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Council appoints Whalen, Kempf to community pool ad hoc subcommittee

By SARA HALL

City Council this week appointed two councilmembers to a community pool ad hoc subcommittee.

Councilmembers voted 4-1 on Tuesday (Oct. 10), with Councilmember George Weiss dissenting, to appoint Mayor Bob Whalen and Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf to serve on a council ad hoc subcommittee to discuss pool options, including joint-use opportunities with the Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education. The action also directed the ad hoc subcommittee to return to council with a list of stakeholders who are engaged in the process, through both informal meetings and public meetings, and report back the results of the discussions and data gathering.

“Part of this may be figuring out what our community needs are and then figuring out is there a way we can do it with the school district at the existing location and get all of the community needs met? If we can’t get the community needs met at the school district (location), then what’s left out and what’s not being addressed at that location, and then what does it look like to go get a second pool in terms of cost?” Whalen asked. “That’s what we’re all going to have to wrestle with in the end.”

They absolutely want to get community input, he confirmed. They won’t be formal members of the subcommittee, but they will encourage regular feedback from pool users, residents and other stakeholders.

Councilmember Alex Rounaghi suggested the subcommittee return in two or three months. Staff confirmed that they can come back in that timeframe or sooner with preliminary information.

“There’s no need to go away for a long time before returning to give a status report, check in, seek support or direction for gathering more information as it may be necessary,” said Interim City Manager Sean Joyce.

Most of the discussion on Tuesday revolved around the language of the item, whether it was an ad hoc, standing, or joint subcommittee; and whether or not the city had already taken a stance on the school district’s plans since Whalen and Kempf had previously met with LBUSD, along with a local resident group. Weiss, in explaining his no vote, said they should have fresh eyes on the subcommittee.

“I think you need a new committee and fresh blood and you ought to share the responsibilities for some of these assignments rather than using the power of the mayor and mayor pro tem to take that power,” he said.

Weiss questioned why there was what appeared to be a subcommittee already working on the issue. He asked Kempf and Whalen, what he called the “existing ad hoc self-appointed committee,” what they accomplished by meeting with the school board.

“There is no existing committee,” Whalen said.

As they have on other issues, only two members of council met with stakeholders to find out more information.

“Mostly we went up and listened,” Whalen said.

They had a lot of information prepared on 40-meter and 50-meter pool options, he recalled. District staff informed them they would be bringing the idea back to the school board on the September 28 meeting to ask for more direction.

Recreation Manager Alexis Braun also had done some work on the city-side in terms of what the community needs might be, Whalen added.

“Then I think we realized at that last meeting and what we said to them was ‘We’ve got a lot more work to do in terms of – on our side – in terms of analysis because we haven’t dove into this like you have. We’re going to have to work with staff and get more information and come back with a recommendation to our council,’” Whalen recalled.

Kempf confirmed that she and Whalen met a few times with the school district and with Sensible Laguna, a local resident group formed in response to the LBUSD pool plans. They’ve been working with city staff on gathering data, she explained.

“What we’ve been talking about is usage, like: What are our city needs, what do we currently use the pool for, what are all the different programs that we have, what percentage of time do we use it, what time of day do we use it…and what gap would maybe we need to fill that we’re not filling today? So those are the discussions that we’ve been having,” Kempf said.

If the city was to build another pool, they have to be very clear as to why they would do that and what the advantages it would have for the community, Kempf said.

They can’t control what the school board does, she emphasized.

“We haven’t made any support for what they’re doing. We haven’t talked about that at all. That’s their thing,” Kempf said. “We haven’t represented any opinion with the school district at all.”

City staff also confirmed that no decision or action has been taken.

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“I know of no representations that the city has made on any decision – I want to be unequivocable – the city has not made any representation about support or opposition to what is a kernel of an idea that is being contemplated in the school district’s facilities master plan,” Joyce said.

Any action has to be made by the majority of the full council, confirmed City Attorney Megan Garibaldi.

