Opinion: Musings on the Coast

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Goodbye Liberate Laguna

Liberate Laguna was started because my longtime friend Peter Blake and I got tired of being bullied by Village Laguna. Its members controlled the City of Laguna Beach and bullied him on the Entitlements for opening a dress shop for his now ex-wife, Fetnah, and on his downtown art gallery. I was bullied on entitlements for a duplex.

One day he said he was so angry he might run for city council. I replied that if he did, I would start a political action committee (PAC) to back candidates who wanted to initiate change.

So he did and I did and Liberate Laguna was born.

My first call was to Sam Goldstein, who had been bullied about his building in downtown (where the Skyloft restaurant is). He promptly called Cindy Shopoff, who had been bullied on entitlements for a home she wanted to build. We were the Founders.

In the following elections, we backed candidates who had views similar to ours, and enough won to gain council majorities. One could say they would have won without us; or it was because of us. No matter, they won.

Since then, this has been accomplished, all of which Village Laguna opposed:

  • The wildly popular downtown Promenade was created.
  • Equally popular outdoor dining was approved—first for COVID-19, and now because people love it.
  • Rational people were appointed to critical committees like Design Review, Heritage, and Planning Commission. They actually help people get things done.
  • The hated and patently illegal historic inventory was abolished.
  • A new city manager and new director of community development were appointed. They have brought on a staff that is more resident friendly.
  • The police got tough on vagrants (Blake’s biggest issue). True story: my longtime girlfriend was walking with her 12-year old daughter on the Main Beach boardwalk. A vagrant saw them and deliberately urinated on the sand while shouting epithets at the daughter, who became too afraid to walk there. Imagine that: kids afraid of Main Beach. No longer. The vagrants are gone.
  • Hotel Laguna’s public areas re-opened and created “action” again within our most important local treasure.
  • The Downtown Specific Plan was revised to rid the City of impossible standards to open or do business. This required the approval of the notoriously difficult Coastal Commission. City councilmembers Toni Iseman and George Weiss, both Village Laguna acolytes, appealed directly to the Commission to kill the new plan. After hearing them, the Commission approved it unanimously.

This list could be much longer, but you get the picture.

None of the above has anything whatsoever to do with big development or destroying Laguna’s special culture, the “Big Lies” Village Laguna spreads.

Side Note: when Cindy, Sam and I first started Liberate Laguna, most folks supported us but were afraid to join. Why? Fear of retribution. Example: a sudden visit from the City’s Code Enforcement attempting to find some unapproved improvement to their homes they would have to tear out. This is not an exaggeration.

This no longer is true because Village Laguna’s vice-like control is gone and the City is “liberated.”    

So what now? Well, Cindy, Sam and I renamed Liberate Laguna as Laguna Forward, of which we are non-voting Emeritus Board Members only. The Chair is the esteemed Sally Ann Sheridan, they have a new brochure and website (lagunaforward.com) and new members are joining quite quickly.

Take a look. The future is yours.

Michael is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer emeritus of Laguna Forward PAC.

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