Letter: Iseman Was a Game Changer in Laguna


Each week it seems some submittals to the Indy sadly vent frustrations of one kind or another. I just don’t get it. I look around at this place we are lucky enough to call home and just wonder how anyone can see Laguna’s glass as half empty.

Still, I rarely weigh in. But last week, an individual questioned the 24-year service of Toni Iseman, suggesting that once she’s gone, her legacy will be “…as if you did not exist. Your service was so much dust.” I could not disagree more.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone and everyone who would throw themselves on the grenade that is serving on our City Council. No matter your politics, how pure your heart, how true your intentions and how sharp your mind, once a Councilmember has rendered their opinion, half the room seems to tolerate it while the other half is outraged. The only certainty in our system is that you will not always agree with the outcome. But please trust that those five overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated Councilmembers up there are doing their very best and are making significant personal sacrifices just to do right by this town. We should all be truly thankful for their immeasurable commitment to Laguna.

And as for Toni’s legacy, knowingly or not, we all experience it almost every day as we drive in through Laguna Canyon and are not passing 3000 homes, eight stoplights and several commercial strip centers. Toni was the game changer in motivating the mighty Irvine Company to come to the table to even discuss selling that land for open space rather than building yet another master-planned “village” in our pristine canyon. As a founding board member of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, I witnessed firsthand that despite the heroic efforts of Carolyn Wood, Lida Lenney and our handful of well-intentioned, ragtag volunteers, we were not getting any public awareness traction (zero advertising budget) or the attention of the County’s largest property owner.

Enter “The Phantom” and one crazy “Hail Mary” idea. Toni recalled how engaging “Burma Shave” progressive roadside signs were from her childhood. Plywood and paint were cheap, and it was pitch dark out there at 3 a.m. The Phantom (Toni) changed her rhyming, fun and informative calls to action every few weeks. People literally drove out of their way to see the new message. They made our Conservancy phones ring (no email then), inspired some significant donations, and got people to lace up their shoes for a hike of environmental solidarity on a sunny day.

Without Toni Iseman’s singular and outlandish efforts, our canyon buffer of tranquility as we know it would undoubtedly be cluttered with homes, convenience stores and traffic signals. Since then, she has committed half her life to ensuring Laguna maintains her soul. I suspect Toni would be the first to acknowledge that she may not have gotten every decision right, but her heart and commitment to Laguna Beach and her residents never wavered.

Mark Christy, Laguna Beach

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