Finishing a Legacy Begun by Others
The open space initiative on this year’s ballot has raised questions and inspired debate. People naturally want to know how it would work, while some argue that it’s not necessary. For those with questions, I encourage you to visit the campaign website, lagunaopenspace.com. You’ll find that Measure CC would mirror what the city’s been doing for more than 20 years. The only real difference would be a temporary local funding source to replace our now depleted local share of state park funds.
Like all cities, Laguna is defined by its history. We’re fortunate that we live in a town where historically the majority of voters of all political persuasions–liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans–have consistently said that they value open space and have voted to acquire and preserve it, as they did with the 20-year bond to buy Laguna Canyon back in 1990. Talk about a village entrance: none could be more inviting and aesthetically pleasing than the natural, rock-crested, tree-dotted hills lining both sides of Laguna Canyon Road. That bucolic village entrance came with a big price tag, yet I’ve not heard anyone carp about the tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that it took to save our picturesque canyon from development. No, most of us are just grateful that Lagunans supported a public policy more than two decades ago that was so enlightened. This is not to say that all Lagunans voted for that bond measure; assuredly, there was a small minority of our citizens who thought the price tag was too high, or that the city had other priorities that were more important, or who simply opposed any additional taxes period.
Measure CC, the Laguna Beach Open Space Acquisition and Preservation Parcel Tax Measure, which appears on this November’s ballot would enable our city to complete the purchase of the roughly 400 acres of undeveloped land remaining in the city. The city would not go into debt as the tax revenue would not come out of the budget; instead it would come out of a fund set up for the exclusive purpose of purchasing parcels as they come on the market. An unpaid citizens’ watchdog committee would insure that all purchases were in strict compliance with the terms of the measure. There would be no eminent domain. With the canyon bond just paid off, the parcel tax of $120 a year would mean no added tax burden beyond what we’re accustomed to paying. Most of us would be paying less than half what we paid for the canyon bonds retired last year.
As in 1990, some are against this open space measure. They contend that the city has other priorities. That’s legitimate, but not a compelling reason to reject Measure CC. When we bought the canyon in 1990 the city didn’t ignore other priorities regarding public safety, helping flood victims, installing public art and a whole range of other matters. The same would be true for the open space initiative. Some say the undeveloped parcels are unbuildable; now that’s not true. Drive up to Diamond-Crestview and take a good look at what was built on land that was supposedly “unbuildable.”
Most of all, remember this is Laguna Beach. Here we not only say we value open space, we hike and bike our trails, we buy art that graces our homes with reminders of our greenbelt, and we pay to continue an environmental legacy that year after year draws throngs of visitors to our city. We’re not the only coastal city in Orange County but we’re the one that plein air artists like William Wendt, Edgar Payne, and a host of others have immortalized in their landscape paintings. With a dip in land values, this is precisely the time to finish what an earlier generation of Lagunans, led by Jim Dilley, started. Preserve our open space. Vote “yes” on Measure CC.
Tom Osborne, a retired Santa Ana College history professor and recipient of the city’s Environmental Award, has written three books and specializes in California and Pacific maritime history.