Opinion: Let’s Get to it, Laguna

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By Tyler Russell McCusker

I’m grateful to the Laguna Beach Independent for allowing me the opportunity to write this new column. I commend the newspaper’s editorial team for its commitment to running strictly fact-based content, which includes fact-checking my and other guests’ pieces.

Myself and a group of others founded Positive Change for Laguna (formerly “Young Minds for Laguna’s Future). Although we are comprised of a lot of “young” people, we recently changed the name to be more inclusive and truer to our mission. Our mission is to energize Lagunans who are fed up with the status quo of saying “no” by creating and supporting progressive policies and ideas. Since our founding a few months ago, we have grown to nearly 500 members. In addition to friendly discussion, there is one idea that each of our members agrees on: Laguna Beach needs a refresh. Changes are needed to keep our town alive, to attract new businesses, and to remedy the deteriorated conditions apparent in the downtown area.

But don’t take my word for it. This view is backed up by a Retail Market Evaluation prepared by business consulting firm Stoffel Associates, delivered to city leaders on Feb. 6. The study assesses Laguna’s existing retail conditions, points out our biggest challenges, and makes recommendations. In short, our city is too restrictive for new businesses. We’ve created a stagnant atmosphere for retailers and businesses who can much more easily go to Santa Ana or Costa Mesa to find customers. The study noted that sales are down in part because we lack a luxury hotel downtown, whose overnight guests spend $177 more per day than daytrippers. The list of missteps goes on: restrictions against branded retail, lack of entertainment and dining options, dimly-lit streets, storefront vacancies, parking woes, and sky-high rents. There’s also the challenge of online retail. What an uphill battle.

We need positive change to turn it around! And that will require fresh, flexible thinking, open-minded leadership, and responsiveness to data that we spend years and ample dollars gathering.

The word “change” is the one that invokes fear, isn’t it? The fear that our landmarks will be bulldozed. That Laguna’s history and artistic charm will be lost. That developers out of touch with Laguna Beach will dictate our future. Yet fear of change leads to stagnation, which is precisely what Laguna Beach has been doing for many years.

I’ve spoken at several City Council and Planning Commission meetings in support of city-sponsored initiatives like the Downtown Specific Plan, the Village Entrance art installation, and the Downtown Action Plan. Each time, I am thanked by city employees and residents I’ve never met for providing an alternative viewpoint to protectionist policies that have sent us down this stagnant path.

However, myself and my business are also met with threats, ridicule and online harassment from those who don’t agree with what I’ve said. As a non-profit business operator and a parent of an 8-month old daughter, I have two things to lose by providing an alternative viewpoint: donor support and time. It’s beyond disappointing that those who have influenced policy in this town for many decades will do whatever they can to shut down their opponents. But, despite what it costs, we will not back down from shaping the Laguna Beach the silent majority wants to see.

Let’s be bold, not fearful.

Let’s get to it.

Tyler’s main job is raising three kids here in Laguna Beach! He also is the founder of KX FM 104.7 and hosts weekdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. He was recently appointed to the Parking, Traffic, and Circulation Committee.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. This is exactly the type of thinking we need! Thank you for taking a risk and speaking up against the status quo. There are many of us older residents that are tired of the same few names dictating what is “best for Laguna”. We need to encourage more peoople like Tyler to get involved and hopefully one day run for council. Don’t let the angry fools on Nextdoor push you out!

  2. One thing needed to revitalize the town is a progressive theatre with exciting new plays. Laguna Playhouse used to be that venue, but it currently produces plays that are tired and schmultzy. Don’t underestimate the intellect of this town and the desire for cutting-edge productions. Add a vibrant Shakespeare Festival in the summer like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with edgy renditions, and this town will come alive.

  3. Which is it, people? Are terrible humans “destroying” the environment by burning that NASTY fossil fuel? Or do you want to keep customers flocking to Laguna Beach attractions, art exhibits, retail shops, restaurants, bars, Sawdust Festival, Pageant of the Masters, hotels, and all the rest? Choose only one. All these folks spending money here you welcome with open arms, even as you hold climate change protests to signal your virtue to the world, and incidentally, hundreds of you in Laguna Beach DRIVE to protest … driving. Oh yes, you have a bus to try to cut back on traffic as well. Hillary-ous.

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