The Plant Man


A Night at Design Review

“When I am dead, I hope it is said, “His sins were scarlet, but his columns were read.”

–with apologies to Hillaire Belloc


By Steve Kawaratani.

One of the pleasures of living in Laguna is greeting friends and acquaintances whilst walking, shopping, or gossiping during happy hour(s) at myriad venues.  Conversations invariably move directly to handicapping this year’s council race or exchanging tales on the quality and quantity of fava beans harvested.  It’s not that we’re struck solely by the lure of sharing… the lore is equally important.

To further immerse myself in Laguna lore, such as the latest resignation at City Hall, I decided to relax at the Design Review hearing.  After all, only applicants and their architects, lawyers, architectural historians, structural engineers, geologists, fire safety consultants, surveyors, real estate agents, neighbors (who are no longer neighborly with the applicants, nor will ever be again) and gadflies will be in attendance, and not likely interested in why the best recent hire at City Hall is suddenly gone.

I settled in to hear testimony concerning the good and evil of development, depending on one’s persuasion.  Meanwhile, board members engage in musical chairs (or at least “Ring Around the Rosie”), architects earnestly prepped for their five minutes of fame, wives nagged at husbands not to make any more compromises, and neighbors put on their game faces and audibly replay a past comment from some long forgotten, former board member (Get a life, foo’. Nobody cared, except for the mayor of DC.).

From my perspective, board members not only care, make choices that may affect a neighborhood for the next 50 years and have the “most difficult job in town,” a comment from someone who helped foster both that reality and perception.

Only during a DRB hearing will tiny decks, short hedges, and air conditioning condensers be argued with hours-long passion.  Little wonder that city staff consider the hearings to be “must watch television” two Thursdays a month.

The pace became more frenetic as the hearing was running late (again).  Concern over view equity, privacy, and mass filled the chambers with palpable anticipation.  Mindful that the DRB Task Force recommended a reduction of citywide animosity, the board decided that all future, problematic projects should be built in either Corona del Mar or Newport Coast (as those locales are already so not Laguna).  Applicants and neighbors alike were thrilled with the knowledge that discord was finally solved (as were Jane, Verna, Kelly, Toni, and Elizabeth). See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani still likes the sound of his voice… after all these years.  He can be reached at 949.494.5141 or [email protected].

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