Village Matters: Nix the Negative Trailer

By Ann Christoph.

By Ann Christoph.

My dad was a member of the Optimists Club because he really needed it.  Sometimes he just couldn’t resist putting a negative spin on things, “Those are really nice new shoes you have, much better than the ones you usually wear,” is a “compliment” that sticks in my mind.

But my dad’s not the only one.  I have a few more favorites from others:

“That’s a real nice photo of you. (at age 26) You looked so young!”

Or when someone is told of a generous gesture, “How nice. I wonder what he’s getting out of it.”

Or “Congratulations! So far so good.”

Or “I love Laguna, but I paid (x) for my house and now there’s this problem…”

“I wish (the city, the council, or “they”) would: get rid of dog poop, dogs barking, coyotes; get my neighbor to turn down the music, paint his house, cut his trees; keep people from parking in front of my house; or let me build a bigger house…”

I loved council member Elizabeth Pearson’s campaign slogan a few years back. “Keep it positive.”

Our city seems to have been founded by optimists, people who deeply appreciated the beauty of this almost-island, separated from the flat agricultural plains of the rest of the county by the sheltering San Joaquin Hills. Artists loved it with its coves, crashing waves, varied landscape and ever-changing light and perspective.  Residents sought a retreat and idyllic life.  Business could flourish and a community could be built, leaders thought. They all went about creating it part by part, step by step.

Homesteaded land was divided into lots. Some lots were sold and cottages were built.

Primitive water systems were installed. Some of the developments failed, only to be taken over by other optimists who sold more lots, one by one.  The water systems were given to the public.  Water districts were formed. Land like Heisler Park was dedicated to the city. Money was raised by donations for a variety of public improvements from the library to Bluebird Park. All this took dedication, organization, and enthusiastic working together.

A 100 years of this has created the Laguna Beach we now have. No single developer handed this community to its residents complete with planned shopping centers, schools, industrial parks, or even the basic things like curbs, streets, sidewalks, utilities, and drainage systems.  None of these community items has been perfectly solved, yet there is beauty in the imperfections.  The variety produced by innovative individual and community decision-making has given Laguna Beach the unique character that we so treasure.

Contrary to academic design-school theory, piecemeal, eclectic planning has turned out to be a very good thing—because it was done with a conscience and sympathy for the good qualities of the place we Lagunans found ourselves in decade after decade.

So rather than expecting perfection and adding that “but” after “I love Laguna” let’s make it a phrase that says what we are going to continue the Laguna tradition of volunteerism and enhanced community loveliness.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member and community garden organizer.

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