Around Town

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Billabong Bungalow Sunset ViewJoin the Club

As if residents needed another reason to love living in this oceanfront city, Pacific Edge Hotel has added one more incentive by introducing its locals-only Bungalow Beach Club. Members receive exclusive perks such as VIP discounted access to the property’s private beachfront bungalows, 20 percent off hotel bookings and reduced rates when reserving five or more rooms. Other advantages of joining the club include five or 10 free bungalow reservations per year—based on the selected membership level—as well as complimentary valet parking, Wi-Fi access, unlimited nonalcoholic drinks in bungalow minibars and a discount for on-property food and beverages. ( —Sharon Stello


Pennies for Pinnipeds

Local students have the chance to help our flippered friends recover at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center during the fourth annual Change the Life of a Seal campaign, running through May 15. For this program, schoolchildren donate spare change to assist the center in its efforts to care for sick and injured seals and sea lions. Last year, those quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies added up to more than $11,000, contributed by over 2,000 students in the area. Kids can dig into their piggy banks, collect coins from family, friends and neighbors, or organize fundraisers like bake sales or car washes. In addition to gaining valuable lessons in philanthropy, students who raise the most money are awarded prizes from stuffed animals to key chains. The grand prize for the top-earning class includes a tour of the PMMC and an invitation to witness the release of a healed seal back into the wild. ( —S.S.



Beverage Business Blasts Off

Laguna Beach-based XS Energy Drink has been acquired by Amway, an $11.8 billion direct-selling business headquartered in Michigan. Amway has served as the exclusive distributor of XS since 2003; during that time, the beverage brand has grown to $150 million in sales each year and is now in 38 markets around the globe. The brand behind the B vitamin-filled, sugar-free energy drinks—in flavors from wild berry to root beer—was co-founded by David Vanderveen, who joins Amway as vice president and general manager for the XS brand as part of the deal announced in January. David says there are plans to develop a hotel partnership and physical presence in Laguna. As David says, “XS is all about experiencing the Laguna Beach lifestyle wherever people happen to be.” ( —S.S.


New to the Ranks

Two new officers have joined the ranks of the Laguna Beach Police Department, adding to the cadre that helps keep the community safe. Michele Maraj and Jordan Mirakian were hired in January and expect to go through 23 weeks of field training before starting their roles in the patrol division. Michele previously worked as a police officer for four years in Fairfax, Va., and has a bachelor’s degree in social science. Jordan, who earned an associate degree in administration of justice, was a police officer for 15 years at San Diego Community College District and San Diego State University. Michele and Jordan were hired to replace officers who had retired or left for other positions; they bring the department up to 46 officers, with three positions that still need to be filled. —S.S.



Snapshot of the Past

Laguna Art Museum gained a piece of pop art history when it received Little Red Book No. 282, containing six Polaroid photographs of actor-singer David Cassidy, from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in late 2014. The donation was part of the last major wave of one of the largest art giveaways ever by an artist-endowed foundation. The full collection of Little Red Books feature myriad Polaroid photos taken and assembled into albums by Andy before he died in 1987. These pictures portray a wide range of subjects, including many of the artist’s well-known friends and associates. Our local museum was among 322 institutions across 48 states to benefit from the generous foundation’s final round of gifts—more than 14,000 pieces—many of which have never been shown in public displays before. However, Laguna art fans will have to wait patiently, as there are no immediate plans to exhibit the Little Red Book donation. 
( —S.S.


Operation Collaboration

Aiming to improve creativity, collaboration and critical-thinking skills, local children are putting their heads together to tackle fun tasks in science, technology, engineering, math and the arts. The nonprofit Destination Imagination is helping train students of all ages to become future innovators and leaders. Squads of up to seven kids receive instant challenges that require quick thinking and teamwork, such as building a contraption out of pencils, marshmallows, card stock and Styrofoam cups in only a few minutes in order to get a pingpong ball to roll down ramps into a bucket. Other open-ended assignments, like inventing a fairy tale or constructing a sound machine, are prepared ahead of time and presented at competitions.

