Good Guys or Bad Guys?
From the look of last week’s Independent the bad guys are Village Laguna and everyone who advocates for historic preservation. Somehow supporting historic preservation translates into being against children and families. Just when Village Laguna is celebrating 50 years of saving the village character of our town for future generations someone is saying Village Laguna is against the very generations they’ve been thinking of all these years. Instead of community-oriented work being seen as laudable and essential to preserving a town now worth arguing over, it’s anti-family?
Historic preservation has literally become the poster child to push an anti-environmental agenda. The developer-funded organization, Liberate Laguna, supporter of Peter Blake and Larry Nokes for city council, can take advantage of organizations like Let Laguna Live, and now Laguna Neighbors to push their own anti-preservation agenda. If Village Laguna and other environmental and preservation supporters are mischaracterized with cute posters and anti-family accusations, all the better for Liberate Laguna in the next election. Defeating historic preservation could be their tool to accomplish their much larger goal—to disempower the city and open the town to redevelopment as they envision it.
There are national and state criteria and laws for determining if changes to historic resources have been properly assessed, and the city has not been properly implementing them. Residents have raised issues with the city’s mishandling of historic preservation since at least 2005, and throughout the historic preservation ordinance hearings. Administrative remedies have been exhausted. The legal challenges were the last recourse.
Ultimately the city’s neglect of historic preservation will lead to loss of historic buildings and deterioration of the treasured Laguna Beach village character. This is why historic preservation advocates are pursuing legal remedies. Not to punish applicants. Not to be against families. The historic preservation processes must provide consistency for applicants and members of the public, must be fairly applied, be clearly explained, and be legal.
History tells us that change, especially change that threatens the power structure or long-standing approaches, is often resisted and those who advocate for change are subject to denigration. That’s what’s happening now with the issue of historic preservation. The city has mishandled historic preservation for decades and now that members of the public are challenging their decisions and non-compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, there’s resistance. Unkind and untrue statements are spread about those who bring these issues to public attention.
This has happened before in Laguna Beach. Arnold Hano, who was instrumental in keeping high rise buildings from walling off our ocean front, started the first campaign to preserve Laguna’s village character in 1971. That campaign for a 36-foot building height limit was hard-fought. The proponents of high-rise hotels didn’t sit back and agree without some forceful language and arguments against the villagers. When Arnold ran for Council, some started a salacious whisper campaign against him. Now we celebrate all his contributions and appreciate how important the restrictions on height have been to keeping Laguna’s charm. Change happened, and the rancor has been forgotten.
Jim Dilley, the founder of the Laguna Greenbelt, was considered an eccentric book-seller with wild ideas by some who were fine with a golf course, shopping center and more houses in the Canyon instead of preserving the open space. To them it was only progress and besides the Irvine Co. was going to build us a new school out there. (This was an underlying thought when the School District voted to close Aliso School.) Despite the naysayers Dilley kept pressing with his victory statements, documenting each step toward making the now-22,000 acre Laguna Greenbelt open space preserve a reality.
Dilley’s fundamental task was to change our image of ourselves and Laguna Beach as a community. To instill the idea that it was not inevitable that the picturesque landscape surrounding our town would be developed. To empower us to determine our own future. To build a vision of a town surrounded by natural open space. These were fundamental changes that were inspiring to many, but for others ran contrary to the “manifest destiny” of ultimate human manipulation of our environment for increase in wealth. Fortunately for Laguna, the inspirational vision prevailed.
Historic preservation advocates seek similar changes as applied to appreciation of our heritage and community character. Only then will keeping Laguna’s uniqueness and charm become inevitable.
Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor.
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