Opinion: The Vesuvius of Laguna


I just finished reading two books about President Teddy Roosevelt, one by Susan Berfield, “The Hour of Fate,” and the other by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “The Bully Pulpit.”

The two books note the ruling class hated Roosevelt. Oh, how they squealed when he took them on. He beat J.P. Morgan, who was trying to monopolize major industries, then went on to create national parks, constructed the Panama Canal, regulated drugs, ended the Russo-Japanese War, hosted Booker T. Washington to dinner (oh, the racist outcry!), created the Square Deal for average Americans, and so on.

Goodwin calls her book “The Bully Pulpit” because Roosevelt bullied the powers that be. He called them “unfit to govern the country” and ended their unilateral dominance. For this, he was continuously lambasted by the better people.

But he got things done.

I bring it up because a parallel exists in Laguna Beach. Former Councilmember Peter Blake took on the entrenched interests of Laguna Beach, meaning Village Laguna, which with an authoritarian hand, had ruled this place for forty years. Like Roosevelt, Blake was pilloried by all the good and right thinkers of Laguna, including fellow columnist Billy Fried, who called Blake a “menacing, gurgling Vesuvius that erupted at every meeting, lava spewing, making chambers feel like a living hell….”

What they miss is Blake got things done. A partial list:

  • Created the Forest Avenue Promenade.
  • Made outdoor dining permanent.
  • Eliminated the hated Historic Inventory.
  • Appointed a progressive City Manager who cleaned out the deadwood.
  • Amended the sclerotic Downtown Specific Plan.
  • Appointed rational people to City commissions like Heritage, Design Review Board (DRB), and Planning—people who helped, instead of opposed, applicants.
  • Re-opened Hotel Laguna.
  • Perhaps most important, he realistically addressed Laguna’s homeless population and, unlike San Francisco, Venice and Los Angeles actually and humanely cleaned up the problem.

Would any of that have happened without Peter Blake? Probably, but certainly not all. The Council had only a 3-2 majority. Would the other two in the majority, Bob Whalen and Sue Kempf, both more than thoughtful, yet perhaps too moderate, have taken on entrenched Village Laguna interests without Blake blocking for them?

For they knew one thing: in their next elections, they would have to pay the price in scorched-earth campaigns. But with Blake so “uncivil,” they did not. He took the heat, not them, and it cost him his next election.

One can now argue, as did Billy Fried, that our current Council is full of oh-so-harmonious “adults” who will discuss weighty manners collaboratively. Fine, but will they get things done? Or will they crumble before the endless Village Laguna onslaught?

One thing is sure. With Blake calling out lies, hectoring, pushing, and copycatting “uncivil” Roosevelt in almost every manner, he accomplished more for Laguna than any half dozen prior City Councils.

I might note one last thing: In his Council race, Blake was up-front. I attended all the debates for the Council races in 2018. In them, the moderator usually asked for a show of hands of who would support The Promenade, who would address the homelessly honestly; and who would streamline the Design Review Board. Blake was the only candidate to hold up his hand.

Finally, when asked what he’d do to promote civility, Blake stated, “If you want civility, don’t vote for me. If you want progress, do.”

He kept his word. Will our current Council be so bold?

So Billy Fried and your ilk, you can be self-righteously, and from a distance, condemning of Blake, but you got nothing done, ever, except to suggest e-bikers should rule Laguna with feathers in their hair.

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

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  1. Wait, what!? You’re comparing Peter Blake to Teddy Roosevelt? Whatever you’re taking, can I get some? “I’m thrilled and frankly lucky” (that I got trounced in my re-election bid), said Teddy, never. Oh yeah, that was Peter, totally repudiated by the public by finishing second to last. I guess we chose civility.

    Besides being a politician and statesman, Roosevelt was also a soldier, war hero, conservationist, naturalist, historian, and writer who got elected to two terms. Peter, a one-term gallerist who I’m sure will never involve himself in the public realm again.

    By the way, Teddy’s favorite quote was, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Peter’s? “Yell loudly and disparage anyone who disagrees with you.” Winners win, and whiners whine.

    And before you make any proclamations of pending inertia. I’m betting that the new council will get plenty done, without the bombast, rudeness, and eruptions. Like I said, we now have 5 fully formed adults on the council. Life is good, enjoy your good fortune, Michael.

