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Former Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff Foster “Gene” Johns was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Laguna Niguel City Council—the second vacancy this year—during a June 14 council meeting.
Johns will be sworn in on June 20. He worked with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for over 31 years and has lived in Laguna Beach since his retirement seven years ago.
Johns said he believes the three most important issues facing the city are maintaining its place as the 6th safest city in California—according to the 2022 Safest Cities Report by SafeWise, a website that provides information on home security and safety—maintaining fiscal responsibility, and supporting small businesses.
“Laguna Niguel is a great place to live because it is a safe, healthy place and I intend to keep it that way,” Johns wrote in his application for the position. “The city deserves a strong and dedicated City Council that will continue to protect and preserve the public safety, fiscal health, pro local business climates, and natural beauty of Laguna Niguel while promoting smart vision for future growth.”
According to his biography on the city’s website, during Johns’s time as a deputy, he served for 24 years on a drug task force that received national recognition for helping to disrupt and dismantle cartel operations.
Johns “brings a wealth of experience in law enforcement to City Council,” Mayor Kelly Jennings told The Epoch Times in an email. “Gene’s kindness and compassion shines through in all his endeavors, and I am genuinely delighted to have the opportunity to serve alongside him.”
The city’s strategic plan—a set of goals to guide the city’s policies over the next 30 years—cites public safety as its number one priority, of which Johns brings a “wealth of experience” to the council, Jennings said.
According to his application, Johns has served as the city’s traffic and transposition commissioner since 2021 and is in numerous civic and community organizations—including the Laguna Niguel Chamber of Commerce, Niguel Botanical Preserve, and the Laguna Niguel Lions Club.
According to Jennings, Johns also regularly attends city council meetings, which, she said, has given him a “profound understanding” of the issues facing the council.
Johns will fill the seat of Sandy Rains, who stepped down as the city’s mayor in February after two of her colleagues asked her to resign from the largely ceremonial position after she asked the council for a discussion about possibly firing Laguna Niguel’s city manager. The move meant Rains remained a councilor. However, she resigned from that position as well in May.
Mayor Pro Tem Rischi Paul Sharma also resigned from the council in April for unknown reasons.
Estate Planning Attorney Stephanie Winstead—who was the runner-up in the November 2022 election was appointed as Sharma’s replacement on May 10.
Some residents, however, called for business owner Jeff von Waldburg, who received the third highest votes in the recent election, instead of Johns, to replace Rains.
“Our appointment processes focused on the qualifications of the candidates who applied and their involvement with the city,” Jennings said in the email. “Both of the selected candidates are exceptionally well qualified to serve, and I remain thankful for the many residents who submitted applications.”
According to Jennings, appointing the two seats, instead of holding a special election, saved time and an estimated $658,000 for the city.