Does the Wet Suit You


The Builders

By J.J. Gasparotti

Usually this column focuses on issues that are, in essence, Laguna’s first world problems. Independence Day with its fireworks displays and throngs of tourists would be the perfect occasion for such an exercise.

This holiday weekend Laguna Beach will spend tens of thousands of dollars on a fireworks display that attracts over 60,000 tourists. These tourists will then cost Laguna’s taxpayers hundreds of thousands dollars more, to clean up their mess, rescue them from the surf, first aid their boo boos, and jail for being drunk or disorderly. It’s a tradition.

Instead, we’re going to focus on a man who recently died and never lived in Laguna. He was a dear friend of the author and his passing is a reflection on the end of an era and the changing of the guard. Howard T. Parsell died on June 2, at the age of 76.

Howard was an engineering graduate from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He joined the great migration of people who brought their skills to California to build a better life. These engineers, educators, rocket scientists, licensed professionals, technicians, laborers, and a host of others, built California into a great state. His generation is known as the builders.

Howard began his career designing bridges for the highway system that transformed this state. After a few years, he opened his own firm. During this career, he provided structural engineering, civil engineering, and architectural design work for more than 6,900 projects all over the West, including Laguna.

These projects ranged from the gigantic (a trucking facility with several hundred loading bays) to the tiny (a widow’s non-permitted awning that caught the attention of code enforcement). His career spanned most of the arc of postwar California history.

California began as a place fulfilling a golden promise of the good life. It brought millions like Howard who built their lives and a great society. It’s ending in disappointment for many who lately have been rebuffed by economic inequality, bad schools, and a profound lack of housing.

Howard was a builder’s engineer. His mission was to design structures that were safe, attractive, and reasonable to build. The past few years were troubled with increasing frustration at the impediments being cast in the way of building much needed housing and commercial development, by a burgeoning government that seems to work hard at stifling progress.

Howard was a problem solver. Left alone, folks like him would have made our housing crisis a non-event that never happened. We’re all going to miss the contributions from folks like Howard.


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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