A Wealth of Talent

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TOP 30  Most influential

Laguna Beach Magazine profiles 30 of the town’s most influential people.-By Micaela Myers

Laguna Beach is stunning—the ocean, the mountains, the art scene, the charming cottages and modern mansions. But perhaps the town’s greatest asset is behind those doors.

“I think you could knock on almost any door in Laguna and find an interesting person who has very unique life experiences,” comments Mayor Toni Iseman. “We’re blessed with an abundance of talent.”

Indeed we are. As we present our list of the town’s most influential people, consider the breadth of the selectees: from activists like author Arnold Hano, who helped de-segregate Laguna Beach’s barbershops when he moved here in the 1950s, co-founded Laguna Village and now spends his time working to aid the town’s homeless population; to businessmen like Firebrand Media’s own Allan Simon, who often buys up empty buildings and helps fill them with key businesses like Katsuya and Hurley—keeping the town vibrant and thriving.

“The most powerful people in Laguna are the people that are getting up every morning and trying to make Laguna a better place for themselves and their community,” gallerist Peter Blake says.
In that spirit, our list of influential people includes entrepreneurs, activists, real estate gurus, educators, business leaders, art visionaries and more—people you’ve heard of, some only a few of you know, but all important parts of the Laguna Beach community. Coming up with this list was no easy task. We asked the community for nominations, made lists of our own and met countless times to narrow it down. Even after all that, we realize there are many more people worthy of inclusion, so consider this part one. (Let us know whom you would like to see featured next year by e-mailing editor@lagunabeachmag.com.)
“Without question, there are many others far more deserving of this interview than me,” says Derek Ostensen, president of the Laguna Canyon Foundation. “And I suppose that speaks to the fact that we all comprise part of the whole—this dynamic mix of artists, educators, civic leaders, agitators, businesses and so much more.”
That dynamic mix is far more inter-connected than first meets the eye. Virtually everyone on our list goes beyond their professional title to volunteer in the community—a wealth of talent working to make Laguna Beach the best place to live, work and dream.

It’s not easy to sum up Karyn, as her life is filled with noteworthy accomplishments: When she moved to Laguna in 1979, she got her contractor’s license to help build her first house; with her expertise in hospitality, she played key roles in the early success of several local landmark resorts, including the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, Montage Laguna Beach and the Surf & Sand Resort; through her consulting business, KP Company, she’s also touched dozens of other local hotels and restaurants, helping bring customer service to the next level; she serves as the anniversary chair for the Laguna Playhouse and is on the Friends of the Library board; and personally, she participated as the only female hockey player at the Anaheim Ducks’ first Fantasy Camp! Karyn has also served as a volunteer board member for the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau for 25 years, helping to create the first annual Laguna Beach a la Carte: A Food and Wine Experience as well as the annual Fête de la Musique.

“We just celebrated 25 years in March of this year as a visitors bureau, which is a big deal,” she says. “I’ve been re-elected president 21 of those 25 years. That sounds impressive, but when you look at the board members we’ve had, it’s a wonderful group with great vision.”
One thing Karyn would like to see change in Laguna? “Change is already happening now. … Change is an evolutionary process that takes time. I think that’s probably the biggest issue—that people don’t have enough time; they want it to change now, and it doesn’t.”

the CEO of SURF

Bob McKnight CEO and co-founder of Quiksilver

In 1976, Bob took a year off to surf with his best friend Jeff Hakman before he planned to attend graduate school. They figured they could earn some money by making boardshorts. One thing led to another, they licensed the Quiksilver logo from fellow surfer Alan Green, who founded Quiksilver Australia in 1969, and Quiksilver’s life in America had begun. The apparel company based in Huntington Beach is now a multi-million dollar success.
“When we started Quiksilver, there was no surf industry,” he says. “Now there is a huge surf, skate, snow, action-sports industry, and we were sort of at ground zero in the establishment of the surf industry. I was the first president of SIMA, which is the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association. Being part of the birth and building of the industry, which now feeds hundreds of thousands of mouths around the world … just the fact that people can work in the surf/skate/sport industry makes me really proud. We were part founders of that whole deal.”
Bob and his wife Annette moved from Newport to Laguna 26 years ago and raised their three children here. “Everybody’s friendly; it’s a neat little hippie, art place on the planet. It’s as cool of a jaunt as I’ve ever seen in the world. There’s nothing like Laguna Beach.”
Not surprisingly, Bob focuses his volunteer efforts on ocean-related causes. He’s been on the board of the Ocean Institute in Dana Point for almost 20 years and also sits on the board of the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, which USC operates on Catalina Island. In addition, Quiksilver’s charitable foundation provides funding and grants to countless nonprofits, including Miocean, Surf Aid and Keep Abreast.
One thing Bob would like to see change in Laguna? “The main thing is that there are two and a half months where we can’t even enjoy our town it’s so friggin’ crowded … the traffic and the parking. I don’t know how you stop that, but we have to figure it out.”

the Queen of Hospitality

Karyn Phillippsen President of the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau, founder of KP Company

