Opinion: Village Matters

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Bloomin’ for better

ann christoph

The plants are here to cheer us up. Blooming their peduncles out! It’s as though they’re saying, “we know what you’re going through—we’ve been through it ourselves.” White fly on the hibiscus, bark beetles on the pines, polyphagous shot hole borer on sycamores and willows, bagrada bugs on anything related to cabbages, leaf hoppers on tomatoes, and oak root fungus creeping through the soil infecting roots of our trees and shrubs. In recent years there have been waves of unintentionally imported insects as well as long term diseases getting out of control, decimating our plant life.

And yet, here it is spring again, and the flowers and new leaves prevail as though none of those destructive organisms ever hurt them or their brethren. 

Now tragically it’s our turn.

Recovery is a huge challenge worldwide, but we can do our part by setting ourselves aright–here in Laguna Beach.

The city manager has projected a decrease in revenue of $12 million for the 2019-20 budget and so at its last meeting the City Council considered ways to compensate.  They approved many of his recommendations, but deferred action on recommended deletion of long term projects.  They’ll discuss them again in June.  These include funds for purchase of the South Laguna Community Garden Park, the urban forest management plan, a wildfire mitigation fire inspector, and restoration of the Digester building at the Village Entrance. There are untapped funds in the city’s coffers— a general fund reserve of $13.2 million and the disaster contingency fund of $6.4 million. There are also other already funded projects that might be considered for deletion, postponement or reductions. A total of $2 million set aside for the Downtown Action Plan was untouched.

To put this all into perspective, let’s consider the 1993 fire recovery. This fire disaster was a huge impact on our residents and our city—more than 400 homes were destroyed. Everyone’s life was upended. The lives of those who lost their homes were changed forever. Fortunately, no one died. Nonprofit groups mobilized amazingly, each doing its part to bring our city back to life. The city stopped all its projects not related to the fire response for six months, concentrating on rebuilding and recovery.    Then, with the recovery underway, we moved on with our planned projects on all fronts.

In 1994 the city’s budget was $29 million. We had 210 employees. Now we have 289 employees and our budget is $127 million. Yet our city’s population has slightly declined—in 1990 we had 23,358 residents; a population of 22,991 was estimated in 2018. In 1994 we were nine years away from having the Montage bed tax rolling in.

Yet we recovered from the fire without it. And we kept on with our other priorities too.

Between 1994 and 2000 the city acquired 81 acres of open space land for preservation, for example. Delays are expected, but we should be able to recover from this disaster as well without having to delete long-planned projects. 

Let’s keep all of our overall goals in mind while solving our immediately pressing problems. And enjoy our persistently lovely and joyful spring bloom.

Ann was mayor of Laguna Beach during the 1994 fire recovery.

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