When I relocated to Laguna Beach nearly seven years ago, the embers of battle between the various factions within the city’s populace and the developers of the Montage resort, were still smoldering. Having not lived through that war, I saw only the outcome: a stunning resort on a gorgeous beach with a lovely park where my dog and I strolled each morning [and what some have called the most expensive dog park in America.] Not to mention a huge annual infusion into the local economy.
Stu Saffer, then publisher of the Indy, my new boss, sat me down the first week on the job and recited chapter and verse on the history of the Montage. He singled this story out not only because it was fresh, and fascinating, but because he believed it would serve as good orientation for a new reporter. Covering the city required context and it was indeed a good lesson. The story of the Montage is both history and prophecy, and now the stuff of legend.
This was never more evident than on a recent evening when a reported 3,500 people, including a whole lot of gleeful children, made their way to the annual Montage holiday party and tree lighting. Watching people stream into the event, I couldn’t help but chuckle, because there are people in town who still won’t step foot there.
Like so much in America, Laguna can be deeply divided on its persona. One might call this the past versus the future divide, but that would be overly simplistic. More like the village versus beach town versus arts community versus good-place-to-live or good-place-to-visit divide, each with a different perspective, and agenda. We might label this the Montage Divide, and we continue to see the ripple effect, including the recent downfall of an open space initiative and the rejection by City Council of funding for the South Laguna Community Garden.
I also wonder, if the economy had not tanked, whether plans to redevelop the Aliso Creek Resort, aka Ben Brown’s, would have even gotten off the ground by now, where factions had also constructed their forts and prepared for battle, including plans to ensure the spoils of their war. Such battles, which are waged in towns throughout the country, not to mention the federal government, seem more intimate here and intense because our destiny often falls into the hands of a small group of people who argue on behalf of the rest. Battles fought by the same people over and over again make even the best of friends and neighbors grouchy.
The political here is decidedly personal, and certainly the process is also a study in democracy. We have a voice. We argue and often find compromise. However, especially at this time of year, we might let bygones be bygones and appreciate all that we have to show for our disputes. The Montage is a perfect example.
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered the city for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com. She often takes a walk at the Montage and sometimes sits by the fire with a book.