I have made passionate and at times even strident arguments before the City Council, but then I tend to go down to City Hall to speak up on behalf of small coalitions of political underdogs and lost causes. Typically I know the vote will go against my position, but I still try to focus on substantive issues and respect the council’s procedure.
In contrast, at Tuesday night’s council meeting on the village entrance project, the lobbyist for Let Laguna Vote and a spokesperson for Village Laguna boldly asserted that they represent a “clear majority” in our town. This precipitated a disconcerting and at times disruptive triumphalism in opposition ranks.
Touting the presumption of majority support, Village Laguna activist Arnold Hano boisterously told the council the people have rejected the project, making any further discussion a waste of time because, in his words, “it’s all over.” Former Councilwoman Verna Rollinger also issued a cease and desist edict, declaring the project dead and demanding the council “drive a stake through its heart.”
That set the tone for an evening of sometimes shoddy political burlesque, in which some opposition speakers were boorishly disdainful toward the council. This uncivil tone persisted even though Councilman Whalen conceded the council majority had not struck the right balance between the need for decisive action and further vetting of options for final project design, scope and cost.
Mayor Pro Tem Pearson and Councilman Steve Dicterow supported Whalen’s call for a new public hearing process before committing the city to any final project plan or financing terms. Even then Mayor Boyd had to admonish those in the opposition camp, who were speaking out of order and denying Council members the right to be heard.
The more the ccouncil majority humbled itself and offered consultation on possible plan revisions, the more unforgiving and overtly belligerent the opposition became. When some Tea Party activists are alleged to act like that the press calls it “mob rule.”
Clearly, Let Laguna Vote claims the political trophy of majority rule without actually having a vote. Even before the City Council has passed the point of no return in its decision-making, the Village Laguna crowd wants us preemptively to abandon normative representative governance in favor of government by referendum, only to argue that they have won the debate without bothering to have a referendum.
Ironically, the Let Laguna Vote lobbying campaign is not supporting the “We the People” effort led by Paul Merritt, which may or may not be successful but at least is doing grassroots work trying to qualify a ballot initiative to limit the scope of any project at the site. In contrast, Let Laguna Vote wants to exploit the idea of a vote without doing the real work of democracy.
The opposition may well have overplayed its hand, and made the City Council once again look responsively deliberate with regard to the village entrance issue. Beating up on the council may have caused many people to want to give them a chance to sort out this mess and get the project right.
After all, Mayor Boyd’s unassailably principled call for a vote was triggered in the first instance by the appearance that the scope, design and cost of the project was being cast in stone. Now that the council has agreed the project is still to be molded in clay before being fired in the kiln, the Let Laguna Vote case for a “shutdown” of representative government, and a referendum held “in concept only,” seems less compelling and, at least for now, premature.
Howard Hills, a Laguna Beach resident, is on the staff of the area’s congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.