Green Light


Tom Osborne

Where Common Good Reigns

Sign a petition for the Open Space Initiative; do it for the common good.  Let me explain.

Mother Nature has given bounteously to Laguna Beach, which is why my family and many others live here.  Our seascape and landscape have few if any equals in scenic beauty in Southern California. On the other hand, few other Southland cities have suffered the combined ravages of fire, flood, and mudslides that our little city has experienced, and the strong sense of community resulting from efforts to provide protection and relief.  These two things–a love of the natural environment and a coming together for the public good in times of natural calamity and encroaching development–have largely defined our city and its people.

We saw this in 1989.  On Veterans Day thousands of people marched into Laguna Canyon to the “Tell,” a 636-foot-long piece of public art featuring photographs evocative of our human connection to that ancient inland passage to the sea.  By nearly an 80 percent favorable vote, Lagunans passed a bond measure by which we taxed ourselves for 20 years to buy the canyon, preserving it as open space.

We saw this in 1993. A firestorm struck our town, “vaporizing 170 homes,” in the words of then city manager Ken Frank, and damaging hundreds more. Not given to uttering warm fuzzies, Frank went on to say that “with fantastic community support, coupled with federal and state disaster assistance and generally good cooperation from private insurance companies, the damaged neighborhoods — Canyon Acres, Mystic Hills and lower Temple Hills — have been resurrected into attractive neighborhoods.”

We saw this in 1997-98. During that winter, Laguna Beach suffered record rainfall, resulting in mudslides in Laguna Canyon. Two people were killed and several houses destroyed. Municipal government and the citizenry in partnership provided aid for the common good.

We saw a similar partnership to 2005’s disaster. After a wet winter, a hillside in Bluebird Canyon destroyed or damaged two dozen homes.

And yet again in 2010.  By Dec. 22 a storm had dumped nine inches of rain on our city. This was the equivalent of a 100-year flood, meaning that there is only a 1 percent chance that our city would receive that much precipitation in any given year.  Ninety homes and 70 businesses were damaged.  Hotels in Laguna offered free rooms for displaced families. Fundraisers were held, citizens donated clothes, food, and other necessities to flood victims.

In that same year as over-fishing depleted marine life in and around our gemlike coves, Lagunans and our city government supported adoption of Marine Life Protection Act safeguards for our entire coastline. Was there a vigorous debate over this? Yes. But Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives came together for the common good of our marine life reserves both now and in the future.

During the past two decades, Lagunans, for all of our dialogues over environmental matters such as disaster preparedness, open space acquisition, view preservation, climate change, hillside protection, and marine reserves, have opted for the common good over special and private interests. This is a rarity in local governance. In few other Orange County cities to my knowledge has “the we,” or the common good, triumphed so often over “the me,” or the presumed private advantage, as in Laguna Beach.

This gives me reason to believe locally registered Laguna voters will do as I and numerous others have recently done, sign a petition to put the Open Space Initiative on the ballot.  That measure would enable the city to purchase the remaining 500 acres of open space comprising our “inner greenbelt.”  Funds would be raised through a citywide parcel tax of $120 per year ($10 a month). There would be no eminent domain; land could be purchased only from willing sellers.  If you haven’t signed, do so now.  Let’s continue the reign of the common good.

Tom Osborne, author of two book, is a retired Santa Ana College history professor and a recent recipient of the city’s Environmental Award.



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