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Election 2012: Candidates discuss arts issues at forum

Next council candidate forum is hosted by the Laguna Beach Republicans and Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 in the City Council Chambers.

September 19, 2012|By Barbara Diamond

Laguna Beach is all about art — unless it's about money — according to the five City Council candidates at the Arts Alliance forum, which was held at the air-conditioned Playhouse on a sweltering Saturday.

The candidates all pledged their allegiance to the arts as collectors and as potential or past city officials who recognize the cultural and financial value of the city's reputation as an art colony that brings visitors to town. However, candidates Jane Egly, Verna Rollinger, Steven Dicterow and Robert Whalen drew the line at spending city money to create or fund a foundation to support arts organizations or institutions and improvement they might be considering.

"Direct financial support to each organization is a slippery slope," Whalen said.

Dicterow agreed, but he said the Festival of Arts has funds for improvements, which have been stymied until differences with the city can be resolved. The negotiations have been conducted in closed session, which Rollinger said is supposed to be respected.

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"We can't seem to iron out the details," said Rollinger, who is on the city's negotiating team.

Those details reportedly include the festival's proposal to demolish or repurpose the Forum Theatre.

The candidates mostly agreed that a city Cultural Arts Center sounded like a good idea, but more information is needed, Egly and Rollinger said.

Candidate Robert Ross said he didn't know that the festival grounds were officially a city park. He suggested taking the money for improvements out of the city attorney's budget, which he incorrectly stated was $5.8 million, as he has in the past. Dicterow came prepared this time with a copy of the city budget and informed Ross and the audience that the city attorney's budget was $585,000 and worth every penny.

Everyone agreed that the city should concentrate its efforts on incentives to bring prosperous art-loving visitors to Laguna. Egly said the council should continue to support the Business Improvement District, which funds organizations and artistic endeavors, than entice tourists to town. She also said the city should support alternate transportation modes that get people out of cars and into the streets and galleries to enjoy art.

"The city should create a climate where art flourishes," Dicterow said. "There has to be a closer working relationship between the city and the arts organizations."

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