Laguna Beach is often known as a liberal island in the otherwise conservative Orange County in California. However, in the 2018 midterms, an independent with a conservative law and order platform won a seat on the city council with more votes than any other council member in that election.
Peter Blake manages an art gallery in Laguna and has been a resident for 30 years. He ran for office the first time in his life after becoming frustrated with the lack of action on the issues of homelessness, crime, budgets, defending property rights, and cronyism.
The Epoch Times sat down with Councilman Blake to discuss the problems that permeate the otherwise quaint city known for its art galleries and scenic beach views.
Councilman Blake emphasized one issue in particular that has caused immense problems in the city and was the spark to his election victory: homelessness and vagrancy. He argues that Laguna Beach has been neglecting this issue for years.
In the past year, Laguna Beach has suffered from over 1,500 criminal incidents including violent attacks, public drunkenness and public fights, according to CBS. Residents said the homeless crisis has contributed to the crime problem.
Laguna Beach, being a city of compassionate residents, have always helped the homeless, Councilman Blake points out. “They’ve been our own. We used to know them by name. The local homeless are gone.”
Speaking on the growing epidemic that has increased across the state of California, he added “we don’t have our own homeless problem, we now have the county and the country’s homeless problem.”
Peter Blake ran on a law and order platform that addressed the homelessness issue, which he says was neglected for too long and is reflective of liberal policies going too far.
“When you travel enough, especially up between the state of California, Oregon and Washington, you can see what happens when communities become too compassionate and lose sight of reality. They wake up one morning and realize they have a serious homelessness situation. Once it takes root, you can’t get rid of it. There’s nothing you can do to reverse it. Many communities ask what they can do to maintain it and keep it from growing, because there’s very little hope that you can reverse it back to what it was before.”
Blake says his goal for Laguna Beach is to do what others see as impossible. “My aim since day one is to reverse our homeless problem and bring us back to where we were before.”
This hasn’t been easy for Blake and other like-minded legislators. In particular, Proposition 47 reduced nonviolent crimes in California to misdemeanors, including shoplifting, grand theft and receiving stolen property under $950. This also includes personal use of most illegal drugs.
Blake said that as a result of this law, Laguna has had a turn for the worse. “If a meth addict steals under $950, gets a ticket, they don’t show up to court, DA won’t prosecute in many cases. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that they are untouchable.”
“Liberal politicians don’t have the stomach to arrest or enforce any laws whatsoever. This includes trespassing laws and simple property crime laws don’t get enforced, which allow them (homeless) free rein to do as they please,” he concluded.
The ACLU has also made the issue worse by exacerbating the homelessness issue, according to Blake.
“Since 2009, after city’s first lawsuit with ACLU, we were forced to provide temporary housing for the homeless. Laguna built a facility to house homeless to enforce our anti-camping ordinances. Otherwise we’d have a situation where we’d have homeless sleeping on the beach and on public property. ACLU has been involved in suing Laguna Beach since 2009. By 2010, ACLU came back and rather than pat us on the back and say well done, they sued us again.”
The city was being targeted by the ACLU because it was the most open and compassionate of cities in the area, Blake argued.
“The ACLU is forcing us to do what they want, but what they are really doing is squandering the $2 million worth of legal fees that the city spent, that could be spent helping the homeless. Instead we’ve squandered that money to defend ourselves. They are letting other communities know that no good deed goes unpunished.”
When asked if he was inferring that Laguna Beach was the ACLU’s guinea pig in Orange County, Blake agreed.
“We are their guinea pig, and why they chose Laguna Beach and not Newport Beach and Carmel is because we are the most liberal, most compassionate community. They figured we would be the easiest and the first to fold. Therefore, they could take that precedence to other communities and use it to get what they wanted.”
As a result of the problem with vagrancy and homeless, the city council last December increased law enforcement spending to beef up law enforcement patrols in the area.
This was Blake’s first agenda upon taking office last fall. The police now have a semi-permanent presence at Main Beach, where a large number of crimes are committed. Officers manage a small tent-like structure during peak hours to act as a countermeasure for any criminal transients and people coming into town to commit crimes.
While politics and state policies have proven to be roadblocks, Blake has offered what he calls a simple solution to the issue of homelessness and vagrancy in the city of Laguna Beach and the state as a whole. He cited three different groups of homeless and a different way to deal with each of these cases:
1. The Mentally Ill: We need to build mental institutions and accept the fact that we are going to house and care for the folks for the rest of their lives. We should find property inland in depressed areas where the land is cheap and people need jobs and build these government facilities and employ the people in these communities to care for them.
2. The Drug Addicts: We must establish minimum security facilities for drug addicts. Once we have gone long enough to where we think they are safe and on the home stretch of being free from these drugs, then we need to get them into work programs where they work for the government. Once they have fully recovered, they’re ready to go a new community on a semi-formal probation until they become members of society again.
3. Criminal Transients: These individuals need to be jailed. Maybe not in the sense of a hardcore criminal is, but they have to be permanently removed from the community.
Blake believes his hardline stance on law and order is necessary, as he believes the issue has been neglected for too long as a result of big city governments throwing money at the issue of homelessness and vagrancy instead of addressing the issue head on.
“Look at the places where the most educated, progressive elites are: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, New York. These are the places where you have the so-called smartest most progressive people in the country and they have spent the most money on the issue and they are failing miserably.”
According to calmatters.org, as of 2018, California has the highest unsheltered homeless population in the nation, and the numbers have been rising since 2016. The total number of California’s homeless population is at 130,000, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, a staggering 25% of the nation’s homeless population.