Opinion: Green Light

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By Tom Osborne

I have a rich imagination. Savoring council’s unanimous vote on the evening of April 4 to halt blufftop development seaward of its present limits and conduct an Initial Study of the possible impacts of the proposed Blufftop Overlay District measure, images of deceased Lagunans crowded into my mind. I pictured William Wendt and Anna Hill smiling, Jim Dilley nodding his professorial head in agreement, and Lida Lenney giving a thumbs-up sign. These environmental heroes no longer have a physical presence in town, but their deeds and indomitable spirit are very much alive and animate many of us who share their reverence for nature.

Councilmember George Weiss was singular in taking the initiative and leadership essential to saving our beloved blufftops from more development while at the same time protecting the rights of homeowners to make necessary repairs. Mayor Bob Whalen kept an open mind on the proposed blufftop measure, weighing the arguments on both sides and showing the judgment necessary to protect both our environment and property rights. Councilmember Alex Rounaghi may be young and inexperienced, but in the meeting, his remarks were those of a seasoned public servant of extraordinary promise. 

That said, I give the lion’s share of the credit for the vote to those Laguna folks who spelled out the problems of the proposed blufftop measure, delineating in, at times, excruciating and mind-numbing but important detail the relevance of CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), the Coastal Act, and the challenges of providing consistency in our City’s General Plan, and on and on and on. 

In hindsight, it’s a wonder that the cause of saving our blufftops didn’t drown in the sea of (relevant to be sure) minutia that was presented, parsed, and debated.

Among those Laguna folks, a Caltech humanities professor, Catherine Jurca, was unsurpassed in her grasp of the documents mentioned above, her mastery of procedures, and her ability to articulate the public’s case for saving our blufftops. Through her Zoom presentation sponsored by Village Laguna, she schooled us in the intricacies of CEQA, the specifics of Laguna’s Land Use and Open Space Elements, the location of our city’s bluff edge, and countless other related matters. She offered viewers a tutorial tour de force. Thank you, Catherine; our city is in your debt.

A host of other local folks contributed significantly to council’s blufftop vote. Landscape architect Bryan Menne showed a mastery of Laguna’s building codes, pointed out the mistaken decision of a homeowner to demolish an existing residence, and cautioned council to “not be influenced by individual property owner’s lobbying to change zoning codes to circumvent California laws and civil engineering design practices . . . to further impact our coastal landscape resources and beauty.”  

Gene and Johanna Felder spoke with effect, as did Mark and Sharon Fudge, Mike Beanan, and others, including my wife, Ginger Osborne. Earlier, she emailed council members photos of fallen boulders from the supposedly “low-erosion” cliff at Table Rock Beach. She closed her testimony by saying: “Given the worsening effects of climate change that we are seeing today—the rising sea level causing the tides to wash the toe of bluffs and the prospect of more frequent atmospheric rivers that saturate and put excessive weight on our oceanfront blufftops, our city would be unwise to change the 25-foot setbacks that are currently in place.”  

Civic sector groups, too, emailed their environmental concerns to council. In that regard, Village Laguna and Surfrider Foundation played signal roles in speaking for Laguna’s environment with information-packed, fact-based letters to council. 

Exhausted and hungry at the end of the meeting, we ate dinner at 10 pm. After checking the scores, the cherry on my sundae was seeing that my Golden State Warriors eked out another win (Ginger didn’t care). I had a smile on my face when I turned out the lights. 

What a great evening! Yay for Laguna Beach!

Tom Osborne is an environmental historian. He and his wife founded and lead the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. [email protected].

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