Opinion: Village Matters

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Making History—a Garden Park for Keeps

There are so many important events in Laguna’s history, seminal moments when the citizens saw an opportunity and a need, took the initiative and set the town in a direction that made Laguna the town we love today.

Did you miss the walk in the Canyon in 1989 that made it clear we wanted to preserve the Greenbelt? 

Or the initiative in 1971 when we established a 36-foot building height limit? Were you not a part of the citizen’s ad hoc organization that prevented the Festival from moving to San Clemente or the group that stopped the takeover of our art museum? Were the efforts that pushed for creating Riddle Field, Main Beach Park, Bluebird Park or the Village Green before your time? Maybe those opportunities to make our town better come once in a lifetime, but how wonderful it must have been to share that vision, take action and be a part of making Laguna Beach exceptional.

Now, we all have an opportunity to be a part of this next important step in Laguna history–saving the South Laguna Community Garden Park—buying the land, making it a forever community garden and park. The purchase for $2 million is in escrow—30 days—and we have about two weeks to close an $800,000 funding gap. Your contribution can make all the difference. Go to SouthLagunaGarden.org to donate. Once again, we as a community will take an innovative and assertive step toward a more humane and beautiful town.

Here we are 14 years after the community gained permission from generous property owner Paul Tran and gathered on that weedy vacant lot to transform it into a flourishing garden. It’s now 10 years since Tran offered to sell the property for a garden, but the city turned down the opportunity on a 3-2 vote. In June 2022, the present property owner listed it for $5 million and nine months later, he rejected the gardeners’ offer to purchase it for a lesser appraised value. As community leader Mark Christy said, “It has been like Peanuts’ Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and Lucy taking it away at the last minute every time.”

All that time, the community gardeners worked to make the garden the best they could with volunteers and donations. Building the garden, grading the terraces by hand, building the rock revetments, and moving the storage shed from north Laguna. (Even the shed has a story. It was originally a cabin for an orchard worker in the Anaheim groves where Disneyland is now. In 1917, it was hauled to the backyard of the house presently owned by Geoff and Julie Beckham with a team of horses. The Beckhams generously donated the shed, and Laguna Beach Towing inched it onto their flatbed, strapped it, drove the unlikely cargo through town and eased it down at the garden while local residents the late John Keith and Morrie Granger pushed and guided it into place.)

Transporting the garden shed from North Laguna. Photo courtesy of Ann Christoph

The Garden Band was organized, events and potlucks were enjoyed, classes inspired–in gardening, cooking, bees and more. Planting of the borders and slopes with native and drought-tolerant plants, weeding, and overall garden care were accomplished by the gardeners—part of their commitment in addition to working on their own plots. Visitors were welcomed, and they loved the opportunity to chat, walkthrough and lunch at the picnic tables. It is a garden park—providing the amenities of a park—benches, paths, tables and overlooks with garden planter beds in the middle instead of lawn.

On Aug. 7, a new realtor emailed he had a new lower-priced listing for the property. Really? We met. 

Mark Christy, serving as our realtor, said we’d have an offer the next day. The South Laguna Civic Association made the offer, and by Friday the 11, we had a signed acceptance. The Laguna Beach Community Foundation has agreed to manage the donations, pool the funds and deliver them to escrow. The Foundation will serve as the owner of the property until the Garden 501 (c) (3) is in place. Fundraisers and donations from the community over the years have produced $230,000. 

The city voted last week to contribute $500,000. Other pledges bring the committed total to over $1.2 million.   

Vision, sweat equity, persistence and your contribution and support will make the difference—our garden park for keeps, for Laguna’s future. Donate now at SouthLagunaGarden.org.

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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