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Editorial: Council opens up its coffers

March 08, 2012

The Laguna Beach City Council has been in a generous mood lately, handing out money to local groups that are in need of extra funds. But there's more than generosity at work.

In one case, the council's $15,000 grant (augmenting a previous $20,000 revenue enhancement) to the Cross-Cultural Council will keep the Day Labor Hiring Center in business until the new fiscal year kicks over in June with a new cash infusion. Otherwise, the center — the linchpin of the city's ban on the solicitation of work on public streets, a highly contentious issue in other cities — would have stopped operating in April, according to organizers.

City funds to the tune of $50,000 a year pay for staffing, toilets and other services at the Laguna Canyon Road center, which is the only legal place in Laguna Beach where people can gather to seek work from passersby. Without the center, the city would be vulnerable to a likely successful challenge from civil rights groups that the solicitation ban violates the U.S. Constitution, as happened just weeks ago in Redondo Beach.

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The hiring center is therefore considered a good investment. Until 1993, when the center began operating, day laborers would throng at various retail establishments along the Coast Highway, creating nightmares for neighbors and traffic headaches for drivers. Providing a designated spot solved that thorny problem and also gave work to many.

But the downturn in the economy has apparently hit the labor hiring site, as it has everything else, and the facility is not bringing in the revenues that it had in busier days, resulting in a funding crisis.

The council also made another wise investment this week by giving $37,500 to the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce to expand its marketing efforts to areas other than downtown Laguna, update technology and bring its electrical system up to city code.

The chamber has a long and storied history in Laguna Beach, having begun in 1917, predating the formation of the city and being the de facto government for years. But the business organization has long been hampered by a skimpy budget, in stark contrast to the fat coffers enjoyed by the Laguna Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau, which receives funds from the Business Improvement District's assessment on hotels and restaurants.

We're glad to see the council step up and help the chamber move into the 21st century, where it belongs. For its part, the chamber must raise another $37,500 to bring its total budget for these programs to $75,000.

Once again, we see Laguna Beach, in contrast to other local cash-strapped cities, having the wherewithal — and foresight — to help financially when the need is there.

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