Council appoints Whalen pool aquatic center

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering by Ruhnau Clarke Architects/Courtesy of LBUSD

A preliminary rendering of the proposed aquatic center at LBHS

Plans for a pool at the local high school as well as a potential community pool was the hot topic during a special joint session of the council and LBUSD board on June 6. Many of the comments, both from the public and the school board members, urged the city to move forward on the idea for a community pool.

The two groups jointly operate the pool situated on LBUSD property by the high school. According to the terms of the joint use agreement, the city is responsible for maintaining and operating the pool 70% of the time for community aquatics programs, while LBUSD utilizes it for the remaining 30%, Braun explained.

As part of the school district’s facility master plan, officials are exploring options to expand the existing 25-meter community pool. The expansion aims to accommodate the growing demand from both LBUSD athletic programs and city sponsored aquatics programs.

On September 28, the school board decided to establish a joint committee to explore pool alternatives and opportunities for shared use with the city, Braun said. Board members Jan Vickers and Kelly Osbourne will join the council members and staff representatives from both agencies.

Staff is recommended that the council appoint two members to serve on the joint subcommittee, which will evaluate the feasibility, capital and operational cost, community impacts and programming possibilities associated with various pool expansion options. These options include the shared use of an enlarged pool at the current LBUSD site, as well as potential construction of a new pool at a different location dedicated exclusively to city aquatics programs.

On Tuesday, a handful of residents spoke during the public hearing, mostly commenting that the community needs to considered in the process and involved. Several suggested the council add citizens to the ad hoc subcommittee. Others noted that the pool options the school district is considering are missing a lot of important elements and disregarding community input.

Joyce took responsibility for the “joint committee” language used in the agenda. It is intended to be a city council subcommittee, he said. Staff and councilmembers later clarified that it’s an ad hoc subcommittee, since it’s meant to be temporary and not a standing subcommittee.

Joyce clarified that the ad hoc subcommittee will work with staff to understand what the school district is considering and potential implications to the city, as well as what it would take for the city to operate expanded facility and/or additional facilities. They are meant to try and understand, on behalf of the community, the impact or benefit of services as a result of what is proposed and what might be approved, he said.

The subcommittee will return to the full council with information about what it might mean for the city so councilmembers can be better informed about what they might want to do next, Joyce said.

“I’m just suggesting that we’re moving at a simultaneous pace to understand what the district is doing,” Joyce said.

According to the Brown Act, the council appoints their own subcommittee and while they can jointly notice the meetings together with the school district subcommittee, they don’t have the authority to cross-appoint, Garibaldi explained.

They don’t want a joint subcommittee, Rounaghi said. That would imply that they have a pre-determined outcome that they want with the school district, which they don’t have, he emphasized.

“We have different interests. We represent the city interests; they represent the school district’s interests. Obviously, we’re all Laguna Beach residents and we have shared community concerns, but we have different interests here,” Rounaghi said.

It’s important that the subcommittee’s goal is to work with city staff and community members and understand the different implications of potential proposals. The key to understanding the impact on city programming is to look at it from different angles, he noted, including the kids’ pool needs and other recreation issues. They want input from all the stakeholders in the community, he emphasized. The first action of the subcommittee should be to work with the recreation staff and create a list of all those stakeholders, like Sensible Laguna, the water polo clubs, recreation class participants, and others, and hold a public meeting.

“Maybe we’ll disagree at the end, but I think it’s important that people are heard and that they are meaningfully engaged,” Rounaghi said.

So when the subcommittee returns to the full council they can make an informed decision, he concluded.

Rounaghi suggested Whalen and Kempf for the subcommittee since they’ve already been digging into the issue.

There will be a lot of varying opinions and many won’t be based on data, noted councilmember Mark Orgill. He suggested working with a consultant to help understand the usage, cost and other important information.

There is a lot of data already, Whalen noted. Sensible Laguna has done some research and the school district had a consultant look at some of the costs, he said.

“I think we are going to need some assistance in that regard along the way to really get the data correctly analyzed and options analyzed,” Whalen said.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

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