Opinion: Village Matters


Just a Bunch of Activists

ann christoph

The founding fathers wore tricorne hats, fancy jackets and white leggings, but were they more exceptional than our present leaders? They seem super-human to us now.  On pedestals and monuments, we think of them as very special leaders. But they were activists, just as we are, or can be, today.

They were the most dedicated and astute leaders available from the 2.4 million people living in all of the 13 colonies in the 1770s. To compare, today the 13 largest cities in Orange County together have 2.1 million. 

The population of Virginia and Pennsylvania, the two largest colonies, totaled 687,000. This compares to the population of our two largest Orange County cities, Anaheim and Santa Ana—682,000. Georgia, with the smallest population of all the colonies, was hardly larger than Laguna Beach, with 23,000 people.

If proportion holds true, there must be more Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Franklins, unrecognized, in our midst, now working on a regional, rather than national scale.

Just here in Laguna Beach we have experienced leaders with vision for a better future and greatness in response to challenges. Early artist Anna Hills worked on Laguna’s first planning commission and pioneered the construction of the art museum. Lynn Aufdenkamp was instrumental in bringing an assured water supply to Laguna. Jim Dilley saw a permanent greenbelt preserve where others saw inevitable development—and we achieved his vision. Fred Lang led and donated the plan that saved the South Laguna hills. Bob Gentry, our first openly gay mayor, believed in and leads a life of empathy and recognition of equal rights and treatment regardless of prejudices.  Elisabeth Brown would not give up on a wildlife corridor connecting the Greenbelt with Cleveland National Forest. Lida Lenney spared no action in defending and preserving Laguna Canyon. Arnold and Bonnie Hano sounded the alarm that high rise buildings spelled the death of charming Laguna Beach and Lagunans rejected high rise with an 80% vote. Morrie Granger valued community intensely and the community garden is the expression of his devotion. And more. Perhaps your name should be on this list, activists all, who put the communal future ahead of the personal present.

The founding fathers faced severe challenges and through persistence, insight, compromise and bravery took the actions needed to bring diverse people together and create a new nation forged with an innovative approach—giving power to the people equally. It didn’t come easily, and the declaration of independence and constitution weren’t obvious from the beginning either.

Now we’re using that political power given to all of us equally. We’re proudly activists. We’re facing other challenges, and the way ahead is just as obscure for us as it was for them, those centuries ago. Yet we share a faith that collective wisdom combined with creative thinking will set us right. We may not get a pedestal or a monument, but we have an opportunity for greatness.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor.

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  1. Does IT ever end? Memo went out last election – – Your OLD way didn’t work. We need profitable changes that keep retail like the drug store open. Get off your high horse and invest in growth if you want it instead of free digital scribe that make you feel good.


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