Opinion: Village Matters

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Better Together

ann christoph

Ukrainians are fighting for freedom and democracy. Tragedies multiply. Death and destruction marches on, turning communities into unlivable dust and rubble. Whatever frustrations that are going on here in Laguna seem so comparatively insignificant, that one might ask, “How can anyone complain about anything in our paradise when bombs are falling in Ukraine?” They are fighting for the open society that we have, one that encourages us to take initiatives to improve our lives and determine the future of our community.

Are we making best use of that freedom? Every generation has a message, a movement for a more open and generous democracy. “Give peace a chance.” “We shall overcome.” “Save the planet.” “Let the people speak.” We work for that open and generous democracy here in Laguna too and we rely on our city government to provide the setting for our productive efforts—at a minimum tranquility and protection, but we hope leadership and inspiration too. Tranquility has been greatly lacking, accusations overwhelming whatever inspiring calls may have been trying to get through. Discounting the comments, ideas, and community service of Laguna residents from the council dais, labeling them as “activists” as though it’s a derogatory term, has changed the atmosphere and direction of city hall away from the inspiration and leadership we used to look to. Former mayor Lida Lenney passionately led us to “Save the Canyon.” Former mayor Bob Gentry bravely pioneered gay rights and Laguna became a leading voice in raising human rights consciousness even beyond our borders.

Now conflicts dominate and the public is discouraged from getting involved. We are far from discussions of how we can enthusiastically, “Make Laguna better together.”

It’s more like, “How can we get what we want by going around the potential opposition.” Or “How can we keep people we have discounted as activists from getting what they are striving for.” The City Council’s strategic planning session at the Susi Q last Friday, from 8 a.m. until mid-afternoon allowed for public comment only in the first 30 minutes, and even then some speakers were cut short. The council and staff were seated comfortably at round white-clothed tables. They had a breakfast buffet. The public was restricted to a roped off area with coffee, water and a dish of candy. The message was clear—the public is not welcome to be a part of this process.

I remember when the city used to provide coffee at the back of the council chambers at council meetings. Everyone could help themselves. If a councilmember wanted coffee they got it there–the same as everyone else. Now the coffee is only behind the dais and only for staff and council. A subtle change that speaks against public participation and screams hierarchy.

Remember the iron curtain? The USSR/Russia dominated the eastern European countries. The Cold War was forever on our minds, with the potential for nuclear war and expansion of the Communist way of life. Neighbors Tom and Ginger Osborne were active in Beyond War, a movement that emphasized good will and working with others to build a world without war. In 1983, I attended an awareness session in their home. We were urged to resolve conflicts and establish an atmosphere of peace while working toward improvements in our society. They maintained that this attitude could become pervasive and become a force that would move the world toward peace. Beyond War and this inspirational approach did spread world-wide. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. I have always credited Tom and Ginger with the fall of the iron curtain! What can we do about Ukraine? We are not helpless. We can establish an environment of peace and working together right here in Laguna Beach. Remember when The New York Times editorial predicted that the changed political direction of our country would originate here?

It still can.

There was a message of hope at Main Beach on Sunday. The Democratic and Republican clubs co-sponsored a demonstration in support of Ukraine. How heartwarming to see fellow Lagunans united! Let’s make best use of our precious democracy and bring more of us to find common ground. We can make Laguna and the world better together.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor. She’s also a board member of Village Laguna, Inc.

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