Opinion: Leveling Up Laguna

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I’m back from five weeks of travel and what do I come home to? Squabbling, extraordinaire. Why are we so addled, when we have it so good? As I often say, Laguna Beach is a country club, which is defined as 500 people who never had it so good, who all think they should have it better!

Just look around. Except for a dreadful wildflower season due to our sustained drought, Laguna has never looked better. Who could have predicted a pandemic would be our most profound beautification program? I took a stroll on Valentine’s Day, and everywhere I looked, couples were marinating in the goo of Lagu—dining at our lovely al fresco restaurants and enjoying our most precious asset: oxygen.

From north to south we can finally walk the walk of a Mediterranean town. We’ve always had the seaside charm, along with the climate, but now people have replaced parked cars. Have you experienced the beautiful outdoor settings at Las Brisas, Carmelitas, The Lumberyard, and Broadway downtown? Or at Laguna Beach Brewery, Oliver’s Osteria, and Kitchen in the Canyon? South of downtown we have the remarkable transformations of the Wine Gallery, Sapphire, Mozambique, and Maro’s Wood Grill. But the prize for most improved, Bridesmaid to Bride, goes to Ristorante Rumari with their remarkable conversion of a parking lot into a gorgeous, candlelit courtyard. I just hope our city has the wisdom to make this permanent. After all, has anyone really suffered over the loss of parking? Cars are so Covid-18. We now have bikes, golf carts, ride shares, legs, and soon enough self-driving vehicles (and a return and trolleys), rendering our parking woes obsolete. That is, if we have a city with the will to make dramatic changes to our transportation grid. 

Which brings me to our search for a new city manager. Yes, we owe it to ourselves to look outside our current staff to see if there is anyone more qualified or dynamic than assistant city manager Shohreh Dupuis. I like Shohreh. She has experience and perspective, having worked in both Anaheim and Irvine. But the one question I would ask of all applicants is, “Are you willing to control of our streets by buying our major arteries back from Caltrans?”

We all know that traffic is our biggest woe, and getting worse by the minute. We can talk about traffic calming measures, periphery parking, congestion tolls, road diets, roundabouts, bike and transit lanes, etc., but until we take control of our destiny, we’ll just be moaning in gridlock.

While our neighboring towns of Dana Point and Corona del Mar have done the heavy lifting and taken control of their streets, our city has languished under the misconception that it’s too much liability. That’s utter nonsense because of course we can purchase insurance.

We need to reimagine our transportation grid for the 21st century. We pay a lot to live here and we can all agree our quality of life is suffering under a 20th century grid that never anticipated the flood of unstoppable tourism and day visitors. But we can divert them, incentivize them to use alternative transportation, and make our own lives infinitely better by ditching our cars as well. If we control our streets.

So let’s get on the same page folks, and tackle the crushing problem that unifies us all: traffic.

Billy hosts Laguna Talks on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on KX FM radio.

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