Musings on the Coast

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Liberate Laguna 

By Michael Ray

Here is the origin of Liberate Laguna: we got tired of being bullied.

The “we” is Cindy Shopoff, Sam Goldstein and me. We are the founders of Liberate Laguna.

We all were bullied by the city of Laguna Beach, its Design Review Board, Heritage Committee, Planning Commission and City Council—all out of control and dedicated toward making us and everyone like us miserable.

We organized and created Liberate Laguna (LL), a nonprofit corporation dedicated to educating the public about our positions; separately, it has an associated legal Political Action Committee (PAC) spending money to elect the candidates and public initiatives of our choice.

There are five big things we support:

  1. One’s home should be placed on a Historic List if and only if one desires it. (This mirrors the position of Let Laguna Live, a nonprofit dedicated to this one subject and not associated with LL.)
  2. Right now, the Design Review Board (DRB), which must approve all new building projects and has unlimited and arbitrary power. Even the city’s website states the DRB can take into consideration anything it wants and it can deny your project for any reason at all. This is maddening. Instead, we believe the DRB should have fixed rules, which if followed, will allow one to skip the DRB in its entirety. No more arbitrary power. If one wants variances, then fine, go through DRB, but it still must have fixed rules, and its members must treat each applicant with respect and dignity.
  3. Laguna’s retail business community is dying. It is not because of the internet. It is because the city has so over-regulated the approval process, retail businesses bypass Laguna entirely. Instead, they go to CdM, Dana Point, Irvine, or just about anywhere else in light of Laguna’s hostility. So, LL believes a small Laguna retailer should only have to pull a business license, get building plans approved over-the-counter, and get started. Get it moving.
  4. We believe there should be term limits for City Council members and all committees and commissions. This will insure that new blood and new ideas continually would rejuvenate this town.
  5. We cannot stop the massive influx of tourists, but we can build parking structures to get their cars off the streets. Such structures can and should be built near downtown businesses and in other places where there are park and ride opportunities. Fun fact: for the last 20 years, no new parking lots or structures have been built, and now the new “City Entrance” will eliminate over 100 parking places.

So there you have it, our five basic positions. We have endorsed two candidates, Peter Blake and Sue Kempf, because we believe they best reflect our thinking.  Neither sought our endorsement, nor, I think, particularly even wants it.

If anyone does not like our positions, fine, bring on your arguments. However, please do not lie about us.

And that brings me to the crux. Village Laguna (VL) helped the city obtain a green belt surrounding Laguna. This was in the 1980s and 90s and was a great accomplishment; VL rightly should be proud of it.  After that, something probably predictable happened.

VL had tasted success, and its offspring, power, and wanted more. So, it organized, got more power and, voila, successfully has controlled this town for most of the last three decades.

Village Laguna is adamantly opposed to all of Liberate Laguna’s five positions. Further, it feels threatened. We certainly get this. VL has run this place unchallenged for years, and now Liberate Laguna comes out of nowhere? Why are they here? What do they want?

Those are legitimate questions and our five positions should answer them. We believe VL’s influence has been too great and as a result, the city, and its residents, have suffered.

We at LL happily will debate our five positions and argue their merits with VL or any other group.

But please, Village Laguna, do not lie about us. Do not lie that LL wants to pave over Laguna. Do not lie that LL wants to destroy our special culture with Miami-style high-rises.

Argue your positions and we will argue ours, but do not lie.


Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many nonprofits.




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