Guest column

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My Two Cents Worth

guest col freeman DSC_0169 cropped colllar          Thought I’d grab me a two-by-four and wack myself upside the head. I mean, here’s  some issues I hope come up in the 2018 City Council campaign.

Btw — I’m not being paid by a candidate or PAC. I’m writing as my wish is for Laguna to be a bit friendlier, more convenient and more sustainable.

Note: ideas are inspired by or outright stolen from other people and other places.

■ Traffic — Never mind crosswalks, residential permits, parking spaces and parking rates. The ticket is express transit lanes, up and down Coast Highway and the Canyon Road, maybe down the middle. Shuttles today, while popular, (a) get stuck in traffic and (b) cause traffic problems. Relocate on-street parking to peripheral areas in all directions, to make room. The upshot? You’d move people efficiently while enhancing the pedestrian experience. As a potential bonus, more peripheral parking and super-fast transit might lessen resident-business tensions along the commercial corridor, by reducing neighborhood traffic impacts. You’d have to take over the Canyon Road and Coast Highway from Caltrans and purchase liability insurance. Some say that’s a recipe for going broke. More cities are doing it, including on both sides of Laguna. I’ve heard of no problems. Is there a better way to make Laguna more enjoyable for everyone?

■ City Hall — Design Review applicants who play by the rules with an ecofriendly and artful design should be rewarded with a timely approval at a cost normal people can handle… even if they’re strangers to City Hall or use an architect from Azerbaijan. DR today encourages gamesmanship and can feel like an Irvine-style HOA, forcing people to settle for sameness. Zero-variance applications should be noticed 30 days in advance for the consent calendar, presumed approved. It should take two DRB members — with written reasons 10 days beforehand — to trigger a hearing. This might encourage more applicants to play by the rules, discourage frivolous objections, and frame hearings with more specific and objective considerations. Gamesmanship over parking requirements for downtown use applications can often be equally dizzying. Decouple parking and use. Making each use park itself runs counter to a pedestrian orientation. Additionally, the list of uses requiring a hearing dwarfs the list of what’s approvable administratively: it’s time to even it up. Finally, there should be all-department meetings to review applications so people aren’t pin balls bouncing back and forth: this would save everyone and the city time and money.

■ Arts — Keeping struggling local artists local is a trick, given pricey housing. Plus the city is built out, with few areas ripe for re-purposing to shoehorn in new low-cost housing. The Canyon Road oceanward of Sawdust may be one: that’s not a proposition, merely an observation. Would the community support a mix of housing there — some for artists and other working people — if you can’t see it thanks to a new creek trail and behind that an artful facade of new retail? I doubt it. Here’s a notion sure to annoy! (I know from experience.) The museum should relocate to form with the Playhouse and Festival a visual-and-performing-arts complex with new spaces for shared community use. I’ve lost all romance for a village entrance per se. But tell me — setting aside petty, turf-oriented nonsense — why it’s bad to examine how the whole, on both sides of the street, can be reimagined as greater than the sum of the parts. (It’s all city-owned land.) Oh, never mind.

■ Looking Ahead — A clarion call signals a threat, and Laguna rallies ‘round. Gotta love it. I do. Canyon threatened? Save the Canyon. (Glad we did; proud to have been part of that.) Festival threatened? Stop that hijack. Museum threatened? Stop that merger. There is a present threat. It’s not one thing nor all within the city’s capacity to influence. Global forces are transformative, shuttering shops or turning them into restaurants. Some things you can get your arms around. You can’t stop the influx of visitors anymore than you can stop the tide rolling in, but you can stop with the pointless us-versus-them and insist the city be more convenient, thereby more enjoyable for residents and visitors alike. Imagination! Remarkably, none of these signature places could be developed today, absent a boatload of variances: the Festival, Playhouse, Museum, Hotel Laguna, Mission Hospital, The Ranch, Forest Avenue. “The box” is okay. It’s good. It’s not smart to make a fetish of it. That’s a recipe for decline. Leave room for, don’t reflexively push back at, out-of-the-box creativity. It might lead to something beautiful. Even wonderfully iconic. Isn’t that the Laguna spirit? Ask your Council candidates what they think and what they envision.

The author, a former Laguna Beach council member and mayor, is a strategist, speaker and author presently residing in Dana Point. His clients have included South Coast Plaza, Arts OC, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

 

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