Opinion: Musings on the Coast


“Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”

About once a month, someone on the street stops me to talk about the horrors they’ve faced from Village Laguna.

What they say first is, “Thank you.” Then it is on to that litany of horrors they endured while trying to gain entitlements to remodel or build their homes. The latest, from a Vietnam veteran named Bill, went this way:

“Hi, you don’t know me, but thanks. Finally, someone is hitting back.”

“What happened?”

“I own a house up the hill and I just wanted to add a front deck so my wife and I could sit out there and enjoy the sundown.”

He said, “This was about five years ago. I thought it would be simple, but it went wrong at my first Design Review Board (DRB) meeting. Someone who wasn’t even from the neighborhood said there were no other decks in my area and mine should be denied because it would create a bad precedent. That was a lie. There were seven other decks, but I had to return to another meeting with my own photos to prove it.”


“Then a woman who lives five houses away took a photo using a telephoto lens making it look like my new deck would block her entire view of the sundown. She was lying too, but there went another meeting.”

Then he recited a litany of other false claims that took him a year and a half to refute, and well over $150,000 in additional costs. All over a deck.

But he wasn’t done. “Then I realized it was all planned. They were all people from Village Laguna or coached by Village Laguna trying to make it so hard and so expensive I would quit. That was their point. To bleed me so much I would stop.”

None of this is new. Perhaps Village Laguna’s motto should be “Make Them Bleed” because that is their strategy. It is the same 10 or 12 Village Laguna acolytes protesting in carefully coordinated attacks. They do not care how much it costs the applicants—either in money or anguish.

What Village Laguna seeks is control, its control and only its control.

They claim they are little old ladies and men, simple folk, just trying to “protect” Laguna. That’s nonsense. Village Laguna controlled the city like a vise for 40 years and they abused people because they could. Remember the refrain, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That describes Village Laguna.

The same people continue to abuse where they can. For example, trying to stop DRB-approved houses from being remodeled by suing—this done via a phony “historical group”—knowing full well the courts are so backlogged it might years for the matter to be heard. More bleeding. More heartache. But not theirs. Never theirs.

Now, for the last three years they’ve lost their council majorities, and their oft-repeated lies and tactics have escalated into strafing runs at Laguna thru the Coastal Commission, as many lawsuits as they can file, and their continual litany that “big developers” want to turn downtown Laguna into Huntington Beach style high-rise hell.

No one supports high-rise development in Laguna Beach. No one.

No one supports demolishing perfectly good retail buildings to build monstrosities. No one.

No one supports the “McMansoinization” of Laguna. No one.

In classical debate style, Village Laguna is utilizing false narratives to divide and conquer.

So, let’s face reality. Village Laguna is not a kind, friendly, community group pretending to be a nonprofit (it’s not). It is a take-no-prisoners hard-boiled Political Action Committee (pretending to be a nonprofit) that uses every under-handed trick in the book.

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

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  1. I guess like many, I’ll have to start with that McCarthy era disclaimer because we’re now in Wonderland or Oz: I am not now, nor have ever been a member of VL. Never given them a penny, I hung out at one of their mixers way back in 1999 when I was founding my NGO, Clean Water Now.
    Never attended again, never asked them for help or assistance, don’t socialize with them, frankly CWN never needed them anyway, blah blah blah.
    CWN didn’t need them or The People’s Republic of South Laguna Civic Association (VL South) to become SOC premier watershed watchdogs. This past 10 years, we’re focused on the San Juan Creek Watershed, the largest by far (176 sq. miles) and the one with the greatest chance of successful restoration, returned to its functional aspects because it’s only 1/2 as developed as beyond redemption Aliso Creek (38 sq. miles)—plus 4+ times as large.
    We’re all working collaboratively and staying civil down there, liberal, conservative, CWN still strident habitat and water quality protectionists, the regulatory bodies and utilities, etc., TOGETHER, CONSENSUALLY, WITHOUT RANCOR OR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
    The opposite of Laguna, a type of McCarthyism with hefty doses of National Socialist propaganda constantly pushed: The 2 dominant/vocal sides have become so polarized that civil dialogue no longer takes place.
    They and their surrogates post, your PAC sycophants re-post.
    So congrats, you’ve now turned off those of us in the middle ground, you both have this “Love It Or Leave It,” “Us vs.Them” campaign (Cue up Pink Floyd please).
    You’re basically screaming right past each other. Just like Donald Drumpf, just like DC.
    You’ve pulled LB apart, and just how are you going to put, to glue the pieces back together?
    Now we’re in Humpty-Dumpty Land, probably irrevocably broken?
    And that “Has ruled with an iron fist for 40 years” allegation?
    Both sides are fanatical, ones who can’t change their minds and won’t change the subject.
    Were you asleep between 1998 and say 2006 or so?
    The CC was dominantly conservative, pro-development (Blackburn, Kinsman, Peterson, Dicterow, Pearson et al), they certified and approved the future Montage transition from Treasure Island. Yet they kept it pretty much “gloves on,” hard on issues, soft on people, there wasn’t all of this BS ad hominem attack attack attack mode.
    VL didn’t have majority CC seats, why the red herrings and demonizing?
    VL, meanwhile, IMO are paper tigers (with dentures) at best……do they even have anyone in power on their geriatric board, etc., that’s under 65? They might as well be Leisure World South.
    The truth, per usual, lies in the middle somewhere.
    Thank you for the destruction, many of your constituents/fellow travelers and VL/SLCA/LRF’s have heaped insults and abuse upon each other, and alienated a lot of us who can’t 100% relate/support nor are sympathetic to either side.
    So keep feeling, acting and writing in such inflammatory language, at these MSM and SM forums. Your 2 sides are probably what would have happened if Herr Speers & Dr. Goebbels were on opposite sides during WWII.
    They don’t hold absolute power, never really did, and I hope that you never do either: Power does not corrupt in and of itself—some can wield it judiciously. But it does attract the corruptible. Fact is, power attracts pathological personalities.
    The middle ground will be stuck with the fallout, the metaphorically severe wounds and deaths for a long time, it’s like Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Nice pun, apropos, because you’re all angry 24/7/365.
    So write back, I’m sure you’ll attack and demean me personally or my NGO—it’s like the tale of the scorpion and the frog. It’s in your nature.