Ann is an award-winning landscape architect and preservationist, living and working in Laguna since 1971; as such, her impact on the city can be seen in many of its parks, yards and gardens. Her accomplishments include helping to preserve south Laguna hillsides with the South Laguna General Plan in 1974 and designing the South Laguna Village Green in 1977. Her current focus is on making the South Laguna Community Garden permanent and working on the history of south Laguna for the South Laguna Civic Association.
“Preserving evidence of our history is so important—it should not just be in books and pictures,” she comments. “There are old cottages still left; it is our generation’s responsibility to see that they are not overwhelmed with new construction and that the feel of old Laguna remains to inspire.”
One thing Ann would like to see change in Laguna? “Less bickering and complaining, more action. We have a suggestion pad at the garden. The only suggestion is, ‘We should have a pen attached to the pad so that people can write their suggestions.’ It occurred to me that that person could have just left their pen there and would not have had to say anything.”

the Green Thumb

 Ann Christoph landscape architect, South Laguna Community Garden coordinator, Laguna Village and South Laguna Civic Association board member

Ann is an award-winning landscape architect and preservationist, living and working in Laguna since 1971; as such, her impact on the city can be seen in many of its parks, yards and gardens. Her accomplishments include helping to preserve south Laguna hillsides with the South Laguna General Plan in 1974 and designing the South Laguna Village Green in 1977. Her current focus is on making the South Laguna Community Garden permanent and working on the history of south Laguna for the South Laguna Civic Association.
“Preserving evidence of our history is so important—it should not just be in books and pictures,” she comments. “There are old cottages still left; it is our generation’s responsibility to see that they are not overwhelmed with new construction and that the feel of old Laguna remains to inspire.”
One thing Ann would like to see change in Laguna? “Less bickering and complaining, more action. We have a suggestion pad at the garden. The only suggestion is, ‘We should have a pen attached to the pad so that people can write their suggestions.’ It occurred to me that that person could have just left their pen there and would not have had to say anything.”

the gallerist

Peter Blake owner of the Peter Blake Gallery

Meeting Peter at his gallery today, you would never guess that when he came to Laguna in 1986 from the East Coast, he waited tables and then worked as the general manager of Romeo Cucina.

“I never thought I’d have an art gallery,” he says of its opening in 1993. “For five years I worked at the restaurant to keep the gallery open. I was there six nights a week for everyone that walked in the door. [At first, people] thought Laguna Beach wasn’t the place to sell LA art, collectible contemporary art or anything like that. … The gallery has actually encouraged a lot of other galleries to open. Usually when someone opens a gallery in town, they’ll say the same thing—‘Go talk to Peter Blake.’ ”
He also played an instrumental role in starting an art walk in town. “Bill DeBilzan and I started the art walk up in north Laguna.” It started as a Saturday night casual thing and grew from there. “We started First Thursday, and it took off, and that’s when people like Sian Poeschl got involved and made it city wide and made it what it is today. We were kind of the visionaries, but we couldn’t organize anything!”

Peter also opened Fetneh Blake with his then wife, who still runs the clothing store. He’s most proud of the fact that he’s survived three recessions and that he’s been able to help other new businesses open in town.
One thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? Peter hopes to one day help bring an international art fair to town. “The possibility of an art fair at the festival grounds [or elsewhere], say, a week or two after it closes—you step in and you find galleries from all over the country and all over the world who come in and exhibit their artwork. That automatically brings in a higher-end art collector to Laguna.”

the Third Generation Local

Kelly Boyd owner of the Marine Room, city council member, former mayor

“My grandparents came here in 1876, and our family has been here ever since. I’ve been to places, but I’ve never seen anything as good as Laguna,” the Vietnam veteran says.
“I’m very proud of having this bar for 24 years. That’s an accomplishment. The economy has been quite stagnant since 2009, so that’s even a bigger challenge. I think we’re seeing that throughout the city. We’re seeing places closing down, and that bothers me. When I was the mayor, I had sent out a letter to ask the city manager for a list of all the property owners in the commercial districts. We asked them to work with the tenants and drop the rents to help keep them rather than losing them. Some of the local landlords did that, which I was pretty impressed with. I’m pretty proud of that happening. I’m still very concerned though that in the next year we’ll see a lot more places—a lot more businesses closing.”
One thing Kelly would like to see change in Laguna? “I guess one of the biggest e-mails I get now from people is view preservation—trees—it’s a big thing. In our neighborhood … when it comes time to trim trees, we do it together. We don’t fight over it. But there are a lot of areas in the community that don’t get along that well or just are stubborn and don’t want to cut their trees or thin them to preserve people’s views.” Kelly says this issue is about more than views but also fire safety. As part of his work with the city council, he’s working on a possible way to address this issue, which he calls “a very difficult situation.” But he’s up for the challenge, having already helped address Laguna’s homeless issue, which was his original motivation to rejoin the city council.

the Dynamic Duo

Mark Orgill co-founder and managing partner of Seven-Degrees and Sunset Coves Villas, COO of DeeMark Partners LLC; Dora Wexell executive director of Seven-Degrees

Mark and Dora have called Laguna Beach home for 26 years and raised their two children here. “Over the long term, what I’ve enjoyed most is being part of the evolution of Laguna—particularly as it pertains to the Arts District, LCAD and the creative industries here in town,” Mark says.

“Since we are a unique art and event venue, we have been able to lend passion, energy and support to many causes that are dear to us and to Laguna,” Dora says of Seven-Degrees. “We are also members of the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance, and 2012 will be the sixth year that Seven-Degrees has sponsored the LBaa Art Stars Awards. Last year we presented the first Seven-Degrees of Inspiration Grant at the Art Stars Awards ceremony.”

