Opinion: Musings on the Coast


Don’t Like the Message? Destroy the Messenger

Usually, I do not reply to guest columns or letters to the editor, but for former Village Laguna president Johanna Felder, I am making an exception.

It begins with her first sentence: “Just because Michael Ray writes something in his column, doesn’t make it true. Given Ray’s track record, you can assume its (sic) not.”

That is a prime example of how Village Laguna works. It constantly makes personal attacks aimed at destroying the other person’s reputation. Don’t like the message? Destroy the messenger.

Second, she claims Village Laguna (VL) supports the downtown promenade. If so, why did VL’s very own City Council acolyte, Toni Iseman, lead a group of people down Forest Avenue to drum up opposition to the Promenade on the day before the City Council vote?

Then she argues “process:” “Village Laguna asked the City to do an anonymous survey… to be sure residents approve this initiative…”

This is another VL tactic: study the problem to death; make it move sideways until everyone gives up. The promenade has been studied for years. Enough is enough.

She states VL supports outdoor dining, not the opposite. “Too ridiculous an accusation to even merit a response to this canard.” This is a misdirection and shows you how clever VL is. For there to be a permanent promenade and outdoor dining, more parking will be required (by the Coastal Commission). VL opposes building more parking as though it is a fatal infectious disease. So yes, VL supports the promenade and outdoor dining, just not what it takes to get there. Ipso facto, they oppose it.

Then: “He and other developer members of Liberate Laguna Political Action Committee (LL) must be upset…[their efforts] to elect another pro-development candidate to City Council failed.” The City Council candidate LL supported was Larry Nokes, a well-known local attorney who supports Laguna’s special lifestyle; hardly an extremist bent on turning Laguna into Huntington Beach (as claimed by VL’s candidate, George Weiss, who won by pushing this lie to death).

Then Felder states, “Now he attacks the community nonprofit member organization [Village Laguna] every chance he gets.” Another VL tactic: play the victim while simultaneously going for the throat. 

Further, her paragraph seeks to continue VL’s biggest bit of propaganda: that it is a nonprofit organization; it is not. VL is a duly organized Political Action Committee (PAC) and has been since it was first formed.

Finally from Felder, “Laguna residents have heard this before. Laguna has opposed developers who look to destroy Laguna for their profit and turn it into Dane Point, Laguna Niguel or Corona del Mar. For this, Ray and other developers are out to smear Village Laguna’s good name.”  This combines two old tactics: 1. Misdirect by using fake analogies (Dana Point? Please); and 2. Accuse the other side of doing exactly what it is doing, in this case, smearing names.

And the last one:  LL seeks to “profit” from destroying Laguna? How so? Getting entitlements to build a duplex? Doing the same to build a house?  Working for a decade for approval to build rooftop dining in a restaurant in downtown Laguna? Is she on Mars?

But I have a way of airing our differences: stage a debate at the local radio station. Invite a duly-appointed spokesperson from VL to debate the opposite member of LL. So far, many invitations have been forthcoming from LL; always, VL has declined.

That is the biggest deception: do not allow the light of day to penetrate your organization. Hide your true facts.

So this is a challenge. Show up. We will.

Michael is co-founder of Orange County School of the Arts and The Discovery Cube.

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  1. Michael –

    Just because Michael Ray writes something in his column, doesn’t make it true.

    And I’m not a member of any organization.

  2. Michael – In case you missed my response to your previous column, here it is again. Much of it still seems pretty appropriate to your newest one:

    “Personally, I don’t get it.” – Michael Ray. Well maybe this will help.

    Village Laguna seems to see Laguna Beach as a charming small town home for residents, not a business opportunity ripe for overtourism pickings and Disneyfication overdevelopment. As you’re a developer, I can fully understand how you view things very differently.

    While there is no doubt the promenade can be a local’s attraction, the fact is, it was developed to attract more tourists and gin up sales for restaurants and downtown businesses. A fact everyone knows.

    As for the promenade being an unmitigated success – please prove it. Let’s see sales numbers that justify that claim. There are none.

    The promenade’s degree of popularity has yet to be fully proven. It’d be nice if residents were surveyed by a fully independent survey company to gauge actual resident taxpayer sentiment instead of just taking someone’s word for it.

    I know of three businesses that closed on Forest Ave. after the promenade opened, so I wouldn’t be calling it a total knock-out success.

    But back to the issue at hand – it seems like every week you’re trying to make Village Laguna the boogieman punching bag for everything wrong with this town since the bubonic plague. Please give it a rest. If it wasn’t for Village Laguna there wouldn’t be the charm there is that first attracted residents to this town. (What does Village Laguna have against the promenade? More appropriately, what do you and other pro-development/pro-business Liberate Laguna members have against residents who want a small, charming, peaceful, beach town lifestyle?)

    I’d speculate no one is opposed to outdoor dining, but I know there are many who are opposed to glutting the town with more tourists and traffic and giving businesses public space for free while further diminishing prized parking space – all at taxpayer expense and residents’ inconvenience.

    And I sincerely have to question the motives of you and your fellow pro-development members of Liberate Laguna who’ve contributed over $200,000 in the past two elections to support the election of pro-development/pro-business City Council members. I find it hard to believe this has been done out of the kindness of your pro-development hearts for Laguna residents.

    Indeed, there’s a lot more baggage that went into the development of the promenade than just a nice place to park yourself. Such as how pro-development/pro-business City officials prepared the plans for the promenade in secret, blindsided the public by springing the plan for the first time at a City Council meeting and then getting it advanced without any public notification, in-put, discussion or review – all in just one meeting. Transparency be damned. Resident involvement: zero.

    Hopefully this clarifies things better for you. And just for the record, I don’t belong to Village Laguna or any other organization in Laguna.


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