Letter: Laguna Leadership Lacks a Cohesive Vision


We elect our leaders to serve four years on a rotating basis. Like musical chairs, every two years we pull out a couple of bodies and see who sits down in the empty chairs. Each year a new council member gets a turn in the barrel. I am questioning if we are getting good results.

The city leadership lacks a cohesive understanding of what should happen in the downtown core. At present we wait for a property owner or tenant to suggest what they would like to do and we then react to their proposal. It’s a piece by piece reactive versus a leading process, with no cohesive vision.

Shouldn’t we be out looking for the right type of business to add to the synergy needed in the downtown and then make a serious effort to convince it to move here?

A successful retail complex, be it a shopping center, a downtown or a main street, needs to be managed as a whole. The synergy of the individual pieces is what makes the overall composition successful. The type of shops, parking, traffic circulation, physical ambiance, and street scape all contribute to the success of the whole. At present, no one has a clear understanding of the opportunities or needs of our downtown and no one is cohesively managing our village.

I’m starting to believe that an elected mayor government might be more effective. We elect a mayor based on their social, political and economic vision and allow the mayor and team to carry out their vision and related policies over a four-year term. Public involvement is still part of the picture, but it is within context with the vision that got the mayor elected. Now we have an ever-changing council leadership that responds to various proposals and tries to negotiate with each of our political factions.

I am told by people with experience in this area that the elected mayor type of government works well if you elect a good mayor and not so well if you don’t. As it is now, we have a little bit of both, depending on who is mayor.


Roger McErlane, Laguna Beach



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  1. Roger: Great observations and humor but there are 493 views of your letter with ZERO comments. Without reader participation perhaps residents earn the government Kabuki they deserve. Kabuki: a stylish drama with elaborate dance, dynamic acting, comic palylets and good entertainment. Cross-dressing is encouraged, frequently rowdy, and brawls occasionally break out.

  2. Great observations Roger, I have been asking for a City vision (at least an updating of the Vision 2030 document) and a cultural vision. Over the last 10 years, everyone I asked tells me either they want the City to stay as it is or nothing at all. The symptoms of this kind of thinking are exactly what you describe. I don’t know what comes first the chicken or the egg. But we arrived at a point where Laguna is unwilling to give any investor or politician a chance to change or implement something new. Instead of allowing some changes and wait till afterwards to judge and ridicule, we say no and stay still. Progress is never liked at the beginning, because people are afraid of change in case it might get worse, but the avoidance of change will exactly create what the City is so afraid of losing, Laguna’s soul, because it is dying of stagnation.

  3. I don’t want to disappoint Les, so here are my comments: (1) give me some examples of businesses that are eager to enhance the downtown experience if only we had our civic act together? Although I buy my Tommy Bahama shirts at the Assistance League, the store was certainly upscale and well-located and yet it reportedly did not have a single profitable month in ten years (so we can’t blame its failure all on the shuttering of the Hotel Laguna). (2) Although Vision 2030 is hardly a hot topic these days, it’s still our sanctioned master plan for the next 10 years. And the Cultural Arts Plan is just a few years old. So I don’t think a lack of vision explains the piecemeal, band-aid approach to change that drives Les crazy. Perhaps there are some underlying, fundamental changes we need to make first. I know Les wants us to become Amsterdam-on-the-Pacific and Michaell is a tireless advocate for public transportation. But I don’t think either of you will get what you want unless the City takes ownership of our main roads, which it has shown zero interest in doing. (I was surprised to learn that both Corona del Mar and Dana Point control their segments of Highway 1, which explains why they are so much prettier than ours if equally as crammed with cars.) (3) Right now, it is possible to get elected to the Council with less than 15% of the vote and then claim to speak for the silent majority, which, by virtue of its name, cannot confirm or deny this. Imagine how the makeup of the Council would change if we employed ranked choice voting, which has had a positive impact in other communities, but which no one ever discusses here. Roger may be right about having an elected Mayor, but I think ranked choice voting would be a better way to get the representative leadership we all say we want. That’s all I got, Les. For now.


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