Dora is a founding member of the Laguna Civic Art District Association, a former president of the Sawdust Festival and served as a Laguna Beach arts commissioner for six years. Mark currently sits on the board of directors for the Laguna Beach Visitor’s Bureau. His goals for the future include the continued development of the Arts District. “I can’t wait to see that entire area (from the Festival of Arts to the Sawdust) buzzing with creative energy all year round,” he says. “I’m also proud when I can help to shift the sometimes narrow definition of what art means here in town—so that it can accommodate film, animation and graphic design.”

One thing they’d like to see change in Laguna? “I sometimes get frustrated with the pace at which things move,” Mark says, and Dora echoes. “There are a lot of exciting, dynamic ideas coming through town, and the way that we live and do business is changing quickly; I’d like to see people have the chance to try new things here without quite so many rules,” he says.

the Museum Man

Robert Hayden III president of the board at Laguna Art Museum, CFO at Industrial Metal Finishing

“When I came on as president, I was really interested in pushing it to the next level of national prominence as an art museum,” Robert says

of his role on the Laguna Art Museum board (he was also interim director during the director search). “We’re all pulling the oars in the same direction and are excited about the museum growing and being a more vital part of the community while at the same time being recognized by the larger art world as a prominent player.
“On the engaging the community side of things, I think we’ve made some real strides there already just over the last year, such as completely reformatting the Plein Air Painting Invitational,” he says. “As far as the national prominence side of things go, I think the museum has really done a great job putting on exhibitions that bring critical acclaim, but the critical acclaim is somewhat localized. … I think part of that is because we haven’t placed the artists that we’ve focused on … in the larger art context; the national and international context. … That’s something we’re really going to be pushing for with our exhibition schedule moving forward.”
A 10-year resident of the city, Robert’s “day job” is CFO of his family’s business, which specializes in metal finishing for the medical industry. He’s also a passionate art collector himself.
One thing Robert would like to see change in Laguna? “[W]hat I’d really like to see is a strong collaboration between the arts organizations in town—not just getting together and promoting each other’s events, but really getting together and trying to push each other forward and maybe collaborating on strategic plans. … If they in some ways could gather their resources together and lift all of us up at the same time, I think that would be a very valuable thing.”

the visionary

Allan Simon Real estate mogul and chairman of Firebrand Media LLC

Allan’s son Benjamin Simon, a designer here in town, first lured him to Laguna about five years ago, when the pair restored an oceanfront house together. Once completed, Allan and his wife, Stefani, loved it so much, they left San Diego for good.
Allan spent most of his career in defense aerospace intelligence but found retirement didn’t suit him, and for the last few years he’s been investing in commercial real estate and leading Firebrand Media, publishers of Laguna Beach Magazine, Newport Beach Magazine, the Newport Beach and Laguna Beach Independent newspapers, OCinSite.com and several other publications. “I’m always interested in new things, new ideas, new people, trying things,” he says.
In addition to championing local media, Allan has helped bring key businesses to Laguna. He didn’t want just any tenants for the five commercial buildings he owns in town and helped secure the renowned LA sushi restaurant Katsuya in the building vacated by Hush, and the innovative Hurley store at 225 Forest. In addition, he’s now entered the gallery scene as business partner with Sanja Simidzija on the new S Cube gallery, which recently opened at his building on North Coast Highway. Allan’s also a supporter of the performing arts (his daughter Lauren is a playwright) and sits on the board of directors for the Segerstrom Center.

“I was born in the Bronx, New York, so I’m a street fighter,” Allan says of his tenacity to succeed. “A lot of guys that were born in that era from that location have become quite successful. If you survived the streets of New York in those days, you had something in you that was special.”

One thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? “Laguna walks a very fine line between change and constancy. Sometimes I would like to see [the town] be a little more understanding of the business problems. … The general view of the outside world is that Laguna is too hard to open a business in—the rules are so tight.”

the Entrepreneur

Mark Christy president and co-owner of Hobie Sports and Tuvalu Home Environment Stores, partner at La Sirena Grill, agent with Prudential Real Estate

“My biggest accomplishment was finding a way to actually live and work in this place I love so much. … And to be able to raise my son Jackson here, coach and watch him play at Riddle Field, see him walk the same corridors and fields I walked at LBHS. That’s pretty cool,” says Mark, who, in addition to his many business involvements in town, also volunteers with a number of local organizations.

“I take nothing for granted. Every day I realize how incredibly lucky I was to have parents like I had and to have grown up in a place like this. I’m just happy to share that with my family and am thrilled that my sister Laurie (who created/runs Tuvalu), her husband Jeff and kids Cody, Ashlyn and Tyler are here too.

“Obviously, Laguna has changed … but the essence remains intact. Decent people living a life based on family, the environment and all with a strong recognition of just how special this place really is.”
One thing Mark would like to see change in Laguna? “[It] would be fun to see a Laguna Walk of Fame with themed sidewalk plaques dedicated to the people who have made a lasting difference here. There should be a plaque for William Wendt next to one for James Dilley, another for Eiler Larsen followed by one for Charlie Boyd. These people and dozens more have made Laguna the place it is. Skipper Carrillo should have one as well for the thousands of hours he has given to the kids and sports programs in Laguna. Every day with Skip is a ‘home run day.’ ”

the pioneer

Hans Rey world champion mountain biker, CEO of Wheels 4 Life

“As a professional mountain biker and a part of the whole extreme sports scene, I have helped put Laguna Beach on the map,” says the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee and 21-year resident of the city. “In the winter it has become a Mecca for mountain biking athletes to migrate to and train—some even stayed and live here permanently. Known for its diverse trails and being a town that is beautiful with a hip, fun atmosphere, Laguna Beach is hard to beat.”

