By Billy Fried
By the time you read this, there may be as many as 1,000 comments on a “Laguna Locals” Facebook group post by third generation Lagunan, Jesse Westgaard. Wow. Not climate change, not BLM, not even a pandemic could elicit this kind of engagement. I tried to read all the comments but opted for Ulysses instead.
In a single paragraph, Jesse admonished the community to “get the vibe right, because being a resident does not make you a local.” While he wasn’t specific, it was a denunciation of people moving here and trying to mold the city into their vision of how it should be, because “that’s how your hometown was.”
Let’s first acknowledge that we are all immigrants. We just arrived at different times. And plenty of our most ardent “locals,” who fought to preserve our unique heritage weren’t born here. James Dilley, the custodian and protector of our miraculous greenbelt, was from Northern California. Arnold Hano, who spearheaded the height limitations that prevent any buildings over 36 feet, was a Brooklyn native. And Mark Chamberlain, the artist who created “The Tell,” which forced the Irvine Company to abandon their plans to develop the canyon, was from Iowa.
But I think what Jesse means is that being local means you feel this place to your core, the richness of the land and sea, the canyons and hilltops, and our unique, small town, funky seaside architecture. If you were lucky enough to grow up here, the magic is embedded in your lineage. And you know implicitly we are just custodians for generations to come. And if you are lucky enough to have moved here, you have the opportunity to become a “naturalized” local – someone who assimilates well, adds welcome diversity to the mix, but is not an invasive species.
What so many of us fear is the people who come here with outsized visions for change – of molding this town into something newer, glossier, more upscale, and more like everywhere else. Because our town was founded by artists, poets, seekers, watermen and women, nature lovers and dreamers, and they brought the creative cacophony and mash up charm that is so endearing in a sea of Orange County homogeny. Just look at who’s on the plaques around town. It’s lifeguards, surfers, environmentalists, coaches, teachers, and greeters. That should tell you who we value and what we revere.
Is there a middle ground? Of course. Cities need to evolve with changing times. Paris is replacing much of its vehicular streets with bikeways and pedestrian plazas. As we are now learning to do as well. And there are always commercial buildings that are tired and in need of a facelift.
But do we need 600 foot long hotels, or 7,500-square-foot homes? I took a photo on a Sunday paddle to Emerald Bay. It’s developer Rick Caruso’s Invictus, and at 216 feet long, it’s about a third of the length of the proposed Museum Hotel on Coast Highway. Besides the novelty of seeing it anchored off our coast, would anyone want to see something three times longer than this anchored to Coast Highway permanently?
Our Planning Commission didn’t think so, and sent it back for further design. And with that, these five commissioners, all born elsewhere, earned their “locals” stripes.
Next week I’ll discuss how the newly reformed Design Review Board is approving homes that no real Laguna local would ever approve of.
Billy is interviewing Rep. Harley Rouda live for KX-FM Radio at 12 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6 at the Promenade on Forest.