Last week in City Council chambers, I promised to report on Councilmember Verna Rollinger and her merry band of Village Laguna vigilantes any time they try to manipulate our political process. Here’s Report #1 about 154 Pearl Street, site of the oldest cottage in Laguna.
For two years, the property owner diligently worked with the city on a plan to preserve the cottage. After that plan was unanimously approved by the Heritage Committee and by a 4 to 1 vote of the Design Review Board, that should have been the end of it. But Village Laguna appealed, and at the Dec. 7 City Council meeting when the appeal was heard, we all bore witness to a textbook lesson in Village Laguna’s bullying tactics.
Tactic #1: Pack the chamber to create the illusion of broad community support.
Tactic #2: Stretch the public hearing out for more than an hour to create the illusion of a strong case by having Village Laguna members make the same weak arguments ad nauseum.
Tactic #3: Misrepresent the deliberations of both the Heritage Committee and DRB to create the illusion of controversy.
Tactic #4: Try to kill the project on a legal technicality.
Tactic #5: Totally mischaracterize the architectural plans to create the illusion of a contemporary structure replacing a historical one. (No wonder Village Laguna wants to keep real architects from serving on the DRB.)
Tactic #6: Have Councilmember Rollinger faithfully regurgitate every Village Laguna argument in the hopes of convincing her fellow council members.
Now here’s the good news. The normal 3-2 Village Laguna majority on the council – Rollinger, Iseman, and Jane Egly – failed to uphold the appeal. Egly defected because she simply couldn’t buy some of the weakest arguments ever offered by Village Laguna against a solid project.
At one time, Village Laguna played a useful role in historic preservation. But with each victory and with what it thinks is a solid majority on the council, the group has veered ever farther from its mission. Now, instead of selfless political action from the group, we have what looks essentially to be a group of grumpy old men and women who want to stop everything just because they can.
My advice to Village Laguna supporters: hold your board of directors more accountable to common sense, and tell them they need to be far more selective in the projects they oppose. Otherwise Village Laguna simply looks like an extremist group attacking the decision-making process itself.
Peter Navarro, Laguna Beach