Year of the Grim Reaper
2017 was not a good year for me. My sister Kathy, after years of illness, passed. Two months before that, my daughter Gabby and I visited Kathy at her home in Tucson. She was bedridden and in pain; she was not supposed to take more opioids, but I found the bottle and slipped her a few anyway. She grasped my hand and smiled a smile I’ll never forget.
Then there was George Ferrer. I wrote a column on him called “The Immigrant.” He originally was from Honduras, made it to the Untied States and became a successful businessman. He was a regular at the Cove, a paddler in great shape and always a wisecrack. He had a heart attack in a random parking lot and no one saw him until too late. At the hospital, they got his heart re-started, no problem, but his brain had been without oxygen too long.
For his funeral, we did a paddle out. There were over a 100 of us and it was windy and cold. We were on surfboards, paddleboards, kayaks, boogie boards and crazy little boats. The wind kept pushing us toward the rocks, so we paddled to a buoy, collectively held on and told stories. We were a disorganized mess, but the Cove was George’s heart and we all knew it, and the ceremony was fine.
Then on New Year’s Eve, I discovered my best friend has inoperable pancreatic cancer. The results of his biopsy had come in that afternoon. By the time you read this, his chemo will have started. The docs say the chemo gives him a very good chance.
In the meantime, I lost an appeal with the Laguna Beach City Council with regard to an old, ugly, house I wanted to tear down and replace. The neighborhood is perfect for front porches and I wanted to have one on my new house. At least half the local houses have one. First however, the house has to be removed from the “historic list.”
Here is the problem: in 1981, 36 years ago, some “historian” waltzed by the property and declared it having no historic value unto itself—meaning it had zero particularities about it that merited being on an historic list, but that it added to the “historic character of the neighborhood.” Because of that, the house received a “C” historic rating.
A “C” rating means you cannot change the front elevation of your house, ever. You must preserve all of it, even the 50-year old glass windows that break into dangerous shards that can kill you. Even the ancient wood shingles that are a fire risk.
And remember, this is because of an “historic” opinion rendered a generation ago that stated no specific part of the house had any historical merit, including the front elevation.
At the City Council, I lost my appeal to be taken off the list by a 3-2 vote.
[Beepbeeppoppopzzzzzzsh<<<<>>>> Technical difficulties! PLEASE STAND BY]
On hell, I’m back at The Lumberyard with Petra the Hot Blonde who doesn’t exist. Yet here she perches, not on my shoulder whispering into my ear like Jiminy The Cricket. Instead, she perches on her usual stool and she just stares at me in contempt. And this was after Jean the gorgeous bartender had just brought us our usual martinis.
And yeah, Petra looks her usual sensational self in skintight yoga pants. Abruptly, though, she stops staring at me and switches her gaze to the people behind me.
Then she starts talking past me to them.
“You know what this fool did then? Instead of fighting the city, he capitulated and completed his plans, bid them out to a respected local contractor, paid the city so its ‘historical inspector’ can ‘inspect’ the house during construction, and pulled his building permit.”
“But now he knows something new. He knows how much maintaining the front façade ‘as is’ will cost. Remember, this ain’t no McMansion. It’s a little three-bedroom, 2,000 square foot cottage-style house.”
Petra pauses, throws her hair in my direction to make her next point.
“The cost of the house will be $1.1 million. Of that, the cost of maintaining the front façade ‘as is’ will be $200,000. That is what the city is costing him.”
“So to all you people out there who claim people like him ‘know the price of everything and the value of nothing’ — that price is $200,000. How would you like to fork over $200,000?
“Huh? How would that make you feel? Why doesn’t the fool just burn his money?”
Petra evaporated in a poof and I felt like pond scum.
And there you have it: my year: two deaths, a terrible medical diagnosis, and Laguna Beach robbing me of $200,000. How was your year?
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many non-profits.