Musings on the Coast


A Plea for Civility in Laguna

By Michael Ray

It seems our city has lost its very “civility.” A lot of people, including Mayor Bob Whalen who just centered his State of the City address on the topic, certainly think so. And all over social media and in letters to the Indy, NextDoor and StuNews, complaints gush in proclaiming people are not civil.

There is only one problem. Laguna Beach is not a civil place. The city itself creates incivility. Witness:

1. An owner in North Laguna wanted to fix up his old shack of a house, but first had to go to the Heritage Committee for approval. Heritage wanted him to place it on the city’s Permanent Inventory of Historic Houses. They offered him plentiful inducements, like variances from setbacks. After two years, he finally gave in, placed it on the list, and then went to the Design Review Board (DRB) for design approval. The DRB, which had the power, eliminated every single one of those inducements. So, he went back to Heritage to have his house removed from the list. They turned him down, stating being on the list was “permanent,” sorry, tough luck. That is not civil.

2. If you wish to remodel your house, just to be considered for any action, you/your architect first are forced to fill out a good hundred pages of forms and plow through at least $100,000. No other city in Orange County does that to a homeowner. That is not civil.

3. Laguna Drug was losing money in its location on Broadway and wanted to sell itself to a chain pharmacy. The city, apparently hating chain retail stores (except Starbucks and banks), turned the owner down. Now, Laguna Drug is set to shut down in Laguna, forever. All the people who got their drugs there and loved the staff are out of luck. That is not civil.

4. If you wish to open a retail store of any kind in downtown Laguna, you will face the Downtown Specific plan, to which you must abide. Try reading it sometime. It is labyrinth of rules and regulations no one can understand, and no other city in Orange County requires it. To open your store will take you more than a year and upwards of $100,000 of city-required studies and fees. That is not civil.

5. The Boom Boom Room was a gay nightclub of great repute. It attracted a gay culture to this city that made the place sing. Everyone loved it, straights and gays alike. Alas, as times changed, it shut down. Now, a new owner wants to reopen it as an upscale club/boutique hotel/rooftop bar, and according to polls, it enjoys 70 percent support from citizens. Yet, a coalition of people, the same few people who resist all change, show up time after time at city meetings in a clarion call stating it will ruin our fine community. The City Council allows it. That is not civil.

6. Finally, at least for this column, in all its rules and regulations, the city creates obstacles to achieving any result whatsoever. To the applicant, this is very expensive. I am talking sometimes millions, and certainly an average would be six figures. That is economic punishment. The city does not care. That is not civil.

In short, the city itself is not civil. The city itself is guilty of creating an atmosphere of hostility towards its own citizens. If those citizens in turn boil over in frustration and rage, what do you expect? City of Laguna Beach, you created that frustration and rage with your own policies.

So, this is a plea. Please change the policies that create rage. Please stop making speeches and do your job. Please. I really mean it. Please.

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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  1. Sir, thank you for taking the time to detail Why I Was Forced To Close My Hurley Store … the city, literally, went item by item, to approve my total inventory, for a conditional use permit.. Well, i guess now, they’re wondering . . .Why Can’t Everyone Just Listen To Us? COUNCIL: If you’re so good, put your own money where your mouths are. The years of you acting like Waterheads is over . . . Laguna is dying.

  2. We should take very seriously that the movie theater is closed, across from the Hotel Laguna which is closed – and that Johnny Rockets on the corner is closed. There are so many retail store fronts empty, with only a “For Lease” sign remaining. Could the city be any more anti-business than it is now?

  3. I recently had to reconstruct my roof deck because of water intrusion. We wanted to mount the glass railing on the exterior of the house because insetting the rail in the stucco would allow water to continue to enter the house. This change to the existing design would not have impacted anyone at all. The city would not allow the change and the glass was again inset into the exterior. We again have a leak.

  4. I thank god for people like Michael Ray who write so eloquently about these matters . Sounds like Laguna beach needs him to take it a step further . It would seem it’s not just a british problem that town councils seem to be presiding over the decline of the very towns they’re managing . Squeezing the life blood out of people’s lives with red tape, rules regs and reluctance.


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