Breathe in, Breathe out

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

“Homeowners association” are words that bring to mind frustrating meetings, uninformed opinions leading groups astray, enforcement of the covenants, conditions and restrictions as well as the pet peeves of board members, snippy and put-upon hired managers. There is often a hostile audience of homeowners trying to get their “rights” upheld and their neighbors to do what they should and stop doing what they shouldn’t. Altogether an unpleasant and uninspired endeavor.

But I learned this weekend that there is another way. Some management companies offer “lifestyle services.” Their managers are “specialists at promoting community bonding and relationship building.” They work to “give your community that important sense of belonging.” One of their managers described how social events, volunteer projects, and tours have transformed the attitudes of the residents, making her assigned area—a 10-year-old tract–not just a place to live and enforce rules, but a rewarding experience of community. So enthusiastic about her work, she found that in promoting good relationships among the community members, she has made both her job and the lives of the community members more fulfilling. And as a result of the positive feelings about the community, and residents getting to know each other in social settings, complaints and the need for enforcement have been dramatically reduced.

As a city we are becoming more like a homeowner’s association, but without the CC &Rs to back up the enforcement of detailed regulations. Up until recently we have been emphasizing “lifestyle services.” This is a fancy name for the good old community feeling as we meet friends at Music in the Park, volunteer at our child’s school, serve as docents at the museum or the wilderness park, or prepare meals at the homeless center. That feeling of pulling together for our community, joining together to with the dearly held appreciation for Laguna we hold in common—that is the spirit of Laguna that we treasure.

Will more filing of complaints, detailed examination of view equity, debates about the value of trees vs. views, help us on our path, raise our spirits? Or will it just make more losers and winners, more people who have attained their “rights,” separated from others who have refused to surrender them?

As I was picking some kale at the South Laguna Community Garden Park a fellow gardener came to water. A real estate agent, he was frustrated with the hostility he was finding as buyers, sellers and agents try to negotiate by email and texting. “I spend a lot of time trying to translate some positive meaning from extremely terse and negative statements. Is there some underlying message there I can work with? If people talk on the phone or in person it is so different, there is respect and acknowledgement of the feelings of the other person. But that is not happening today.”

More artificial and remotely controlled constructs for communication—through ordinances, rules, texting, email—don’t promote that feeling of pulling together. Here of all places, where we have such beauty and a tradition of community cohesiveness, surely there is much more we can accomplish face to face.

“I need to water the garden.” He pondered, “We all need to meditate.”


“Breathe in, breathe out,” he called as I headed toward home.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph helped develop the South Laguna Community Garden and is a former council member.



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