Hans is widely considered the pioneer of the “freeride movement.” “I was one of the first guys to make mountain biking films and to highlight the fun side of biking, the adventure rather than purely focusing on race results,” Hans says. In addition, his 25-year sponsorship from GT Bicycles may be an action sports record.

Nowadays, Hans is equally focused on his nonprofit. “My work with Wheels 4 Life has been an experience above and beyond what I imagined. To begin with, we thought that it would be great if we could provide 50 to a 100 bicycles to people in developing countries that really needed transportation. That was back in the fall of 2005; now we have provided approximately 3,000 bicycles to people in great need and this is just the beginning. Not only does this feel like a great accomplishment, my wife [Carmen] and I feel like this is a great reward to be able to change people’s lives through the gift of bikes.”

One thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? “It would be terrific to see more mountain biking trails built in Laguna Beach.” Hans would also like more bike paths. “It is a pretty extreme and dangerous experience riding through the town, and it shouldn’t be this way; it should be safe for riders as well as fun and environmentally friendly.”

the Volunteer

Bob Whalen president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Laguna Beach, law partner at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth

Bob is a lawyer in Newport Beach, but what he’s best known for in his hometown of Laguna Beach are his volunteer efforts, including serving on the current planning commission, and in the past, serving on the school board for 10 years, the SchoolPower board and presidency, and coaching Little League, soccer and basketball. He’s also served on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs since 2004 and is now finishing his third term as president.

“My biggest accomplishment is spearheading the bond campaign for the school district in 2000 and 2001 that resulted in an 80 percent ‘yes’ vote to issue $39 million of bonds to renovate and upgrade all four schools in the district,” he says of his volunteer efforts. “I have found my time at the Boys and Girls Club to be extremely rewarding. … Thanks to a generous Laguna community, we have been able to balance our books and expand our programs over the last three years.

“We have lived in Laguna for 27 years. I love the strong sense of community we have here. People really care about Laguna and the quality of life.”

One thing Bob would like to see change in Laguna? “I have always wanted us to improve the beauty of Laguna Beach by undergrounding all of our utilities.”

the TWO wheeler

Troy Lee founder of Troy Lee Designs

Troy’s two-wheeling empire began when the motocross-racing teenager started painting helmets in his parent’s garage. Now recognized as the premier custom helmet paint shop in the world, Troy Lee Designs also continues to expand its sportswear and casualwear lines and even has its own namesake race team. Troy’s ties to Laguna are also expanding. He lived here briefly as a teenager and decided to relocate here eight years ago to raise his own family.

“The new store is another step to try and be here more often,” he says. “On Wednesdays and Fridays, I work here in town. Then there are five artists who work for me and live in Laguna. … We have a store in Corona and we opened a store and a lab about a year and a half ago in Costa Mesa.”

With the new store in Laguna, Troy also hopes to get more involved locally, including charity work through Troy Lee Designs. In addition, he tries to make his sports of choice as safe as possible for riders. “A lot of my close friends are racers, and I’m a racer at heart, [so] I’m most proud of keeping all my guys safe. And that’s my goal—is just trying to build the safest helmets and the safest racing gear that we can.”

One thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? “One thing that I think Laguna needs is more motorcycle parking. … I hate when I take a car spot for a motorcycle. … I go to Paris and Milan, and people are on scooters and Vespas, and it’s so green, you know. I think bicycles, scooters and small motorcycles are the future.”


Jon Rose former pro surfer and founder of Waves 4 Water

“Life is always chapters,” says Jon, who grew up in Laguna Beach. “I had a big chapter as a pro surfer, and that was all I thought about. I rode that wave for a while and had a big career and major accomplishments within that … and then my priorities changed.

“I started Waves 4 Water in 2009, and it’s become such a passion.” Jon describes how his philanthropic work became his life work: “I was caught in an earthquake in Padang, Sumatra. I had 10 [water] filters on me. It was my first trip with the organization back when I first started it. I was pressed into this very heavy situation and was able to see how practical and functional these solutions are and how well they work under the most extreme circumstances, and it was a divine moment—how you’re able to help thousands of people with those systems. It changed my life forever. … Ever since then it’s been that same dedication that I had for surfing. I’m focused wholeheartedly on my organization. “We’ve given over 2.5 million people water in Haiti. … There’s no reason anybody should die from dirty water.” His goal: drinkable water for everyone.

One thing Jon would like to see change in Laguna? “I guess if it was possible, I’d like people to be able own a house here—some of the locals and people who are the root and core of this town be able to stay and carry on the legacy of their families and their generation. Slowly but surely everyone’s getting weeded out. That’s not to knock any of the people that come in and try and start a life here now—I mean, why wouldn’t you?—but so many of the kids I grew up with can’t afford it. I just wish there was a way they could stay.”

The Arts Couple
Lou Rohl managing partner of ROHL, LLC, Laguna Art Museum Advisory Circle co-chair and chair of the Governance Committee; Laura Rohl private consultant, homemaker, Laguna Art Museum Advisory Circle co-chair

When Lou and Laura Rohl moved to Laguna nine years ago, they dove in head first, getting involved with several art organizations while Lou continued to play a key role in his family’s thriving business, Rohl LLC, makers of luxury kitchen and bath fixtures.

