September 2, 2022 | Laguna Beach Indy News September 2, 2022 - Page 3

lagunabeachindy . com SEPTEMBER 2 , 2022 3



Chief Wildfire Defense Consultant Exits City Hall

came in at second , third , and fourth .
In the Legends category ( 60 and over ) Walter Viszolay earned first , Kerry Pedlow took second , Paul McManus placed third and Buzz Shaw took fourth place .
Walter Viszolay , a 48-year Laguna Beach resident , said having the crowd cheer during an extraordinary run is a blessing .
“ It was a great event because of the waves . It ’ s always about the waves . When the waves are good you get to perform . When you get older you don ’ t always perform the way you used to ,” he said .
As an artist , Viszolay sees surfing as another form of artistic expression .
“ That ’ s why dancing , surfing , and art are all interconnected ,” he said .
In the 16 & older women ’ s category : Scout Mitchell earned first , Devyn Linder took second , and Alisa Cairns placed third .
In the boys 13 and under category , Dia Prietto placed first , Brooks Carter took second . Ace Halpern , earned third , and Bobby Cornelison placed fourth .
See the full list of contest results at lagunabeachindy . com .
By Daniel Langhorne | LB Indy
Laguna Beach and a retired Orange County Fire Authority battalion chief who oversaw the construction of wildfire breaks have quietly parted ways after five and a half years .
Mike Rohde played a central role in managing the permitting , environmental analysis , and labor-intensive endeavor to create defensible space between wild brush and Laguna Beach homes . City leaders have earmarked $ 8.5 million , including about $ 4 million in state funding , to complete the work which found new urgency in May after the Coastal Fire destroyed multimillion homes in Laguna Niguel .
Laguna Beach ’ s innovative approach to working with biologists to maintain environmentally-sensitive habitat while clearing invasive species earned praise from California Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth , who described it as “ the most sensibly designed fuel modification plan I have ever seen .”
In November 2021 , the City Council approved a contract amendment with Rohde & Associates that would have extended services through March 2023 . The revised contract was worth up to $ 201,600 . The parties stopped working together on July 25 ,
a city spokesperson said . Rohde declined to comment for this story .
Planned wildfire fuel modification zones in South Laguna , Bluebird Canyon , and Park Avenue remain on track with their previously established schedules , city spokesperson Cassie Walder wrote in an email Tuesday .
“ South Laguna and Park Avenue zones just completed their first phase and Bluebird zone is proceeding at the federal level with environmental clearance . In addition , maintenance of all existing fuel modification zones is on schedule …” Walder wrote .
Following Rohde ’ s departure , day-today administration of the multi-million dollar program was handed to Jeremy Frimond , special projects manager and assistant to City Manager Shohreh Dupuis . He leads a team of consultants that include the Laguna Canyon Foundation and Nature ’ s Image .
Laguna Beach Fire Chief Niko King and other Fire Department staffers still oversee the program , Walder said .
In another consequential move earlier this year , the Community Development Department — under the Fire Chief ’ s oversight — is processing the review and permitting of wildfire-resistant landscaping for new
construction projects and the annual weed abatement program . That work was previously done by fire marshal James Brown who retired June 1 after five years with the City .
Retired Laguna Beach fire chief Mike Garcia said he ’ s not privy to why Rohde and the City parted ways but was sad to learn he ’ s no longer employing his unique skillset to make Laguna Beach a safer place .
“ Mike is very passionate about what he does , using his experience and science in putting on this program ,” Garcia said . “ Although it wasn ’ t 100 % accepted by the community during his tenure , we at the Fire Department saw less criticism and more praise — and still accomplished our goals — as compared to prior years .”
During his contract with Laguna Beach , Rohde regularly updated the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee on his progress to harden the City against wind-whipped wildfires . He served as part of the incident command team for the 1993 Laguna Fire .
“ A decorated former battalion chief at OCFA , Mike is well regarded in the
WILDFIRE , page 18