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Newsmaker of 2011: John Pietig makes his mark

The new city manager's first year on the job was rife with important city issues, but he handled them all skillfully.

January 05, 2012|By Barbara Diamond
  • Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig is Newsmaker of the Year.
Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig is Newsmaker of… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

On-the-job training counted when it came to choosing a successor to Ken Frank, Laguna's longtime city manager who retired in 2010.

John Pietig was selected from a field of more than 100 applicants, none of whom could match his record of achievement on behalf of Laguna Beach. He had spent almost 10 years as Frank's chief assistant when Frank announced his retirement. That experience was a determining factor in the council's decision to hire him, despite rumblings from some quarters that a complete change was in order.

"It only made sense to hire John after 10 years on the job," said Councilman Kelly Boyd, who announced his support for Pietig even before a national search was underway. "It made for a smoother transition. John knew the management, the personnel and who he is dealing with on the City Council.

"He has done a great job, considering everything that was thrown at him in this first year."

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Councilwoman Toni Iseman has joked that Pietig was city manager for about 12 minutes when Laguna was hit hard by winter rains on Dec. 22, 2010.

Actually, it was 22 days.

Laguna Canyon resident Ann Quilter remembers it well.

"I can't believe how incredible it felt to walk down my driveway and there was our brand-new city manager slogging through the mud, supervising Caltrans and listening to people," said Quilter. "He was very hands-on and most impressive. It was most comforting."

Boyd said Pietig's commitment to the community was also a factor in his selection to succeed Frank.

"Laguna Beach has always been a special place for [my wife] Peggy and me, so when the opportunity for the job of assistant city manager came, we were happy to take it," Pietig said.

"When I first came here, it was a lateral career move, but it was to a special community, and that was what we wanted."

Many insiders believe that Frank groomed Pietig to be his replacement, handing him some of the city's trickiest projects, not the least of which was working with the California Coastal Commission — whose relationship with Laguna has been strained in the past — on the construction of the lifeguard headquarters and replacement of the sewage lift station on Main Beach.

Pietig appears to have built a bridge over the rift with the commission. His efforts were rewarded with approval this year of the Main Beach project. The commission also approved the city's updated land use element, for which Pietig declined to take much credit.

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