“As volunteers, Lou and I have enjoyed supporting Laguna Beach’s oldest cultural institutions, namely the Laguna Art Museum, where we currently serve as co-chairs of the Advisory Circle; the Laguna Playhouse, where I sat on the Board of Trustees for four years; and the Festival of the Arts, where I volunteered as a docent for four years,” Laura says. “I would like to think that these institutions and the Laguna College of Art & Design will be around for many decades to come because people recognize the importance of the arts to community.”

The Rohls hope to encourage all Laguna residents to get more involved in the town’s art organizations. “Too often we take for granted that they will always be here. Especially in these economic times, foundations that have traditionally supported the arts are cutting back their contributions. Now, more than ever, we need greater involvement from Laguna residents who have the opportunity to assure that our venerable arts community will have long term viability.”

What is one thing the Rohls would like to see change in Laguna? “The parking situation,” Laura says.

Lou adds, “I worry sometimes that certain residents are a little too provincial in their point of view regarding Laguna Beach’s future. We have to remind ourselves that the world wants to come and visit Laguna Beach. We should always be striving to present Laguna as a city that honors our small village atmosphere, yet is willing to accept people that want to come and enjoy what we are fortunate to live with every day. Our facilities, architecture and city services should always be world class.”


Toni Iseman mayor of Laguna Beach

“I moved to Laguna in 1970. I spent over 35 years in education, mostly as a counselor. I had a wonderful career, which I think kind of set me up for being a city council member,” Toni says. “Having been a counselor, that’s how I approach the job. I was first elected in 1998. My campaign was ‘We’re losing the town we know and love one council vote at a time.’ When I was elected it was an upset, and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t like me! … My first few years on the council were difficult. I guess my philosophy is a lot of listening and then being tenacious.”

Improved parking and making the shuttle free are two of the many things Toni has helped accomplish. “It would be great to extend the shuttle coverage. I don’t know that it’s realistic Monday through Friday, but on the weekends we possibly could see our way to doing that.

“I’m glad I stood my ground on the senior community center with the help of Chris Prelitz making it a green building,” she adds.

Toni believes keeping Laguna’s downtown unique is important and essential to the future. “People complain about our policy of not having chains, or a better description is ‘formula-based businesses,’ but we do have a formula-based business, and you recognize the name of the store, but when you go in it’s different. It’s tailored to Laguna. For that reason, it just makes our shopping area so appealing.”

One thing Toni would like to see change in Laguna? “What should have happened years ago is that we should have undergrounded all utilities in Laguna. This isn’t about aesthetics, although there is an aesthetic benefit, it’s about public safety. … If one pole goes down in the canyon, the canyon is closed. If a pole goes down in the canyon, parts of the town lack electricity. There’s also the problem with egress and ingress. How do you get aid into our town if the canyon is closed? … There is a committee for disaster preparedness, and I know that they’re addressing this, and I look forward to seeing what they recommend.”

the Promoter

Sharbie Higuchi director of marketing and public relations at the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters

Attend any of the preview nights for the Festival or Pageant, and you’ll find Sharbie surrounded by hoards of people asking all sorts of questions. She always has answers and a smile. “Ultimately, my most important role in the Laguna Beach community is to draw visitors, patrons and press to the city through my work at the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters,” she says.

“I am passionate about relationship building, so whether I’m connecting the Festival of Arts with other arts organizations, sponsors, partners, vendors, patrons or the city, I always feel most accomplished when I can inspire collaboration and cooperation.” And that she does: Sharbie is a founding member of the Passport to the Arts collaborative, recently won a Bank of America grant for all three art festivals, has been a member of the Laguna Beach Art Alliance since its inception, served as co-president of Laguna Outreach for Community Arts, has brought many key sponsors to the festival, led a comprehensive rebranding effort and much more.

“The story of the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters is in so many ways the story of Laguna Beach, so as I represent the Festival and Pageant and work in the community to propel the arts forward, I am careful to do it in such a way that honors the Laguna Beach art colony tradition.

“I suspect that I love Laguna Beach for the same reasons others love it—the art, the beauty. I’d also say, though, that the people of Laguna Beach are exceptional. With so many locals volunteering at the Pageant of the Masters each year, I get constant reminders of the incredible kindness, passion and dedication of Laguna Beach residents. The people of Laguna Beach are passionate about issues that impact their community, and that is something I totally respect.”

One thing she’d liked to see change in Laguna? “More trolleys throughout the year, especially on the weekends. It would be good for Laguna Beach businesses and the environment.”

the Surf Industry Exec

Paul Naudé president of Billabong North America and executive director of Billabong International; president of the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) Environmental Fund

Back in the ’80s, when Paul was CEO for Gotcha in South Africa, he would come to Laguna on business. “I loved the town … so when I was offered the opportunity to come and work here in 1992, it was the obvious choice” he says.

“I’m very fortunate to have been involved in the surf and action sports industry for my entire professional career. It’s a vibrant, exciting and ever-changing business, and it has been amazing to see the growth over the past three decades.”

Paul and his wife, Debbie, have raised their two children, Jason and Francis, here, and Debbie is active in the community. Paul devotes much of his spare time to environmental causes and has served as president of the SIMA environmental fund for the past 10 years. “The organization has made a tremendous contribution to supporting a host of key, ocean-related environmental groups, and I’m really proud of the surf industry’s generous support of these efforts,” he says.

