Opinion: Village Matters

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Eating Exclusion for Breakfast

By Ann Christoph

“We are dedicated to working together toward our vision as we celebrate diversity and wellness.” 

This was one of the core values expressed by the city manager as part of the city’s annual planning session last Saturday.

Some of the most diligent and dedicated of Laguna’s beloved activists attended the meeting at the Susi Q, giving a chunk of Saturday to the cause of Laguna Beach betterment. They were greeted with the community room divided by a bollarded barrier keeping the public away from the council and staff area and their private breakfast buffet. The public was provided with a separate miniature version sans the healthy fruit and yogurt cup and other items we were not allowed to see. Thus began the meeting with already a lack of togetherness and wellness.

In the two minutes each member of the public was allotted at the beginning, they made well-reasoned pleas for seismic preparedness, up-to-date open space planning, design quality for Forest Avenue, completion of the Digester restoration, provision of affordable housing, need for an aquatic center, fostering historic preservation and proper restoration of the Hotel Laguna.    

City council, the city manager and department heads were the focus of the meeting in two-thirds of the room. The city manager explained that the day intended to solidify working together, defining vision, mission and values that can be passed on to all city employees to make their work more meaningful and successful. The public had emphasized that we already have mission statements in our general plan and vision documentation in the 2030 Vision Plan. Nevertheless, new statements had to be developed, as she said they were needed for staff and Council’s working relationships.

Facilitator Teri Fisher guided these efforts. She quoted Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” reminding us how vision exercises can help shape an organization’s culture, thus unifying the staff to be more effective.  

In one of the exercises, the Council and staff were divided into groups with an assignment to write a headline and article for the Orange County Register that we would like to see printed five years from now. We activists formed our own group and did the exercise too.  

Clark Collins wrote, “Laguna Beach is Once Again Leading the Way–With a vision to be a city that is an innovator and leader in environmentally sustainable practices, housing, safety, and technology while embracing the city’s artistic heritage, village character and diverse community, Laguna Beach places the environment in the center of everything.” 

The statements from all of the groups were remarkably similar. Yet when the facilitator asked if there was one word anyone had to add that was missing from any of the distilled statements and I raised my hand, I was not allowed to speak. The word was “beauty.” Laguna Beach is “built on beauty.” That’s what drew the artists here, and we have been trying to respect and enhance that beauty ever since.

By lunchtime, only a few of us were on the public side of the barrier. Council and staff disappeared into another room for lunch. 

I remember previous sessions where the public was invited to join Council and staff for lunch. But not now. The core value on the list, “We are respectful and responsive to each other and those we serve,” seemed not to apply in this situation.

Projects such as those brought up by the public were addressed in the afternoon, and the Council made a diligent effort to include most of them in the upcoming work program. 

Concluding remarks from the city manager included her enthusiasm for her job and her dedication to being an implementor, working hard to accomplish the goals of the five members of the City Council. Still, only five people of the thousands in Laguna Beach can be on the city council, and the city staff members, including the city manager, are here for the welfare of all of us. It’s a continuum of dedicated Lagunans.  

We’re looking for that inclusionary culture that will eat all the negativity and divisions for breakfast, lunch and dinner to move our strategies innovatively toward more beauty—inside and out.

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

 

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