By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Village Laguna’s Charm House Tour earlier this month saw rain for the first time in 47 years, but the weather didn’t stop the event’s organizers from selling more tickets than last year’s tour.
And neither did two critical, full-page advertisements in the Independent purchased by the Village Laguna’s ideological opponent, Liberate Laguna, in the weeks before the tour. Liberate Laguna’s supporters argue the Charm House Tour helps bankroll Village Laguna’s political campaigns to oppose new development.
“Their purpose is to destroy us because we are against overdevelopment,” said Johanna Felder, president of Village Laguna. “They’re all developers or real estate investors, so it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to determine what their motives are.”
For nearly five decades, the Charm House Tour has showcased the diverse architecture and character of Laguna Beach’s housing stock. This year’s tour featured five homes in North Laguna including a 1915 cottage and a mid-century modern home. More than 100 docents volunteer to tell attendees about homeowners’ stories about renovating their homes and interesting artwork.
Village Laguna sold 360 tickets, raising almost $19,000 from this year’s tour. Last year’s event raised sold 337 tickets, raising about $17,500, Felder said.
Among the nonprofits that have received grants from Village Laguna are the Laguna Pantry, Laguna Canyon Conservancy, South Laguna Community Garden, Laguna Bluebelt, and the Friendship Shelter. Each year, a Laguna Beach High School who demonstrates an interest in protecting the environment and promoting humanitarian goals also receives a scholarship funded by Village Laguna.
Michael Ray, a co-founder of Liberate Laguna, said his organization believes Village Laguna doesn’t properly disclose how it spends the money it raises from the Charm House Tour.
“We want people to know for all of these years, in effect, Village Laguna has been lying about who they are,” Ray said. “Our complaint is that Village Laguna has tied up the city so you can’t get anything done. If you have a home and want to do a remodel it could take you five years. It’s maddening.”
Ray also said the number of tickets sold for this year’s tour might be artificially high. Clark Collins, chairman of the Heritage Committee, offered on Nextdoor to pay for up to 20 tickets for Laguna Beach residents to attend who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend.
Collins said five Laguna Beach seniors took him up on his offer to buy their tickets and he was acting as a private citizen, not in his official capacity on the committee that reviews proposed changes to the historic homes.
“I think what Village Laguna does for this town is fantastic and it should be celebrated and not vilified,” Collins said.
Felder said several supporters bought extra tour tickets for their friends and neighbors to show solidarity with Village Laguna in the wake of the critical advertisements.
“Of course, Mr. Ray would say it was to only boost sales, but our take on it is that because of all the negative ads and comments, people showed their support of Village Laguna and the tour by purchasing extra tickets,” Felder said.