Based on his upbringing in South Africa, Paul is also passionate about wildlife conservation. “It seems as if so many things are under threat these days, and arguably none more so than the African Rhinoceros, which is being poached indiscriminately for its horn.” To help combat this, he recently founded rhino conservation organizations in the USA (Rhino Alive! Foundation) and South Africa.

One thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? “If there’s one thing that I’d like to see in Laguna, it’s a little less ‘black ball’ [restricted surfing areas] during the summer months because I think that the amount of space for surfers to be able to utilize in the summer months is pretty restrictive. Surf activities have grown, and I think that we are all operating in a really confined space.”

the Conservationist

Derek Ostensen
land acquisition consultant for The Conservation Fund, president of Laguna Canyon Foundation

“My work with The Conservation Fund and Laguna Canyon Foundation has been profoundly meaningful for me,” says the Laguna native. “Our team at The Conservation Fund, including local Lagunan Scott Ferguson, has been able to permanently preserve more than 10,000 acres of open space across Southern California. Here in town, Laguna Canyon Foundation has worked with an extraordinary group of partners, city leaders and community members, to protect some of Laguna’s most scenic and environmentally sensitive areas and to engage the public in the long-term stewardship of our wilderness treasures.

“Laguna has an amazing history of open space preservation,” he continues. “Remember that at one point Main Beach was supposed to be covered with high-rise hotels and Laguna Canyon was to be developed with 3,500 tract homes and several golf courses. In the span of a 50-year open space effort, our community has worked together to achieve many incredible successes. But our work is not yet done. Completion of the open space effort is within sight, but a number of key private properties remain to be preserved before we can look out at the hills surrounding Laguna and know that they will forever remain as stunning and bio-diverse as they are today. Completion of that 50-year open space effort is one of my key goals for the future.”

One thing Derek would liked to see change in Laguna? “My generation is really blessed to have had such tremendous role models here in Laguna. And right now we have some really great ‘next-generation’ involvement in good causes (One World One Ocean, Transition Laguna, Zero Trash, Marine Mammal Center come to mind)—people who are helping to carry the torch forward. I hope that we can continue to expand on that dynamic partnership between role models and ‘next-gen’ers’ and get even more young adults involved in Laguna’s longstanding causes so those valuable efforts continue.”

the Activist

Arnold Hano author, serial volunteer, founding chair of Laguna Village

“We’re born activists,” Arnold says of himself and wife, Bonnie. The author of more than two-dozen books, including the famed “A Day in the Bleachers,” Arnold is now 89 years old, yet he and Bonnie stay active as volunteers—something they’ve done since they moved here in 1955. “For a NYC-born and bred boy who thought of a canyon as a concrete wall on one side with a concrete wall on the other side and a gutter in between, this was the real McCoy,” he says of first coming to Laguna. “It was beautiful and so easy. It was a relaxing place, and I thought it would be a good place to write whatever it is I had to write.”

In 1971, he was the founding chair of Village Laguna. “We were faced with the possibility of a zone that would permit a row of high-rise hotels on the beach from Broadway down to Bluebird Canyon Drive … and that struck a few of us as totally un-Laguna, so we formed an organization to combat that.”

Arnold also served on the first design review board of Orange County and currently serves on the board of directors for the Laguna Resource Center. Despite being legally blind now, Arnold continues to write, including a column for the Village Laguna newsletter, and helps others with their writing. Bonnie currently serves on the Heritage Committee.

“I know [activism is] sometimes considered a dirty word. … I don’t mind being called an activist.”

One thing Arnold would like to see change in Laguna? “I’d like to see an anti-mansionization law with teeth.”

the champion of commerce

Christopher Keller owner of The Hotel La Casa del Camino, K’ya Bistro Bar, The Rooftop Lounge, House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer; outgoing president of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce

Most businesses are owned by someone we don’t know or see. But that’s not so with Chris. When he’s not at his businesses in Anaheim (Hotel Menage and K’ya Street Fare), he’s at home in Laguna, where he’s lived for nine years. You can usually find him with his self-described “better half” Amy Amaradio at Big Fish or La Casa del Camino.

“One of the biggest accomplishments (that many of us accomplished together) was bringing La Casa del Camino back to its glory of when it originally opened in 1929,” he says. “The beautiful historic building was brought back to life with some TLC. Mostly from all the community support, it once again is established as an integral part of this community, and it really represents all the best of Laguna Beach.

“I love working, there is a great feeling walking into Big Fish, K’ya or the Rooftop and having a great crowd, group of locals, friends and great team of employees—it’s like one big family getting together every day!”

However, Chris isn’t content to leave it at that. “I plan on growing old in Laguna Beach, developing at least one more restaurant concept and hopefully more hotels, and helping to continue to grow the chamber of commerce.”

One thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? “I would really like to see the trolleys run year round. It’s good for the environment, it helps to alleviate parking issues, and it’s a great form of transportation for locals and visitors.”

the King of Clean

Chip McDermott president and owner of eworks Inc., founder of ZeroTrash Inc.

On the first Saturday of every month, you’ll see an army of volunteers in red shirts picking up trash around town, on the beach and even out on paddleboards in the water. For that, we have Chip to thank. Tired of seeing trash lying around town, he formed ZeroTrash in 2007. ZeroTrash is now active in several other cities, and Chip plans to continue expanding the program in between running his eworks business, which involves creating research kiosks to help businesses know their audience.

