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.

"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."

Whalen said parking, particularly at the proposed Village Entrance project, should be provided to encourage tourtists. Rollinger said the Village Entrance project would also connect the downtown to arts organizations in Laguna Canyon, as would improvements to the roadway.

There has been a swelling of support for the city acquisition of Laguna Canyon Road, perhaps if liability issues can be resolved.

Egly, Ross and Rollinger all supported Artist Work/Live projects to provide affordable housing for working local artists.

Arts Alliance members produced 13 or 14 questions, according to moderator Greg Vail, but due to time constraints, convoluted questions were sometimes combined and parts went unanswered. All the candidates said they would welcome communication with the arts community.

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Forum Schedule

The Laguna Beach Republicans and Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. will host a City Council Candidates Forum at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 in the City Council Chambers.

Unopposed city clerk and city treasurer candidates have been invited to attend. Dennis Myers will moderate the televised forum.

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Open Space Initiative

Village Laguna has endorsed the Open Space Initiative.

The Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. has officially announced its opposition.

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Whalen urges disaster preparedness

"Here in Laguna Beach we know from experience that we are vulnerable to natural disasters," council candidate Bob Whalen told supporters at an event hosted by Kathleen and Gregg Abel on Sunday. "Planning in advance and knowing exactly what each neighborhood needs to do during a crisis is essential."

Even as he was speaking, smoke from the fire on the hillside above Ruby's Diner was blowing ash into the nearby neighborhoods, a graphic reminder of how important this issue is to Laguna Beach residents, according to a press release issued by Whalen's campaign.

Among the guests: Mark Porterfield, Steve Chadima, Sandy and Dick Schwarzstein, Jim McBride, Pamela Keefe, John and Lu Campbell, Jill Cooper, and Courtney Wight.

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