Local Currents: Political Tolerance

“I’m all about healing and forgiveness.” –Howard Hills


One of the nicest parts of the campaign season is when candidates graciously acknowledge their opponents after the voting is decided. All the negative emotions melt away, and we see the true humanity that campaigns mask.

After the elections, our country needs to focus on rebuilding our communities.

Last weekend, during another hot Indian summer day, I spent a couple of hours stand up paddling Laguna reefs and coves with Howard Hills. At the end he asked me to join him for a burger at Umami Burger in Boat Canyon.

I had to stop and think about that.

When Umami Burger opened, I had a bad experience there and solved it by buying Adolfo’s burgers. I had sort of decided never to go back. But then thought better of it.

Howard and I split two different burgers that I have to admit were mighty fine burgers. Like my Umami moment, Howard told me what he liked about every candidate personally, despite political disagreements.

When we respect our neighbors, and we respect ourselves then we can tolerate others with different ideas. We can have dialogue, discussions, healthy arguments. Our community is richer.

It’s a shame when political discussions devolve into emotional reactions.

My wife, our friends and I are strong supporters of drug and alcohol awareness and prevention programs. We attended a program in the high school library this week that highlighted some local drug and alcohol issues.

Detective Larry Bammer from the Laguna Beach Police Department did a great job helping parents understand the variety of drugs that kids might get into and how to identify them. He talked about everything from alcohol and marijuana to prescription drugs and opiates. He highlighted that there was one DUI arrest last summer of a Laguna Beach teen, and that there were 29 police contacts with teens around alcohol. Only 40% of police contacts regarding alcohol are from local teens. The simple math is that we had roughly 12 kids from Laguna Beach last summer or less than 2% of the high school population who had a police contact involving alcohol.

Every kid who gets into trouble needs help, but this is no epidemic.

A friend of mine asked a simple and obvious question, “How big is the problem in Laguna Beach? How many kids are caught with what types of drugs at school?”

Assistant principal Robert Billinger claimed that he couldn’t release generic data about actual drug and alcohol use because it’s confidential. Emotional parents in the room yelled at my friend for asking the question. They shouted slogans, like “One is too many!” And then they all applauded themselves and Billinger joined in… Brilliant.

Maury Povich would be proud. Who needs facts when you can shout? Thankfully, there were no pitchforks.

There is no validated data to support the claim that there is a big drug and alcohol problem in our town. The California Healthy Kids Survey (which is validated by the same group that sells the tests to the schools) shows the same trends as real, multi-decade research by major universities, like Monitoring the Future—drug and alcohol use is in significant decline among teens.

Drug and alcohol education and prevention programs work. We should invest our resources in things that deliver results.

In a town that has one of the highest DUI arrest rates per capita, our police only caught one Laguna Beach high school student for drinking and driving all summer. Compared to when I went to high school in the ‘80s, that’s a miracle.

One kid may need help, but all of our kids don’t need to go on trial.

Nov. 13, the City Council will be hearing arguments for and against a social host ordinance that proposes an aggressive, confrontational approach to a non-problem. I hope they keep the discussion to facts, data and minimize emotional outbursts.

We don’t need solutions in search of problems in our little town.

As I write this column for my deadline, it’s unclear how the elections will shake out. Afterwards, we all still need to be able to live together in a small community and hopefully be better neighbors because we tolerate each others’ differing points of view.


David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

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