In April, I had the pleasure of attending the “Diversity and the Creative Economy” symposium. In the current political climate, marked by negativity and division, it was refreshing to see that many in our community are looking to keep dialogue alive.
I’m grateful for all the people who put time, energy and dollars behind this event. We heard from title sponsor Bank of America, who has been championing various initiatives to promote inclusion and diversity. We also heard from Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella, who spoke about her department hiring officers with diverse backgrounds and how this enables her team to better represent and build closer relationships with the people it serves. Mo Honarkar shared how he fell in love with Laguna in the 80s as a UCI student from Iran. He spoke about his aim to revitalize and beautify distressed properties.
A key takeaway from keynote speaker, urbanist Richard Florida, is that Southern California has become the nation’s most economically segregated metropolitan area, ahead of New York and even San Francisco. Here in Laguna, high rents and home values drive out many teachers, artists, police officers, small business owners, seniors, and an alarmingly high percentage of the younger generations. The people being pushed out are a vital part of the lifeblood of this community—we need them—and we need to make room for them by finding creative ways to create affordable housing.
Many local residents oppose virtually any type of new development, contending that by definition it will lessen or even destroy our charming character. Ironically, because buildings that are empty are not charming, they are eyesores; nor is it charming to price out artists and teachers and other working people.
I am convinced there are ways to stay true to the Laguna spirit and build on our rich cultural heritage while doing more to help the community members that are struggling to stay in Laguna find ways of living and thriving here in Laguna Beach.
I do not support development at all costs, and I do support preserving Laguna’s character as a priority above all. It is my view these two positions are perfectly compatible, and I am hopeful, and definitely open minded, that new projects, if done right and judged on their merits, can increase Laguna’s charm and strengthen our distinctive character.
Lea Abel-Stone, Laguna Beach