  2. In my opinion, with this latest column Mr Ray’s distortions, omissions and exaggerations about Village Laguna have crossed the line from honest disagreement to outright lies. How long will the Indy permit such extreme positions to appear on its pages with such regularity from a columnist with financial interests in pushing this narrative?

  3. MM:
    Thank you for your ongoing civility, I think you should be singled out and have been under-appreciated as you methodically refute with little rancor. I wish that your fellow travelers followed your lead.
    Laguna in the past 4 years has gotten a lot meaner—-Remember that bumper sticker “Mean People Suck?” Anybody got an extra one?
    As an avid enviro protectionist, I’ve never had any qualms about being a fierce voice because all of the chips ($$$ & influence) have been on the other side of the struggles. David vs. Goliath each day. The power, the prestige, the political influence on one side, like a Marine that I am, I used whatever tools I had to fight. Je ne regrette rien.
    Developers with deep pockets, budgets and expensive attorneys, lobbyists who work in borderline collusion and conspiracy (think Mo Money,Mo Money, Mo Money) with our own staff to undermine in side bars.
    Only exception I’ve ever run into was John Mansour of the Athens Group. He & Lisa stayed, they weren’t carpetbaggers or pimping us—-They are now part of the fabric our community because they took the high road after winning. They are ethical people.
    Didn’t gloat, yes the temperature went up for a few years but they didn’t balk or hide, and definitely to my knowledge never disparaged. Kim Richards DID, he and I both fiery but I never heard John do that.
    Even Kim was willing to sit with Clean Water Now and then through John, hammer out a water quality plan for the Montage without disparaging invectives, with vituperative and venomous accusations.
    Staff and our ordinances/codes should be a gauntlet, it shouldn’t be easy, fast tracking almost always == Cutting CEQA corners. Variances, declaring projects exempt or using lower level metrics like a Mitigated Negative Declaration where an Enviro Impact Report should have been invoked..
    It shouldn’t be a slam dunk, if the system worked then the LRF initiative wouldn’t be necessary. And am I the only one who senses weakness, I mean what ARE these pro-development people worried about so much that they never cease bombardment?
    I earn a living in this field as professional land use analyst and enviro-compliance consultant, and notice that stalking horses like Billy Fried have no credentials? No OJT, no degrees, no nothing. Just a “Billy Pulpit.”
    He’s lied too: I never begged him to have me on his show, he begged me several times and I said that I wouldn’t be gagged or restrained, on my terms.
    And to show how little he knows about me, I challenge him: Find one person who can prove that I’ve ever begged for anything in my 50 years here.
    Funny how much time he spends elsewhere and brags, if he loves it so much, including his constant use of the imperious “WE,” then why is he out of town so much? He speaks for a very minor % of people, they just don’t bother refuting his fantasy.
    And the line he keeps repeating, that he lives in my head rent free? No, he might live under one of my smallest fingernails as an irritating tiny splinter. Like many narcissists, he just can’t accept his unimportance.
    And doesn’t Ray write about that imaginary blonde bombshell at his favorite bar? Now he’s got imaginary people (“Hey, you don’t know me, but”) stories, people who he doesn’t identify but claims exist, approaching and sharing because he’s a pretty important recognizable guy (“Hi, I’m Al Franken”), a player, a thought leader? What’s next, Harvey The 6 Foot Pukka Rabbit?
    Maybe we need to pull a page from the script of Mad Max In The Thunder-dome? Two go intone comes out? This verbal jousting isn’t optimal, and c’mon, both sides feature leadership that wouldn’t last a minute in an MMA octagon…or a locker room
    And Ray? One of many reasons that VL is no longer relevant is simple for those of us who study urbanization conundrums, emerging problems therein? IMO, we stopped being a village about 20 years ago, we’re a city now, for better or for worse.
    We passed the event horizon, the town/village vs. city definitional threshold quite awhile back. That we’re nostalgic, would like to keep an itsy bit of the sentimental illusion that we’re not?
    We’re not afraid, we’re just sad.
    You OTOH, you’re just plain flat out angry.
    So I think it’s people like me that live rent free in both you & Billy’s head for free.

