Opinion: Village Matters

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Hostility Virus

ann christoph
By Ann Christoph

“Community spread” doesn’t only apply to the Corona virus. It also pertains to the virulent strain of hostility we are experiencing at city hall. While not potentially fatal nor a worldwide pandemic, this psychological hostility virus still has serious potential to damage our community way of life.

Trickling down from the top in Washington to our council, now it seems to have infected our boards and commissions— where newly appointed officials seem to be following council’s example.

There have been many attempts to rein in the hostile atmosphere at city hall which began when councilmember Peter Blake took office in December 2018.  There was much public testimony objecting to his accusations and harsh comments. In September 2019, the council adopted a code of conduct to address what Mayor Bob Whalen described in his State of the City address as an “unprecedented” display of personal attacks intended “to embarrass and intimidate either an elected official or other members of the public who don’t share their point of view.”

Despite adoption of the policy the comments continue.

In February, the Council interviewed volunteer citizens who had applied for various city boards and committees. Applicants to the Design Review Board were subjected to comments from Blake including comments regarding alleged affiliations with an “old group of obstructionists that have ruled this town for decades.”

Many people testified at the February’s mid-year budget review when the council was deciding if they would fund the projects that would remove most trees on lower Forest Avenue and lower Broadway Street. A majority of the speakers urged the council to preserve the trees. When it was Blake’s turn to speak, he chose to accuse the speakers, “This has been hijacked by tree activists. You want more time for the public? They’re not here. It’s activists. All of you are activists with an ax to grind. All I see in this room tonight is activists — not members of the public.”

Unfortunately, this approach is contagious. There’s a planning commissioner accusing speakers who support preservation of historic structures as promoting an “I’ve got mine and I don’t want anyone else to have theirs situation. I’m guessing that a lot of the contemporary homes where some people live were built in place of what could potentially be considered a historic property. I find a little bit of hypocrisy in some of the things people say.”

There is no evidence and there has been no testimony to support that assertion.  In fact most pro historic preservation testifiers either live in historic properties on the register or in houses that were built on empty lots many years ago. Regrettably, it’s that erroneous statement that got quoted in the press.

After last meeting’s testy confrontations from recently appointed members of the Design Review Board, chair of the board, Meg Monahan, has resigned. Next week the council will be appointing her replacement.

None of these skirmishes does anything to serve the public, advance the cause of improving and protecting our community, or inspire trust in the public process.  Unlike dealing with coronavirus where we are asked to isolate ourselves, this one can be cured by getting together, continuing our traditional optimism and letting our love of Laguna inspire us.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Ann, thank you for the bold honesty. This statement “There have been many attempts to rein in the hostile atmosphere at city hall which began when councilmember Peter Blake took office in December 2018.” is so true.

    I am certain that in our towns history our City Council has never had to serve in such a hostile environment. It was sickening to sit through the last Board & Commission appointments as Blake went on the attack with members of our community. It was even more sickening that other CC members sat and allowed him to vent his poisonous anger in what was once a civil public environment at our City Hall. CC members should be accountable for allowing this to happen. Their silence is a cancer that grows. Blake should resign.

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