Opinion: Onward from the Beyond

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ann christoph
By Ann Christoph

Parents wonder if anything they tell their kids will ever be remembered. Rest assured, certain dictums are unforgettable, and life for their children will only be guilt-free if they are followed. I confronted one of them this weekend as I did some mending with the 1950s Singer sewing machine I inherited from my mom. This marvel made of tooled steel (and no computer components) works with the precision and solidity of a fine automobile. (I once had a more “up-to-date” model that featured an array of fancy stitches. But it was made with plastic parts and ran more like the gas lawn mower I once bought for $25. No comparison with the Singer.)

My mom’s machine comes complete with the original instructions on how to oil it. It also comes with a haunting reminder from my mom, “Be sure to oil the sewing machine!” The instructions are inside a yellowed envelope with the dates of the previous oiling. Hm, the last time I did it was 2020! Start the new year right and give the machine the attention it deserves.

From somewhere, my mom will notice and appreciate it.

Perhaps we as a town need a few haunting reminders from our forefathers and foremothers.

That our properties and our town are only ours for an interim period. They are not just ours to enjoy and capitalize on. They are a responsibility.

Some may come to town to make a statement of how they think Laguna should be. Perhaps they are convinced that Laguna should be more accommodating to property owners–let them do what they want.

“Let’s see how I can change Laguna, so I get to do what I want,” they say as they start the process at city hall.

It can be challenging to understand the Laguna approach without understanding the context and the sequence of how our town has come to be over decades. After all, recent home buyers have paid a high price for their newly acquired property.

That should give them more rights than the naysayer protectionists who repurchased their houses when ordinary people could afford them – they think. They don’t understand that those who came before, and the naysayer protectionists still here, paid a different price–to keep Laguna beautiful, unique and surrounded by a preserved greenbelt. They paid with their dedication. Walking to preserve the Canyon, taxing themselves to buy the canyon land, being there time after time, testifying, researching, and insisting on the government conforming with environmental laws.

But not understanding all of that, the unnamed new property owner, intent on changing the system, buys a historic property and astutely avoids City historic reviews while making unauthorized changes. He gets involved in City committees to subvert the City’s historic preservation program. He discourages other property owners from putting their properties on the Historic Register and advocates for whatever changes to historic properties are proposed, in character with the historic features or not. He posits that the historic preservation program should be eliminated. To some degree, he is successful in his efforts—reducing the historic preservation program’s effectiveness. Then he sells his house at a profit and moves out of town.

Applying the individual property rights approach leaves behind a less protected town and less informed about Laguna values than before this temporary Lagunan’s arrival. All this results from excessive concern for his “rights” instead of for the overall property rights of the town.

Granting “property rights” to approve “just because I like it” arbitrary changes to delicate features like historic buildings, natural vegetation or even the dynamics of community spaces like our downtown creates permanent damage. Demolished historic buildings can never be recreated. Native vegetation takes centuries to adapt and thrive, and animals are immediately displaced. Business and customer interrelationships are affected, with changes like the promenade, perhaps never to return.

The Laguna Beach we loved over a lifetime, or since we first experienced it, gets chipped away.

“Don’t forget to oil it.”

“Don’t forget to care for it,” the haunting voice says.

Care for it like you will pass it on to your daughter or son. Not to sell, but to continue to experience its inspiring qualities and care for it in the same tradition for the next generations.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor. She’s also a long-time board member of Village Laguna, Inc.

 

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