Opinion: Village Matters

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Recipe for Togetherness

ann christoph

Homemade Granola Recipe

4 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup sliced almonds (or other nuts you like)
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
½ cup oil
1/3 cup syrup (agave, corn or maple) or honey
1 teaspoon salt

Mix together, spread in a greased baking pan and bake at 350° until toasty.
Be sure to stir and re-spread several times while baking for even color.

This is the recipe I made to ship off to my relatives for Christmas. Maybe we can all eat our granola in unison while we do a Zoom call on Christmas Day. We did Zoom for the first time on Thanksgiving and there were my brothers, my sisters-in-law and their kids all in one place probably for the first time since my mom’s 75th birthday party 25 years ago. A brief but important moment of being together, even more than we could accomplish by driving eight or more hours and being physically in one of their homes for the holiday.

I’ve come to appreciate the human qualities of my fellow Zoomites as the pandemic has progressed. Of course, we miss being with each other in the usual way, but the computer screen format has the potential for being uniquely revealing.

Last week I “attended” the Coastal Commission hearing. Pre-pandemic these meetings would be held in an auditorium with the commissioners and staff at a remote dais, and several hundred people in the audience waiting for their item to be heard. Now on the computer screen each commissioner fills my screen when speaking and it feels like an intimate conversation with just me, the viewer. It was particularly poignant because the Executive Director of the Commission, Jack Ainsworth, was giving tributes to three Commission staff members who were retiring, Susan Hansch, Jeff Staben and Larry Simon. A Kleenex box next to his mic, he often choked up as he described their decades of service, the long hours worked, and their accomplishments despite budget cuts and difficult circumstances. The Commission’s staff pay has been cut 9.3% along with other state employees and the overall budget has been cut 5% due to the pandemic expenses, and this is not the first time. Recently eight of the staff members have been diverted to contact tracing for the virus. Intense dedication to the mission of the Commission—to protect the California Coast—is an overwhelming motivation for such dedicated service, Ainsworth effused.

Commissioners described in emotional detail how they function and the support from staff that they rely on. Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh brought us to tears as she related coming back to Commission hearings with her six-week-old baby, and how Executive Assistant Jeff Staben helped her arrange the place and the hearing timing so that she could feed her child. Commissioner Katie Rice summed up the feelings of the Commission, “I’ve never been part of an agency that’s as warm and inclusive as this agency,” speaking of Staben “elevating our common humanity, treating everyone with dignity, respect and warmth.”

Susan Hansch’s “extraordinary heroic efforts” in managing the “most difficult assignments,” dealing with never-ending urgent matters, and giving her “kind and caring guidance” were cited by Ainsworth and added to by the Commissioners. Now that she is retiring as Chief Deputy Director after 46 years with the Commission she has volunteered for another six months as pandemic contact tracer. Larry Simon was manager of the Federal Consistency Unit, dealing with controversial and difficult federal projects with the goal of protecting California’s coastal resources, including the whales and the pinnipeds.

What an insight into the feelings and functioning of the Commission and its staff! The emotional impact of that tribute would have been lost in the previously endured hearing room format, with impatient applicants milling around in the back of the room, testifiers inquiring about the speaking permission slips, all waiting for the Commission to get on to the meat of the meeting, hear their comments and decide on their permits.

Will moments like this, seeing each other as caring human beings, fellow strugglers trying not only to cope and but achieve lofty goals help to bring us together? Crunch on the granola and really hear what our fellow humans are sharing.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor.

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