Chip moved to Laguna 10 years ago and, together with his wife, is raising his three children here. “I’m proud of raising awareness of the street and sidewalk trash that existed in Laguna—and we see so much elsewhere—as well as working with the city to improve the public trash infrastructure throughout town, including more public ashtrays,” he comments.

One thing Chip would like to see change in Laguna? “I’d like to see Laguna take the lead in developing more community spaces, which move cars more to the background. I was just in New York City for business and was so impressed and heartened by the spaces they’ve developed in some of the most congested areas of their traffic grid. Giving relief to community by placing large-scale landscaping all along a bike and pedestrian path down the length of Broadway! It’s a beautiful, community-oriented public works gesture. Laguna can and should do likewise, and I know people like Les Miklosy with Complete Streets are currently working toward this.”

the Mover & Shaker

Joe Hanauer chairman of the board of Move, Inc. (Realtor.com) and International Real Property Foundation, principal at Combined Investments, LLC

Don’t know Joe? He’s largely responsible for the renovation of the Old Pottery Place and 580 Broadway. “The Old Pottery Place took a Laguna icon, which unfortunately was falling apart and attracting a declining number of customers, and with Morris Skenderian’s help, converted it into a popular destination for shopping and dining,” he explains. “Together with La Casa del Camino and Village Fair, it brought dynamics to a great neighborhood, which now promotes itself as the HIP District.

“[The property at] 580 Broadway—across the street from what someday will hopefully be a real village entrance—took another complex in a terrible state of disrepair and turned it back into a delightful professional center.”

With a house here in Laguna for 25 years, Joe and his wife Jane (owner of Laguna Beach Books) are active in the community. In addition to his key work in real estate, he serves on many boards, including Laguna Beach Live and Laguna Playhouse. “For Laguna Beach Live, [I hope] to help it continue its remarkable mission of providing quality live music accessible to everyone and to continue improving the quality and innovation of our performances,” he says. “For The Laguna Playhouse, [my goal is] to fulfill its mission of being a center for performing arts here in Laguna. This includes quality and innovative theater, music, dance, comedy, lectures and other live events.”

What is one thing Joe would like to see change in Laguna? “I may make enemies by saying this, but I’d like almost all of our art organizations—visual arts as well as performing arts—to continue cranking up their quality and sophistication. We do a bunch in both camps, but could do even more and do it even better. Separately, I wish more people would support the many charitable organizations that serve this town and wish more people would shop locally.”

the fearless local
Sam Goldstein owner of Radford Ventures LLC, co-creator of Laguna Beach Live

A musician for 25 years and now involved in commercial real estate, both of Sam’s career passions can be seen in Laguna Beach, his hometown since 1978. Real estate wise, he owns properties in several cities, including the Heisler Building, which he fixed up and brought new businesses to, including Tommy Bahama and Rock’N Fish.

Music wise, Sam co-created Laguna Beach Live and serves on the board. He also recently produced the Billy Childs concert for PBS television. “I always had a driving desire to do production in Orange County of relevant artists,” he says. “It will be the first television show of a musical show out of Laguna Beach ever. So I’m really proud of that.” He plans to produce more music shows for television in the future.

“My biggest and best accomplishment for the city of Laguna Beach was the creation of the Business Improvement District bed tax of 2 percent, which went to the visitors bureau and the arts,” Sam says of the project he worked on with then mayor, Paul Freeman. “Over the last 10 years, it has delivered about $13,000,000 to each of the organizations. … It’s good for the community because it brings in visitors for all the wonderful things that go on here. And it’s been great for the arts because they now have an economic resource to grow from.”

One thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? “There are a lot of things I’d like to see change. They’re all contentious issues—parking, traffic, development standards, design review, protective thinking. It goes on and on. We’re living in two different worlds here in Laguna. We have the group that doesn’t like change, and then we have the people who live here who would like to see change. It would be nice to get rid of things that cause all this dissension—we have the design review; we have areas of the planning commission; we have the city council. They have turned into hotbeds.”

the Heart of Montage

Alan Fuerstman founder and CEO of Montage Hotels & Resorts

“I love Laguna Beach for its artistic history, incredible scenery, diverse recreational opportunities, village feel and strong sense of community,” says Alan, who bought a home here in 2002.

Even with a long and impressive history in the hotel business, Alan considers Montage his greatest accomplishment. “Its overall success and the profound impact that Montage has had on the communities in which we operate have been exceptionally gratifying.”

He plans to bring the Montage brand to other travel destinations, while continuing Hearts of Montage, an associate-led community outreach program. “[It] has established us as an active and supportive leader in Laguna Beach, as well as in all of the communities in which we operate.” In Laguna, Hearts of Montage has provided support to local schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs, a Challenge Grant toward the Susi Q Senior Center, a blood drive for the American Red Cross, support for the local shelters and clinic, partnerships with the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and much more.

What is one thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? “It’s less about changing and more about protecting and preserving the rich history and traditions that make Laguna Beach so special. However, I wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of the parking meters converted to accept credit cards!”

the Philanthropic filmmaker

Greg MacGillivray president, director and producer of MacGillivray Freeman Films, co-founder of the One World One Ocean Foundation

“For the next 20 years, my wife, Barbara, and I are devoted to producing the One World One Ocean campaign to change people’s love and respect for the ocean everywhere in the world,” says Greg, whose 36 plus film IMAX career with MacGillivray Freeman Films includes two Academy Award nominations and a film selected by the Library of Congress as one of the most important 100 films of the first 100 years of cinema history. Greg and Barbara’s commitment to One World One Ocean includes $10 million of their own money. The foundation’s goals are to reduce plastic pollution, increase protected marine areas and encourage people to eat sustainable seafood.

