Opinion: Finding Meaning

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A 1937 City Council Meeting

City councils are obliged to hold public meetings and allow the taxpayers to have a word or two. These encounters—humble citizens appealing to empowered officials—are an essential part of democracy, the anvil on which change is beat into shape. Per the metaphor, there can be sparks. Hah. The Laguna Beach “Indy” respectfully reports council meetings. In contrast, I just stumbled across a Laguna editor’s account of such a meeting back in 1937. It was hilarious.

To set the scene, Laguna had few paved roads at the time. Dirt roads were good for horses but when it rained they became a muddy mess. Responding to the public need, the city had bought a tractor for restoring the roads as needed. It’s winter time, February, and citizens have come to the city council meeting with a few suggestions. The editor of the “South Coast News,” the leading paper from 1928 to 1968, covers the meeting with a droll wit worthy of remembrance.

The editor had been complaining about the condition of Laguna’s dirt streets for weeks but was understanding: “Everybody knows about the condition of our streets and alleys. Laguna used to be a village and there were no automobiles. Things have changed. It’s not council’s fault.”

Henry Weeks, retired and living in the Arch Beach sector, confided to the editor: “They sent the new tractor down to my district one day and sort of prospected around but they didn’t do anything.” The editor observed, “Henry, patently eager to find fault, departed early without erupting.”

The next speaker was the town pharmacist, Curtis Ware, who would speak respectfully but at a price—he wasn’t taken seriously. Ware, the editor reported, “addressed the Council at length and with infinite consideration for Council’s feelings—if any—in regard to the way the city does its street repairing work. He was so careful not to be offensive that he came near to being unintelligible. But the gist or the guts of his remarks seemed to be that the city is wasting time and money by its methods of repairing its streets after rains.” The editor continued, “Very tactfully, Ware suggested that if gutters were made alongside the streets and surplus dirt taken from where it isn’t needed and put where it is needed, it would help a lot.”

Mayor Mallor, also a downtown proprietor, “thanked Ware, then outtalked him. Said what Ware wanted couldn’t be done till grades were established; dirt couldn’t be moved ad lib, etc.” Looking back, the mayor’s comments seem a classic case of well-meant suggestions causing a defensive reaction rather than a thoughtful response from those in charge.

Ware responded that he wasn’t talking about permanent grades, just that the street grader forms a crown in the road so water would run off and not puddle. The editor, turning to sarcasm, sums up the exchange: “Very technical stuff. Intricate is the word the Greeks would give, if there were any Greeks around.” It’s like I tell the Beautiful Wife, “Communication is hard.” There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach. Email: [email protected]

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