Lara Anderson, 2012 mayor, council member of eight years, recalls time in office, looks ahead
By Andrea Swayne
Much of the December 4 Dana Point City Council meeting was dedicated to bidding farewell to 2012 Mayor Lara Anderson as she ended her eight-year term on the council.
Having termed out after completing the maximum two four-year terms, the meeting was her last as a councilwoman—for at least two years, when she will have the opportunity to run again for city council, should she choose to do so.
Fellow council member and Mayor-elect for 2013 Steven Weinberg, who officiated the farewell presentations, joked that the evening seemed almost like an episode of “This is Your Life” for Anderson. Many community members, colleagues, friends and city staff members took turns at the podium offering kind words, thanks, awards and tokens of appreciation to the popular city councilwoman.
When the speeches and presentations wrapped up, Anderson was joined by her husband Andrew and their daughters, ages 3 and 5, for a final photo with her council colleagues to commemorate the evening.
As she bid adieu to her time on the council, Anderson was anything but reticent about her intentions to remain involved in the community on some level. But she also hinted that being no longer tied to city government will offer a chance for her to explore other options, both with regard to geography and commitments.
Anderson moved to Dana Point in 1997 and quickly became a volunteer at the San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter. Shortly thereafter, she joined the boards of the Animal Rescue Foundation (now known as the Pet Project Foundation) and the Lantern Village Association. It was in this capacity that she began attending city council meetings regularly.
“Both organizations frequently had business before the city council so I started going to meetings and was appalled at the way citizens were treated. Meetings always started late, public speakers were ignored and the community wasn’t being served like I thought it should be,” Anderson said. “I figured I could do a better job and ran in 2002.”
That year, Anderson launched a small-budget grassroots campaign against what she referred to as some serious political firepower and lost by a mere 275 votes.
She gave it another go in 2004. This time she was successful. In 2008 she earned the distinction as the Dana Point City Council candidate earning the largest number of votes, 9,390, in city election history.
Looking back at the eight-year list of projects, issues and decisions she was involved in as a council member, Anderson regards her time on the dais as generally satisfying.
The retrospective includes such important city matters as her 2004 to 2006 participation on the Town Center Advisory Committee for the development and approval of the Town Center Revitalization Plan; a number of water quality improvement projects such as ozone treatment systems at Salt Creek (2005) and North Creek, Doheny State Beach (2008-2009); the creation of the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan (2005); numerous improvement to and additions of city parks and events; the establishment of the Tourism Business Improvement District (2009); successful Styrofoam and plastic bag bans (2012) and much more.
Anderson’s last official event as mayor, the November 27 groundbreaking for the Town Center southern gateway project, brought her council career full circle as she officiated the kick off of the first of many planned improvements in the downtown revitalization plan.
We caught up with Anderson recently and asked her to reminisce on her time as a city councilwoman and talk about what her future may hold. Here is some of what she had to say, delivered with all the candor and wit she has become known and admired for.
DP TIMES: What do you consider your most important accomplishment while on city council and why?
ANDERSON: Being part of the team that brought stability, efficiency and a higher standard of government to City Hall and the council meetings. Dana Point matured a lot as a city over the last eight years and can now focus on ambitious projects that will shape our future, like Town Center and the Doheny Village Plan.
What was one of your biggest frustrations and why?
Finding biodegradable dog poop bags that you can actually open, with handle ties, for the city’s dispensers! They don’t seem to exist. As for why this frustrates me; no explanation is needed if you’ve got a dog.
You have been an outspoken opponent to short-term vacation rentals. How do you feel about the issue as it stands? What hopes do you have for a resolution in the future?
I’m disappointed we weren’t able to resolve it during my term but I expect the council will address the item soon and take action. I would like to see the city enforce the existing code and not allow short-term rentals in our residential neighborhoods. But since I was the Lone Ranger with that opinion, a program allowing, regulating and taxing them is likely imminent.
Looking back, do you have any regrets or anything you would have changed about your time on the council?
I don’t live life with any regrets and I wouldn’t make changes because everything leads to the place you are now. I’ve always tried to do the right thing for the community. The only vote I feel badly over is one that hurt someone I really cared about. It became obvious at the council meeting he didn’t have the support for an appointment on the Planning Commission and I wanted to show the person I voted for that he had my confidence, rather than use the vote on my friend. I had no idea it would hurt his feelings so much and for that I’m sorry, but I stand by my vote.
What message would you like to leave the new city council with?
Listen to the residents, understand the role of a council member is essentially a public servant functioning on a board of directors, and respect the staff working as professionals for the city as their career.
What message would you like to leave the citizens of Dana Point with?
Thank you for all your support and friendship throughout the years.
What are you most looking forward to about not being on the council?
Not having to field the complaints, insults and criticisms that tend to come via email late in the evening; likely after the sender has enjoyed several glasses of wine.
What will you miss most about it?
Helping people and making positive contributions to the community on the governmental level, and seeing the people at City Hall on a regular basis.
Will you continue to be involved in the city, and if so, in what capacity?
It depends on if we stay in Dana Point. For the first time in a long while I’m untethered from a mooring and considering the best options for my family.
Will you share a few cherished memories from your time on the council?
Watching my girls go from babies, to crawling, to walking, to taking over Jackie and Fran’s office at City Hall, summer concerts, Volunteer of the Month presentations and all the friends I’ve made and the fun we’ve had over the years.
What do you consider most special about the city of Dana Point and its citizens?
The small town atmosphere, friendly people and the natural beauty that surrounds us. The spirit of volunteerism is exceptional in our town and it’s truly heartwarming to see so many of our citizens reaching out to help others and work together on worthwhile causes.
Have you decided whether you will run again in two years?
Let’s put this in perspective; if I didn’t run again until 20 years from now, I’d still be younger than three out of four candidates in the last election.
Do you intend to run for any higher office?
How did you spend your first couple of weeks off the council?
I went to the Winter Festival, the dentist and helped with the election at the library. Other than feeling a bit lighter with fewer obligations, it wasn’t much different than any other week, nor did I expect it to be. I never got wrapped up in the title, I always considered myself a regular resident serving on the council as another volunteer position, just trying to make my community better.