Greg grew up in nearby Corona del Mar, but has lived in Laguna for almost 50 years. What does he love most? “The people (artists, surfers, writers—people with imagination and hope), the natural beauty, the ‘European Village vibe.’ This last asset is one I worry about.”

One thing Greg would like to see change in Laguna? “We should not allow Laguna to change from its village charm—we have to be unique as an artist community, far, far different than Newport Beach or other beach communities. For 100 years, the architecture of Laguna’s Coast Highway stores has given it unique appeal to tourists and shoppers, but that is changing as storefronts with contemporary design go in. I’m afraid that we’re losing our distinctive charm and appeal and losing our soul. If our style and appeal changes and our commercial appeal dwindles, we’ll all be hurt. And we’ll also lose the quality of life we all moved here to enjoy.”

the Power Broker

Marcus Skenderian president of SchoolPower, broker associate at Surterre Properties, VP of the Laguna Board of Realtors

Aside from being a father (and being named Realtor of the year by the Laguna Board of Realtors in 2009), Marcus considers his service to SchoolPower his greatest honor. “Being a product of the Laguna Beach school district myself—being one of the kids who benefitted from this organization when it was founded in the early ’80s—and now to be able to give it back really makes me proud,” he says.

Marcus hopes to someday open a restaurant and maybe get into local politics—all right here in Laguna, of course. “I love the character, the history of the town, the charm, the uniqueness of community, music in the park, the pride we all share about the town we live in, the passion that the people here have about Laguna, and the longtime residents who continue to keep the culture which makes Laguna so special and alive. … And I love that when someone needs help, or we suffer a disaster or tragedy, that we bond together and become stronger. The way this town rallies and gives back is unbelievable.”

One thing he’d like to see change in Laguna? “Nothing. If I have to answer, I think we desperately need more family-friendly restaurants. I’d also like to see the reputation of the city government and process change. I hear that people avoid this town because the process of opening a business or improving a property is so difficult. What they don’t realize is that these processes are what makes Laguna so special and unique; the very reason they want to be here in the first place. They just need to be educated to know how to navigate through them. Laguna wouldn’t be what it is without them.”

the principal

Joanne Culverhouse principal of Laguna Beach High School

Most kids and parents in Laguna Beach know Joanne, as she’s been a principal here in town for 13 years, starting at El Morro, then Thurston and now at the high school. “What’s cool about that is that many of the graduating seniors are the same students I had in kindergarten,” she says. “I probably had about 90 percent of the kids from 6th grade on because I was the principal of Thurston.”

Although Joanne came from a school district in Hemet, Calif., very different from Laguna (it had the highest concentration of ex-felons in the area, and never a week went by that she didn’t have to fill out a child protective report), she says the skills a leader needs are very transferable. “They’re transferred no matter what type of student you’re working with because all students need to have that sense of belonging, autonomy and contribution,” she says.

“What I’m most proud of is the academic growth the kids have made and the collaboration of the teachers,” she says of her time in Laguna.

“I think what I like most about Laguna is the sense of community,” she adds. “It’s that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’—that’s really the sense I get from Laguna. It’s unique. I mean, what other town can kids jump on a trolley and go from one beach to another? … The kids are riding by in the trolley and yelling out ‘Hey Dr. C,’ or I see them downtown, I see them at the beach. It’s kind of like everybody knows everybody.”

One thing Joanne would like to see change in Laguna? While there’s not a lot she’d change about the town itself, her goals for the high school students include improved college and career preparation “that’s going to get them ready for the real world.”

the do-gooder

Dave Vanderveen co-founder of XS Energy World Wide

Energy drinks are nothing new, but 10 years ago XS Energy Drinks set itself apart from the pack and has continued with innovations ever since, thanks in large part to Dave. “I have a long history of working with businesses—mostly startups and turnarounds. XS came out of a turnaround I was involved in. … I ended up being part of the ownership of the brand through the process of turning it around.”

Dave and his family moved to Laguna Beach in 2002, and he’s active in many local charities. XS is a founding sponsor of ZeroTrash and the drink sponsor for the Mauli Ola Foundation (for cystic fibrosis). Dave helped create the Eco Warrior project with James Pribram and is also on the board of Grower’s First, a nonprofit that works with coffee farmers in developing countries to help them grow quality coffee while earning a sustainable living.

Dave and his family were renovating a home in Bluebird Canyon during the landslides, and he helped create a fundraising concert to aid those who lost their homes. “[We] threw a fantastic concert on the baseball field at El Morro school. We raised over $100,000 for people who didn’t have a place to live. That’s probably one of the most inspiring things I’ve been involved in, in town—just to see that many people come together that quickly to make a big difference for people who needed it.”

One thing Dave would like to see change in Laguna? “Grand Rapids would not be considered the home of the arts by anyone, but they hold the largest art prize in the world right now. They’re getting artists from 40 states and almost 40 countries. They have almost a half million people participate. … I think Laguna Beach needs to do something like this, particularly in the off season.” LBM




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