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Historic Holdup

By JJ Gaspaarotti
By JJ Gaspaarotti

The best way to see Laguna Beach is on a walk. My wife Nancy walks me daily. Doctor’s orders. No bag or leash required. Pierre is so jealous.

The first thing you see is the variety of neighborhoods in Laguna. It isn’t as demographically varied as it once was. Laguna used to have a “wrong side of the tracks.” Homes there now cost more than a million bucks, making it hard to think of that neighborhood in the historic way.

It’s easy to see the neighborhood differences. Arch Beach Heights doesn’t look like the tree streets in North Laguna. The change from Cypress Street, with its apartment buildings, compared to High Drive, with its big homes on large lots, is stark. They are only a few blocks apart.

Each neighborhood has parcels developed in a wide range of styles and size. Sometimes you can see some unifying theme in all this that defines a neighborhood character.

Often the first person to perceive this neighborhood character will be some hand-waving consultant wearing a corduroy suit.

There’s even a group that claims to be able to see the entire village character. They’re happy to describe this village character to those of us who can’t see it yet. Their efforts to preserve and protect this village character often intrude into our lives in a myriad of ways.

These folks tend to use municipal ordinances as tools to bully people into leaving town exactly the way it was when they moved here. Their latest effort at preserving the village character through preventing change is the historic preservation ordinance.

Doug Cortez and Larry Nokes are exactly right when they assert that the city’s efforts at a historic preservation ordinance are not required under state law and exceed the minimum mandated. What else would you expect from folks that want to turn a sewage sludge digester tank into a silk purse?

Nokes and Cortez are additionally correct when they assert that the vast majority of cities in California are not developing historic preservation ordinances as intrusive as Laguna Beach is. It’s interesting to see which cities are adopting ordinances and policies like Laguna’s.

They are places like Del Mar or Carmel or any other city fortunate enough to have shacks that sell for more than a million dollars. These are all places that have developed an idea of what their village character should look like and have a self-appointed group of folks who will be happy to do whatever it takes to keep their vision intact.

These efforts at preservation are really only economic barriers to entry designed to keep property values artificially high and change at bay. The action placing a big percentage of Laguna’s homes on a historic registry has made any structure on the list guilty of being historic and subject to restrictions unless proven innocent. Exoneration will cost thousands of dollars in “professional consultant” fees.

That’s pretty extreme for a country whose justice system is based on the concept of innocent until proven guilty.

J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.

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