  2. I note you do not question the Council’s accomplishments under Blake. Good thing. What you disagree with is Process, not Results.

    The average citizen does not watch City Council meetings. They care about The Promenade, outdoor dining, a newly friendly staff, being able to drop into Hotel Laguna and so on.

  3. Michael Ray, what a bubble you must live in! A more realistic comparison of Blake would be to the mud springs in Yellowstone Park that spew malodorous fumes and dirt. Aiding and abetting such churlish behaviour is an affront to all residents, mostly women, that have endured Blake’s bullying for the past four years. And to compare Blake to Teddy Roosevelt really does highlight the bubble in which you live. Even the fact that as incumbent Blake came within a few votes of being dead last does not bring you back to reality.

  4. Mike when are you going to let it go that the guy you first promoted, paid for and applauded lost? You have been vested in Blake from the very beginning funding him all the way with over $200K in the PAC you formed specifically to defeat Toni Iseman and Village Laguna. Those accomplishments you state were a team effort and imo happened despite his screaming. I could go over them one by one but your attention span wouldn’t support that. You bet the ranch and your boy lost. Get over it. Move on. Grow up.

  5. Mr. Ray- the community you continually try to convince in your columns that Peter Blake was of any true value to residents/our city heard you the first, tenth, and hundredth time and we’re still not buying your tainted versions.

    We get you adore him. Resident voters don’t. My advice: seek help dealing with Blake’s overwhelming rejection privately and let the community heal from his four-year wrath.

    There’s lots of topics to write about that the community would find interesting. Maybe mental health? Thank you.

  6. Cynical revisionism. The list of “accomplishments” are mostly temporary swings of the pendulum or largely due to the combined efforts of many folks. Mr. Blake was only able to shout the loudest about certain topics, but fundamentally unable to carry anything through to fruition due to his nasty personality and ego.

    With almost every column, my low opinion of Mr. Ray as a thoughtful civic contributor, agile behind the scenes actor or positive-contributor to life in Laguna Beach decreases. IMO he’s only a whiny complainer with deep pockets.

  7. Mr. Ray, why do you insist on continuing down this path. First You compare Peter Blake to Teddy Roosevelt, absurd, of course. (See Billy Fried comments above) and now you are going to compare Peter Blake’s “civility” to George Weiss’s “civility”. Comparing George Weiss to Peter Blake on “civility” is just as, or possibly even more absurd than comparing Blake to Roosevelt. Maybe you should look at Blake’s numerous malicious comments to just about anyone with a dissimilar opinion to his. I do not believe you will find the same rhetoric from George Weiss, ever.

    George Weiss was the only person on the CC that stood up to Blake and called him out for the sophomoric antics he continued to inflict on Laguna Beach for years. The current (revolving door) Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem duo, as well as the City Manager allowed Blake to insult and offend fellow Council Members and Citizens alike on too many occasions to count.

    I have suggested in the past that you should tell “cute little stories” about life in Laguna in “Musings on the Coast” and quit trying to somehow justify Blake. He was bad for Laguna, and the citizens knew if and did what he suggested. We voted him out.

    Mr. Ray, if you are going to play “WHATABOUTISM” please at least do realistic comparisons.

  8. Mr. Ray, the last paragraph of your screed states: “So Billy Fried and your ilk, you can be self-righteously, and from a distance, condemning of Blake, but you got nothing done, ever, except to suggest e-bikers should rule Laguna with feathers in their hair.”

    What a shameful comment against a local businessman who has worked to make laguna better. Billy is known as a booster of Laguna. And who do you refer to as “his ilk”? Do you mean the surfers, paddlers, bikers, and so many others who have worked to preserve our environment?

    I would be honored to think I am included as one of Billy Fried’s Ilk!

    Mr. Ray, Laguna has repudiated your vision now two elections in a row. We also now realize who Blake got his marching orders from the past 4 years. Blake was your perfect acolyte and mimicked your persona well. You had your “Geppetto” mimicry down pat!

  9. Claude, Very good comment. Arrogance breeds contempt as Michael Ray has shown time and time again. Ray has no sense of reality. Since he compares bullying Blake TR and sees Blake as Mt. Vesuvius instead of the smelly, gurgling mud baths of Yellowstone one must wonder if Ray sees himself being comparable to Zeus. Ray has said that Blake was and is still a mentor to his children. Need I say more?


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