Village Matters

Weeding works wonders


By Ann Christoph.

There is a sloping area on the edge of the South Laguna Community Garden where a year ago we were pulling out castor bean plants, Bermuda grass, and the usual garden variety weeds. We had tiny native plant starts in small pots and garden volunteers planted them with varying degrees of expertise.  The plants were so little that we marked each one with a flag so they wouldn’t be stepped on by mistake or be overlooked by the waterers.

Now those inconspicuous upstarts are spreading and thriving. Jeanie Bernstein’s family donated more plants in her memory and we have the beginnings of a lovely native plant garden. On Saturday gardeners met to spruce up and I tackled the weeds on that bank.  One by one I sought out the persistent Bermuda grass and other unwelcome interlopers, on my knees reaching way under the shrubs, trying to give the wanted native plants a clear expansion path.  After a couple of hours of this I stood up, looked around at this small spot of achievement and I realized I felt better. The feelings of worry and stress had vanished. The pile of weeds would be carted away and somehow peace and order had taken their places, both on the ground and within.

It has been a tough couple of weeks struggling with our city’s approach to historic preservation. At last Wednesday’s special city council meeting it was clear that no one is happy with how things are going. Owners of historic properties complain that the process isn’t clear. Architects cite examples of inconsistencies and misdirected, costly efforts.  The Heritage Committee is frustrated by the restrictions on their authority to grapple with pending problems. The public is tired of losing or compromising historic structures as result of missteps and miscommunication.  The staff treads a knife edge: balancing administrative, legal concerns and pressures from all of the above.

This is a case where most of these players profess to wanting to implement the goals of the historic ordinances and policies.  Preserving our historical cottages and buildings is part of protecting Laguna’s diversity of design, special character and charm.  And we love living with these quaint, beautiful and creative expressions of our community story.

This should not be a conflict-laden endeavor. Most owners of historic buildings never make the headlines. They quietly appreciate and care for their properties and have little contact with the city’s programs.

However, sometimes people buy properties that don’t meet their list of expectations.  Perhaps the price they paid was lower than it would have been if there had not been a historic structure involved. Their attempts to meet their other goals can come into conflict with historic preservation.  “I don’t want to live in a museum,” they say.  Or “Can’t I build some condominiums on the rest of the lot?”  So conflict is not always the fault of the process. Sometimes conflict results from these competing objectives.

However, our current methods of dealing with historic preservation are clearly flawed.  Other cities have pioneered this effort and we should take lessons from them. There are processes that are clear and ones that work. We need to be on that track.  Council on Wednesday got that message and promised an agenda bill soon that proposes a way forward, perhaps a task force similar to the one that worked on the flooding issues or the design review methodology.

We can foster the good and effective provisions of our codes and procedures, add new beneficial ones and weed out that which is not serving. There are state programs with grants available for cities with approved historic preservation programs.  Historical preservation should be a happy appreciative endeavor, and now that May is here, Heritage Month, this is the perfect time to start bringing about order and peace.


Landscape architect and former council member Ann Christoph helped start the community garden.

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