful.

To that end, do you support creating affordable live/work spaces for artists and entrepreneurs in the downtown area and/or the canyon?

BW: Yes. During the four years that I was on the Planning Commission, we spent a good amount of time retooling the artist live/work ordinance to encourage the construction of more affordable housing for artists. I also believe that some additional rental housing in the downtown should be seriously considered as we look at the makeover of the Downtown Specific Plan which is underway now. Given LCAD’s desire to grow to 650 or 700 students, I also think that we need to look for additional student housing opportunities in fairly close proximity to the college.

What is the future you’d most like to see for Laguna Beach?

BW: I would like to see us continue to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of Laguna Beach. As I stated during the campaign, undergrounding all of our utilities is a smart step for many reasons including improved fire safety and traffic safety as well as enhanced property values and views. I am hopeful that the residents will support a community wide effort to accomplish this as soon as possible. It will cost homeowners and business owners to make this a reality, but, in my view, the benefits and rewards will be much greater than the costs.

What’s the best thing and the worst thing about serving on the City Council?

BW: The best thing is that you have an opportunity to work to improve the City for all residents and for tourists and that is a great feeling. The worst thing is not having enough time to accomplish all that you want to accomplish as quickly as you would like to see it happen.

Why do you feel so passionately about the community of Laguna Beach?

BW: Laguna Beach has been my home and home to my family for 29 years. It was a fantastic place to raise our children and I believe that they were greatly influenced, in a positive way, by Laguna’s compassion for others, its caring for the environment, its spirit of debate and its love of the outdoors. I want to see Laguna continue to have all of those qualities for others to enjoy in the years ahead. Spotlight: An Interview with Former Mayor & Current City Councilmember Toni Iseman

By June 18, 2013 Feature, Interview, Laguna Beach, Local Politics, Spotlight
Toni Iseman, Laguna Beach City Councilmember

Toni Iseman, Laguna Beach City Councilmember

Toni Iseman is a current City Councilmember and former three-time Mayor of Laguna Beach. She holds Bachelor’s degrees in English and Social Sciences from University of Nebraska and a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Cal State Fullerton, and worked for more than 35 years as a teacher and counselor from intermediate schools through college. Originally from Nebraska, Toni has been a resident of Laguna Beach for over 40 years. Kate Buckley recently sat down with Toni to learn more (interviews with the other City Councilmembers to follow; read Kate’s interview with Mayor Kelly Boyd here.)

Toni, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you over our lunches at Zinc. You’re originally from Nebraska—does your Midwestern upbringing influence how you engage with personal and political life in California?

Thanks, Kate! I believe that people come first—that’s my priority.  In Nebraska, we watched out for each other. I think Laguna Beach also holds that value.

You worked as a teacher and counselor for many years—as well as a self-described “yenta.” How do these experiences translate to your political career?

As a counselor I helped students find their way through a maze of graduation requirements, classes for a particular major, conflicts with teachers, etc. I like to make things less stressful for the individual at the City level. As far as being a yenta, I like to put people together. For a new resident it’s a bit like a welcome wagon—favorite restaurants, chiropractors, massage therapists—day to day stuff.  Then as I get to know someone I see potentials for friendships and on rare occasions, romance.

Former Mayor Toni Iseman with City Manager John Pietig

Former Mayor Toni Iseman with City Manager John Pietig

You’re a long time City Council member and have also served three times as Mayor of Laguna Beach. What do you see as your role on the Council—what do you bring to the table?

After 14 years, with thousands of votes cast,  I have probably made just about everyone mad at least once.  I have a fierce sense of fairness. Public safety is my first goal—being able to leave town in an emergency is a huge challenge.  Peace and quiet in our neighbors must be protected.  The Lighting Ordinance and Noise Ordinance are in place to keep homes livable and protect our quality of life. Our current Design Review Board does a good job of protecting views from new structures. Now the View Committee needs to deal with trees. I think there is a compromise to be found, but first the City needs to model behavior and lace our trees to open up views.  I have a problem when people make a blanket assumption of how I’ll vote on any given issue, but it is fair to assume that I honor our environment and the historic elements in our community.

The City Council—after years of proposals and studies—voted 3-2 on Tuesday, June 11, to proceed with the “Village Entrance” plan, a $42 million park and parking structure. You and Mayor Kelly Boyd dissented (Steve Dicterow, Elizabeth Pearson and Bob Whalen voted for the plan). What was your reasoning behind this?

First, to have a $65,000,000 project, without a public vote, is a problem.  We voted on buying the first part of the Canyon. That was $20,000,000. This revenue bond will mean $2,100,000 a year for 25 years will be paid on the bond. Second, we put down $15 million in cash. It’s not taxpayers money, but parking revenue that the City could use to solve so many pressing issues. For instance, we have no assisted living for seniors. We need artists’ work/live space. We need to underground utilities to make Laguna Canyon Road safe and create a second outbound lane and a bike lane.  We need more parking—all over town—not just at the Village Entrance. This entire plan creates only 200 new parking places.

If we want to address congestion we need to increase shuttle service and double deck the ACT V parking lot.  I have been accused of changing my mind. I plead guilty. There is a better way. We must make the entrance beautiful and find more parking places. That can be done with the $15,000,000 in cash without $2,1000,000  annually for 25 years. And what if the project comes in over budget? Newport Beach’s new Civic Center was twice the amount they anticipated.  And what will the town be like during the construction? This will be very hard on local businesses—noise, dust, trucks taking away debris, trucks bringing cement, loss of parking…for how many years?

You have a long history of environmental involvement—serving as a California Coastal commissioner, fighting to preserving the open space around Laguna Beach, standing your ground (assisted by Chris Prelitz) on making the new Suzi Q Senior/Community Center a green building, and, most recently, to close the San Onofre nuclear plant. What’s your proudest achievement in this regard?

Saving Laguna Canyon was a city-wide effort.  Nearly 80% of our citizens voted to save the canyon.  The plans would have ruined the canyon. We need to remind ourselves. Some time we should talk about what would have been there. I was the “Phantom of the Canyon.” That’s a long story.   

And one I look forward to hearing!

Toni, last time we met, you were on the phone with state officials and FEMA, working to get Laguna the funds for the flood three years ago. Laguna Beach has seen its fair share of natural disasters (flood, fire, mudslides)—what’s the typical process for this sort of thing and where does the matter stand now? 

Still in limbo. Keep your fingers crossed.

Toni Iseman with David Sanford of Doctor's Ambulance at "Grapes for Grads VI"

Toni Iseman with David Sanford of Doctor’s Ambulance at “Grapes for Grads VI”

What do you think are the most critical issues—or opportunities—currently facing Laguna Beach?

Natural beauty, gorgeous beaches, a sense of whimsy, history and a town founded by artists—not a bad mix.  I have an obligation not to mess with the mix. But to keep Laguna liveable we must address the congestion and parking challenges. Funding for increased shuttle service has to be part of the mix. The shuttle is more of a subway than a bus. Think of the difficulty of paying at the subway door and having the trains run on time.

What’s the worst thing and the best thing about serving on the City Council?  

Worst: I often say there is no hope for world peace when I see how neighbors fight. Best: I have met so many interesting people. I think you could knock on almost any door in Laguna and find a fascinating person with an intriguing story to tell!