What’s The Rush?
Feeling like strangers in our own town. That’s what it’s like lately.
We’re on remote control already because of the virus. We’re terribly afraid of getting sick. We have to stay apart except on Zoom calls when we can get a few words in before we get cut off or we start sounding like robots to the other people in the meeting. Food gets delivered without contact. We missed the window for a haircut. We talk to people through our masks, feeling like we are not really understood, and don’t completely understand them either. More importantly, many of us are feeling like strangers, like the controlling factions in town don’t understand those of us who want to fervently protect it.
Despite promises that important and controversial items won’t be coming up while the pandemic restrictions are in place, the city scheduled a series of very controversial agenda items, one after another, even holding special council meetings to do so. The Downtown Specific Plan with the proposed reduced parking requirements for business expansion, the Historic Preservation Ordinance reversing 40 years of protective policy, and the Coast Inn and liquor store where intense development proposals are resurfacing.
What’s the rush? The election is coming up in November and—panic time at City Hall—these items must be voted on before the campaign season starts, and before possible changes to the council take place in December. It is the season for finishing off projects that have been lingering for a very long time—while the votes are there—and this train of poor decisions keeps moving down the track.
Meantime the public struggles to keep up. We’re still not at ease with the phone-in and Zoom testimony system. There are glitches at every meeting, leaving some potential testifiers sitting at home frustrated at not being able to get through. At the July 14 meeting there were conflicting webinar meeting numbers—who’s to know which one’s right? Or even that our trouble in making the technology work might be a problem with the published number? At the July 15 planning commission meeting on the Coast Liquor store, channel 852 which is supposed to show the meeting to us folks at home, showed test patterns instead. Chair Susan Whitin, not aware of the TV malfunction, wondered why there were so few phone-in testifiers. Who knows how those unheard comments from the public might have influenced the decisions of the councilmembers and commissioners? Is this fair? Does it conform to open meeting laws?
The underlying theme of the decisions on these projects is that Laguna is not good enough, that we are deficient in some way that has to be rectified by changes in policy that will make us more like some “exemplary” other places. Yet people are writing in letter after letter to the Council extolling Laguna’s unique charm, its artistic traditions, and historic character. They plead not to allow Laguna to become like other cities, cities many of us chose to leave in favor of living in Laguna Beach. This week in making a tally of correspondence against the council’s decision to gut our historic preservation program I read 111 of those letters vs. 65 supporting the council’s action.
It’s as though in councilmembers’ fear of being attacked by Liberate Laguna—a small group of wealthy real estate investors who influenced the election of councilmembers Blake and Kempf with their outsized campaign expenditures—they forget what we have here. A special place that the National Park Service recognized as a Historic American Landscape, that a professional architectural historian suggested in one of those letters to the Council should be a UNESCO World Heritage site! Perhaps it’s a good thing that some of us feel like strangers in our own town, we can still see the unique qualities that are so obvious and inspiring to outsiders.
Ann is a landscape architect and former mayor.