What’s wrong with Laguna? As with anything, it depends on whom you ask. If you ask a surfer they might say that we need more consistent waves. If you ask an artist they will tell you that we need more art collectors. If you ask a developer they will say that downtown needs more development.
Our developers are becoming more ambitions about major whole-block redevelopments of our downtown. The prospect of taller, denser, higher rent-yielding development has the effect of bidding up land prices and thus rents for the existing buildings downtown. That’s bad news for Laguna’s traditional merchants, low-income renters, including some seniors. They are all being driven out as property values and rents are being driven up.
In fact, the developer who is now calling Laguna Beach a “Ghost town” is the one who has bought several entire blocks here, and has displaced or is in the process of displacing both traditional merchants and our traditional lower-income renters. Sure, there is a proposal to rebuild some of the loss by subsidizing new “Irvine-Style” apartment projects in the canyon, but that is not same as the Laguna they currently enjoy. Yes in the new hotels they are building there will be a gallery and a little news and convenience nook, but that is not the same as the galleries and stores that we have enjoyed in Laguna Beach throughout is history.
We have been asking ourselves if a gallery or our other stores make it in Laguna Beach any more. The answer depends almost entirely on the rent. If we permit developer’s ambitions to bid up land and rent prices then we will be reaping the inevitable, which will be to drive out what we have and replace it with slick tourist-facing businesses. That’s not what the voters here want. We want each property owner to be able to make improvements and innovations, but we do not want a wholesale remake of Laguna Beach. We like its organic roots and organic richness.
Let’s, each of us, make a point to tell our City Council to instruct their staff to bring them a resident-serving version of the aggressive redevelopment plans that they are considering. Residents-first is what each of them promised us. Now is their chance to deliver on that. That is what we are expecting on the development issues that are facing the community today.
David Raber, Laguna Beach