Thurston Middle School and Top of the World each have contending teams this year. After practicing problem-solving scenarios at weekly meetings and a Creativity Carnival at Thurston in January, students headed to a regional tournament. Three Thurston teams and one from Top of the World will compete at the state level on March 28. The top groups move on to a global final this May in Knoxville, Tenn. —S.S.


$360 million:
The amount paid for Montage Laguna Beach, purchased in late January by Chicago real estate investment trust Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc. The luxury resort’s sale put a price tag of more than $1.4 million on each room, one of the highest per-room prices ever paid for a California hotel. Montage Hotels & Resorts will continue to manage the resort.


CRIMINAL MINDSHollywood Hits Laguna

Veteran actor Joe Mantegna is making an early visit to Laguna this year. A fan of the Pageant of the Masters and regular attendee, he’s more than familiar with our community—and on April 12, he’s joining fellow art lovers at the ninth annual Art Star Awards at seven-degrees to deliver the keynote speech. According to the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts, Joe is expected to share stories about his career, which includes lead roles in TV shows such as “Criminal Minds” and work in films like “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and “The Godfather: Part III.”

Also taking place at the event, awards in seven categories are bestowed upon organizations, businesses and individuals who have made an impact on Laguna’s arts and culture scene. Last year’s $5,000 Inspiration Grant winner, Cheryl Ekstrom, is scheduled to present her resulting project: Broken/Unbroken/Broken, a series of mixed-media sculptures representing life’s journeys. 
( —Allison Hata


Haggen StorefrontMarket Makeover

Laguna will soon get a new grocery store when the Albertsons on South Coast Highway converts to Haggen, a Washington-based chain, early this year. Haggen entered into an agreement in December to acquire 146 stores in the West, approved by the Federal Trade Commission in late January. The Laguna store is expected to be closed for conversion starting March 22, with a reopening slated for March 25. The Northwest’s largest independent grocer, Haggen supports regional farms, ranches, fisheries and other businesses to bolster a sustainable local food economy. Interestingly, in 1989 it became the first in the country to add an in-store Starbucks coffee kiosk. The recent acquisition is part of Haggen’s expansion from 18 locations to 164. (—S.S.


During the past three years, the Police Department has investigated three fatal and 65 injury-causing collisions involving pedestrians in Laguna Beach. in January, it announced that it would be stepping up pedestrian safety efforts, paying special attention to traffic violations in areas where the accidents have occurred.



An Anniversary and Award

Laguna Beach Seniors, one of the oldest senior service nonprofits in Orange County, turns 40 this year. Just in time for the anniversary, it was recently named the 2014 nonprofit of the year at the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce’s annual Spirit of Laguna awards, which acknowledges businesses, organizations and people that have made “extraordinary contributions to our community.” The nonprofit has been based out of the Susi Q Senior Center since 2009 and aims to enhance the lives of seniors through a variety of programs and services. While the activities are created around the needs and interests of those over age 50, everyone is welcome to attend. ( —Katherine Duncan


christy guest col _MG_6422Back at The Ranch

The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s proposed expansion and renovation got the green light from the California Coastal Commission in January. Plans were approved by the city last year, but a resident appealed to the coastal agency over concerns about potential environmental impacts, loss of affordable hotel rooms and limiting public access to recreation land. The commission approved a coastal development permit for the project with some conditions: a trail must be designed from the property to the coast and the Scout Camp must be set aside for underprivileged children and other groups at least 12 times per year. Plans include adding hotel rooms; building a new spa, fitness center and employee lounge; reconfiguring the restaurant; and creating an outdoor event center. The hotel will be expanded from 64 units to 97 by splitting 32 oversized rooms in half and turning a former residence into a penthouse suite. ( —S.S.

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