Opinion: Musings on the Coast


The Last Gasps of a Falling Regime

By Michael Ray

In the history of power and societies, it’s always the same. A new power rises, crushes the old powers, and rules as the singular authority for that state, region, or city. Then it goes too far, causes those ruled to revolt, and in attempts to keep its power, goes overboard.

That is Village Laguna. It obtained power some 40 years ago, ruled Laguna Beach with an iron fist, and slowly ground the gears of the city into mush to stop anything, ever, from happening in the City. 

Now our fair city has had enough of those policies and is pushing back. So Village Laguna has gone overboard.



Forty years ago, the City commissioned “historic experts” to select buildings of historic value, which were listed on the City’s newly created Historic Inventory. The city pronounced being on that list was “voluntary,” meaning owners voluntarily could get off. However, Village Laguna-dominated city councils changed the voluntary part. No one was allowed off. Further, if you wanted to change your house (like adding a bedroom to your cottage), you appeared before the newly created Heritage Commission, which had the power to decide the fate of your planned changes. To say the least, the whole process was abusive to the homeowner—expensive, prolonged and hated.

Last year, the City Council, in a reflection of the public’s hatred of the “non-voluntary” character, voted 4-1 to eliminate the list, with only councilmember Toni Iseman, a Village Laguna proponent, voting against it.   

This year, an arm of Village Laguna sued the City to kill the vote, claiming state law requires such lists. That is not true. No other city in Orange County has one. So call it what it is: a desperate attempt by Village Laguna to claw back its power.

The Downtown Theater

The downtown theater was closed years ago and is an eyesore. Recently, Rivian, a new electric motor vehicle company backed by Amazon and Ford, showed its plan to renovate it into a (small) performing arts center to include live music, first-run movies, plays, dances and neighborhood gatherings—and reenergize downtown. It is not a teardown. Rivian plans to save as much as physically possible and apply for state historical standing.

The total cost will exceed $20 million and there is no way it can make money. But Rivian’s purpose is public relations. It will display two of its vehicles near the lobby to show the public its commitment to fight climate change.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved it.

Village Laguna opposes it, stating it should be saved exactly as is—which is physically impossible. Village Laguna does not care. Better a run-down eyesore than any change whatsoever. It is another desperate attempt to regain power.

The Pedestrian Promenade

The current Forest Avenue promenade is deliberately temporary to see if the locals like it. They love it, and now a permanent promenade soon will replace it.

Prior to its council approval, councilmember Toni Iseman led a group of her supporters to the downtown businesses to create opposition. Now her supporters at Village Laguna have criticized spending so much money on Forest Avenue. The cost will be about $2.5 million. The City’s operating budget is nearly $100 million. VL’s argument holds no water.  It is another desperate attempt.

What you have read here is only a partial list of what Village Laguna is opposing in an attempt to regain its relevance. 

Village Laguna is desperate. It shows.

Michael grew up in Corona del Mar, now lives in Laguna Beach, and a co-founder of The Orange County School of the Arts and The Discovery Cube.

Firebrand Media LLC wants comments that advance the discussion, and we need your help to accomplish this mission. Debate and disagreement are welcomed on our platforms but do it with respect. We won't censor comments we disagree with. Viewpoints from across the political spectrum are welcome here. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, our community is not obliged to host all comments shared on its website or social media pages, including:

  • Hate speech that is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic slurs, or calls for violence against a particular type of person.
  • Obscenity and excessive cursing.
  • Libelous language, whether or not the writer knows what they're saying is false.
We require users to provide their true full name, including first and last names, as a condition for comments. We reserve the right to change this policy based on future developments.

Scroll down to comment on this post.


  1. I appealed the project, so I think I am in a position to shed light on this matter. Village Laguna has nothing to do with the appeal. I am a member of that organization because I agree with the mission and am deeply appreciative of its impact on the physical character of Laguna Beach. The appellant (me, on behalf of the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition, which, again, is not Village Laguna) has been working with Rivian to come up with a solution that would preserve more of the historic features of this National Register-eligible theater and allow the company to meet its project goals. This kind of negotiation is commonplace with projects involving historic resources. Contrary to your claim that Rivian “proposed to save as much as physically possible,” our conversations have revealed a thoughtful willingness on Rivian’s part to restore and reconstruct several more aspects of the historic building, both inside and out. No one has argued that the theater “should be saved exactly as is.” If that were the case, there would be no point in trying to work out a compromise with Rivian, since they obviously cannot showcase their cars in, let alone get them into, a two-screen movie theater. Our conversations have been designed to improve not terminate the project. The Coalition wishes the City had taken the initiative here, but it did not. I am hopeful that the result will be a project that the community as well as Rivian can be even more proud of.

  2. Give me a break. As a “member” of Village Laguna, your alleged non-affiliated group is using every tool possible to stop any change, ever, from happening to this town. Like your phony lawsuit against the City for eliminating something they HATE: the Historic Inventory. The reuse of the theater is supported by 99% of our residents, and yet you are getting in their way. Just stop and go back to your primary residence in Glendale.

  3. The Laguna Beach Historical Coalition filed the appeal based on “CEQA “. My understanding is that if it went to to courts the average time to litigate is 2 1/2 years! So, Rivian makes some concessions and like magic “CEQA” goes away. I wonder if Rivian volunteered to pay The Laguna Beach Historical Coalition legal & consulting fees ? How much $$? Just wondering!
    Something smells in my opinion.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here