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.