Opinion: Village Matters


Village Matters: Encounters to Treasure

ann christoph
By Ann Christoph

The murder of Dr. Michael Mammone shocked and saddened all who heard of it. Many of us experienced the enormity of the of the event in the form of massive traffic holdups. Now we understand why it was so important to close the roads, document appropriately and try to make sense of the tragedy. At first, we didn’t know who the victim was, but when I saw his image on the tv screen and heard his name, I, like probably many other visitors to the hospital emergency department, remembered, “I knew him. He took care of me.” He was so nice, and we had a conversation…Which mishap was it? I looked in my records. It was the dog bite last May. I wrote a column about it. Now it’s not just a chance encounter but a treasured memory. How many encounters do we have every day that remain unrecorded and under-appreciated? The only sense I can make of Dr. Mammone’s death is the reminder to treasure all those encounters and open ourselves to the significance and wonder of each one.

Village Matters: May 13, 2022 

How does a columnist find inspiration?—Especially when she spends three hours in the emergency room because of a dog bite on the night before a column is due. After assuring me I would survive the dog bite, the doctor asked, “How long have you lived here?”

“A long time, since 1971,” I replied to that oft-asked question.

“It must have been so beautiful back then, so wild….”

Maybe he imagined that I came with the original homesteaders in 1871. I’m not that old! 

“It was beautiful, but it’s beautiful now, still.” 

Then I thought of how it was in 1971. That was before the Laguna Niguel ridge tops were developed with condominiums and houses.

We often hiked up in the hills with Fred Lang and his botanist friends. It was wilder back then. There were vernal pools, now graded away, up at the top surrounded by the still-blooming California lilac. We learned about the rare Dudleyas (live forever succulents) from Dave Verity of UCLA and the importance of the southern maritime chaparral from Gordon Marsh of UC Irvine and Ted Haynes of Cal State University Fullerton.

Amid the sages, the toyons and lemonade berries are the rare Cneoridium dumosum, or spice bush, which bears miniature oranges. It is the only member of the citrus family native to Orange County. I find that little fact ironic and fascinating, but I pointed it out to a hiker up on the Valido trail recently and got a “Hmm.” I think he was more interested in how many steps were being tallied in his Apple watch. We weren’t counting steps in those days. We were deep breathing the scents, looking for wood rat nests (Fred’s favorite animal), and loving these richly carpeted and still preserved natural hillsides.

But it wasn’t peaceful, as I told the doctor, it was tumultuous. From the first week I started working for Fred we had planning commission and board of supervisors meetings in Santa Ana—years of them. How many afternoons sitting in those hard seats waiting for our three-minute opportunity to convince commissioners and board members from flat urban Orange County that preserving these remote hillsides was important.

There was organizing with the South Laguna Civic Association, community meetings, garage sales to raise funds for legal assistance, and on the professional side, mapping, analyzing development proposals, writing letters and producing an actual plan for South Laguna that saved most of the hillsides in open space. It was the first natural resource-based land use plan for Orange County.

If not for these efforts, there would have been roads up the mountains from First Avenue (now Eagle Rock Way) and Third Avenue, and the hillsides would have been graded for mobile homes, condominiums and houses. There was no period of time without controversy or a misguided development proposal. There were also opportunities to create more beauty and park space (South Laguna Village Green), and those required politicking too. More hard seat sitting, more persuasion, more drawings, more community creativity. There is still no time without controversy or opportunity to make the community better.

That’s the thing. We have a treasure here. That doesn’t mean we just declare that we’re lucky and then open the box and spend what has been so carefully put there by nature and our predecessors. We are now the treasurers, the guardians. That’s our job now, to sit in the hard seats, to be inspiring and appreciative, not only keeping the decisions from going astray but putting our creativity and love into our treasure, our town, to nourish it and make it even more beautiful. Thanks, Doc.

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

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  1. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, and for reminding all of us that past battles can erupt anew. In my reading of affairs, the failure of Measure Q has lead the development/”vibrancy” community to press forward hard. They’re pushing forward for all of the intensification they can get in the commercial districts because they now have no impediments to such intensification. Beyond this though, I believe that the next battles will be increasingly fought over those open-spaces that we thought were forever saved by the hard work and persistence of folks like Ms. Christoph, LCC, VL etc. I see troublesome signs of how our open-spaces are under threat: Papa’s Atlantic Way/Skyline development, Dornan’s (of LCR Monstrosity fame) new LLC pushing into the open-space on Rim Rock Canyon, there are others with smaller initial plans but none-the-less precedent-setting. Those of us who thought we would be enjoying open-spaces that adjoin our homes indefinitely might be in for a rude awakening when these developers use their deep pockets, lawyers and patience to gain permissions to alter the “forever preserved” open spaces that we take for granted. And who at City Hall is there to stop them?

  2. In 1971 we were fresh off of a reactionary police force trying to marginalize the hippy movement in town. One man was shot in the back and killed as he fled a police raid.

    Then the police bulldozed the Christmas happening and herded the attendees out of town on buses.

    And of course Mystic Arts was mysteriously burned to ground.

    Thankfully today we are much safer, and all the flora Ann mentioned is still in abundance in our open space. And I don’t count my steps or record my hikes.

    But Michael Morris has a keen way of taking a bicycle tragedy and turning into a lame and meritless screed on the imminent doom facing our town in the wake of the massive shellacking of his Measure Q.

    The community has spoken. All is well. Enjoy it.


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