Opinion: Left of Center

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Standing on Higher Ground, Common Ground

By Jean Hastings Ardell

Like many of us during the last year, I had to find ways to escape the dis-ease of our world turned upside down due to the pandemic. Evenings spent binge-watching the long-running British drama series, Midsomer Murders, became a cherished link with sanity. The show is set in England’s rustic Cotswolds (whose hills and vales remind me of Laguna’s greenbelts) and involves Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and his young detective sergeant as they investigate the murders—there’s always more than one—that occur in one village after another, episode after episode. Along the way they confront class and racial distinctions as well as human nature in its myriad varieties. But all’s well, because in the space of an hour and a half, the mystery of whodunnit and why is resolved, the perpetrator tracked down and arrested, and justice is done. And so to sleep.

Or not, because sometimes art imitates life. In a recently watched episode, an outbreak of crime in a village so remote that law enforcement never arrives in time results in some of the townspeople organizing a Watch Committee to maintain order. That pits neighbor against neighbor due to the overly enthusiastic enforcement of codes and regulations, which sparks feelings of injury by some of the local business owners. This felt uncomfortably close to the reality I was trying to escape, as many a Laguna resident who follows the goings on about town would understand. Take the March 8 city council meeting: The question being, would Councilman George Weiss’s agenda item number 18 to censure his colleague, Peter Blake, receive the airtime it deserved, and would it pass?

It did, 4-0-1, though not without some foot shuffling and equivocation on the council and divisive comments by those who called in. In the end everyone was heard from, the only bloodshed being the various character assassinations by some aggrieved parties. I’ve always thought that serving on the city council is one of the most difficult jobs in politics. No matter where they go in town, they’re going to run into a neighbor with an opinion to share and/or a grievance. Councilmembers deserve our thanks for their willingness to serve.

One takeaway from that council meeting was the contrast between the move to censure Blake and the previous agenda item, number 17, the Laguna Beach Neighborhood & Environmental Protection Plan. It was a fine example of city staff and agencies, the council, local businesses, and residents working together for the common good. Call it local government at its best. But to continue that sort of good work, the censure of Peter Blake was necessary.

People of all political persuasions must be able to freely speak their minds and hearts without the intimidation of an elected official dropping F-bombs and other vituperations upon them. So I’m rooting for Peter Blake to take heed and respect the need for civility. To this end, I urge anyone concerned with this issue to check out braverangels.org, the national bi-partisan nonprofit organization founded several years ago to foster civility in our political and religious discourse. I discovered Braver Angels in 2019, and, being a native of the Empire State (like Blake), continue to find it invaluable in reigning in my inner-New Yorker.

As we begin to venture out into the community again, what have we learned from our isolation of the past year? For one, the more things change they more they stay the same. Reading back through Laguna’s history, I learned that in 1963 concerns ranged from undergrounding telephone poles to the glut of deserted downtown stores. (Liberate Laguna, please note that this last problem predates the founding of Village Laguna in 1971.) So the work of addressing the needs of our small town continues. As I walked down to a local café on a recent morning and took in the view of the Pacific that’s open to all of us as we hurry by on Coast Highway, I reflected that Laguna deserves our best efforts. Let’s search out the common ground—it’s there.

Meanwhile, back to Midsomer Murders.

Jean Hastings Ardell is a member of Third Street Writers.

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