Community or Venue
Making life all it can be for ourselves and our neighbors—that should be our personal mission, and our shared mission with our government. This involves being kind, considerate and open-minded. Listening for good ideas no matter who speaks them. Thinking the oft-heard tribute at memorial services, “She or he never said a bad word about anyone.” Hard to do when we face the barrage of accusations in all our public forums. As unrealistic as it sounds in today’s strident milieu, rising above it may be what is needed to turn our city and our country around.
What are the requisite components for this change in our attitudes and behavior? Ian L. McHarg, author of “Design with Nature” emphasizes health, “We need to know where are the environments of health for there the environment is fit, the adaptations are creative. There is a creative-fit-healthy environment. What are its components? All this we must know to create the humane city.”
Right now we have the potential for a humane city. We have many of the components—beauty, amenable climate, an educated populace, engaging traditions of community involvement, healthcare availability—yet there is disease and stress. Why? Our lives and our friends’ lives are threatened by the impossibly high cost of housing. We are watching our community erode with each real estate sign that goes up, with each sale that is closed.
A person of “normal” income is gone. Who moves in? Sometimes a family that has the resources and has always wanted to live in Laguna is thrilled with their new home, but many times it’s no one. The house is on standby, waiting for someone to spend a vacation there, or to be flipped to a new owner at an even higher price. Someone in an unhealthy relationship can’t move because there is no affordable alternative. Young adults can’t establish their own households. Even though those of us who bought homes long ago can still afford them, we realize this situation is untenable. We can’t keep losing people and still have a real community.
The Housing and Human Services Committee meets with concern, but there are only fictional answers of places to build affordable housing. Perhaps those unrealistic proposals to produce 394 units required by the state will satisfy Sacramento’s quota system but there won’t be a place for my priced-out neighbor to move to. The State’s accessory dwelling unit program provides for adding apartments on single family lots, but with no assurance they will be affordable or even rented. No action has been taken on the Committee-proposed housing trust—which could focus the community on this issue, accept donations and bequests, and develop a funded city housing program. The Committee heard from George Ruther of the Town of Vail, Colo., which has a robust housing program called “Vail Indeed” involving purchasing deed restrictions. In exchange for housing funding for the owner, the unit must be occupied by full-time residents working a minimum of 30 hours per week locally. Some communities charge a vacancy tax to discourage leaving housing unoccupied. There are options to consider.
Yet this seems to be a problem with no solution—because the community energy needed to consider this a crisis has not gelled. No one but the Housing and Human Services Committee brings forward actions to address the problem. This is an overlying stress on our community that pervades and keeps us in dis-ease.
Instead of taking this seriously we get diverted to argue about where to get more parking spaces and whose fault the vacant store fronts are. Whether one group in town is bad or good. Why it takes so long to get plans approved at city hall. And should we add another city employee—who can’t afford to live here. Will we act or prepare to concede that what was our community is now just a high-priced vacation venue?
Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor. She’s also a long-time board member of Village Laguna, Inc.View Our User Comment Policy