  4. I agree Mike Morris. I get tired of his constant whipping post of Village Laguna with no proof other than his white blind hatred for them. Every one of his columns is so full of vitriol and lies – it’s tiresome. Find something else to go after. You are irrelevant with your continual attacks on the bogeyman that doesn’t exist except in your mind like your blonde at the bar. The only people seeking control is your PAC Liberate Laguna Forward – you told me that personally so you could get that porch on your girlfriend’s house. So why not back off the dishonesty, you got the porch with your stacked committees? Try writing something honest for a change.

  5. No one supports high-rise development? Talk to your Liberate Laguna/Laguna Forward partner Sam Goldstein who’s been yakking it up in the press and at City Hall about increasing height limits one extra floor for every level of subterranean parking.

    Then cross-reference that with Mo Honarkar’s proposed Museum Hotel that wanted to create three underground levels of parking – which would have entitled him to a 66-foot tall hotel less than a block from the beach.

    No one supports demolishing perfectly good retail buildings to build monstrosities? Really? Better talk to Mo Honarkar again, because that’s precisely what he wanted to do with his proposed block-long, view-obstructing, height-exceeding Museum Hotel.

    No support for McMansionization? Even I know someone who’s looking to put in a 5,000 sq. ft. deck attached to his new 4,400 sq. ft. home – with a swimming pool.

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely? You must mean like your hand-picked City Councilman, Peter Blake.

    And let’s not forget the $250,000 Liberate Laguna/Laguna Forward has spent to get its pro-development City Council members elected, then pile drive its agendas through City Hall. Or the expensive, high-end, out-of-town political consulting firm your group has hired to kill the ballot initiative that would give residents a democratic say in their community’s direction.

    If you want to talk about political action committee corruption, Mike, please learn how to use a mirror first.

  6. Asymmetrical warfare is intuited when your opponent has more troops and armament ($$$ and influence @ City Hall in this case).
    And traitors to long term resident’s core values like Baltimore Billy? He’s just used his column space to write 3 pieces in 3 weeks promoting that rinky-dink radio station + his show.
    He’s really their version of Leni Riefenstahl, the actress and filmmaker-cum-propagandist.
    As a builder for decades here it irritated me that those with larger projects had a slew of consultants and attorneys who lobbied, fast tracked projects. The attorneys especially intimidated with the auspice of protracted litigation.
    Hiring mercenaries, aka more troops with more time, they got more staff time to bend their projects in their direction.
    Frankly, I didn’t find DRB or PC oppressive or having biases, I just didn’t go into hearings because it was like watching sausage made: Stomach turning, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and the seeds of acrimony they can sow after rejection, approval or major changes.
    All of this “ruled with an iron fist” is classic straw dog/red herring argumentation, is BS.
    And there’s no small irony that most of the venom is coming from men who got picked last for sports, got pantsed and stuffed in a locker back in high a school gym class.
    I stuffed or helped jam a few of this type myself, mea culpa.
    C’mon, I’m 75 and I’d get into an octagon with any of these guys.
    Metaphorical fights? Yes.
    Physical ones? No way.
    It’s easy to throw shade online or on the airwaves, they are posturing peacocks, poseurs who ACT brave, are faux heroes while they portray others as villains. Bullies are cowards once you get them alone, without their gang. I paid a few back that way myself once I learned martial arts (Shotokan).
    It’s easy to sit at a keyboard and taunt, write checks with your mouth that your ass could never cash, basically what everyone at the extremes are doing, but actual physical fighting is something else.
    Since that’s never going to happen, it’s one world at a time….first poker tell is when the LRF initiative is placed before the people. Second the actual Council makeup post November 2022
    I can share that there’s a meanness, a destructively cruel tactic that I never observed here until Donald (The Gaseous Bloviating Blimp) Drumpf came on the national scene.
    Like Washington DC or our legislative bodies here in Cali, it’s a shame there are no “Switzerland” candidates, middle ground moderates instead of the present binary situation.
    Because whomever takes control will probably have a vengeful mindset.
    Victors tend to wipe out all history of their perceived/professed evil predecessors and once again, the majority of the population lose during the radioactive fallout.
    Laissez Les Bontemps Roulez!


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