Local Currents



By David Vanderveen

“Cooperation is the new competition.” GrowersFirst.com


Our family just returned from an epic adventure in Honduras with the Laguna Beach-based non-profit Growers First. The trip involved working with rural coffee farmers, visiting Mayan ruins in Copan and exploring the reefs and islands around Roatan. My favorite observation was seeing how neighbors work together and support each other in remote agricultural communities.


Growers First helps rural poor coffee farmers work together to sell their coffee crop cooperatively as well as gain organic certifications, improve growing practices and track each farm and farmer family. The goal of Growers First programs is to help growers lift themselves out of poverty by capturing more value from the supply chain and investing that value back into their local communities.


Rito is a Growers First farmer. Five years ago he sold his crop for roughly $95. His family lived on a dirt floor and did not have access to clean water. This year, Rito’s crop was sold for $1,500 and his family now has a multi-room home with concrete floors and clean water. He has gone from being one of the poorest members of his community to a leader.


When our family and two other families arrived in the village, Rito was there to  help one of his neighbors pour a concrete floor in his home. Chavalito, a diminutive man, lived with his wife and 11 children without electricity, indoor plumbing on dirt floors in one room.


In the village, high in the Honduran mountains, the farmers know that their existence is tied together. If one person benefits, they work to help others benefit as well. Rito didn’t see his success as his own entirely; he saw it as an opportunity to help those around him.


In this week’s Laguna Beach City Council meeting, I’m listening to one neighbor’s opposition to a home building project that needs to be completed. It has been sitting unfinished for five years and, regardless of whatever may have happened in the past with the previous builder, it needs to get done and a wonderful family wants to finish it.


Rather than blowing corks out of champagne bottles to celebrate a savior to this project that has hammered our home values, we’re talking about what design review was thinking 10 years ago when the home was approved.


The City Council and Design Review Board listen to every complaint that a neighbor can dream up. No matter how trivial, immaterial or divisive one neighbor may wish to be to his neighborhood and community, the city will give them a pedestal, time, resources and credibility.


Mayor Toni Iseman suggested that the reason this discussion wasn’t trivial is because she disagreed with a decade-old decision by design review. She wants an autopsy on how our town ended up with a monstrous eyesore that has been sitting vacant for five years.


Such an autopsy on the design review process is probably valuable. There has been a lack of consistency in decision-making. One of the more common descriptors for the design review board is “arbitrary.” It is hard to make decisions about buying, remodeling or building new homes with random approvals and denials.


If the city council undertakes an autopsy of design review and how community projects are denied and approved, we need to include a review of what can create a process that encourages more cooperation, rather than a process that gives tools to neighbors to obstruct obvious solutions. We need an editing process.


Watching one neighbor’s toil mixing and spreading concrete by hand so that his friend’s family can lift themselves out of the dirt was such a contrast to seeing another neighbor attempt to block a project mired in controversy.


We might learn a bit about cooperation and shared responsibility from our neighbors to the south.


David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

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