By Johanna Felder
Michael Ray’s column last week is another attack on Village Laguna. As president of our nearly 50-year-old organization I must respond.
These attacks are not new; they surface year after year and are repetitive in their content. Going to our archives back in 1971 when Village Laguna supported the height limit initiative that has prevented walls of high-rise buildings lining our coast, I found a quote, “Laguna Beach Realtors will oppose the ‘magnificent myth’ of an absolute 36-foot height limit of buildings,” said the president of that organization. Yet that “myth” came true and today’s realtors market Laguna Beach’s unique village character of small-scale buildings that are still here thanks to Village Laguna and the voters who passed that initiative.
Ray’s column includes its own “self-created myth” about Village Laguna’s influence on Laguna Beach. Ray’s myths are based on long-term lore that doesn’t become true despite repetition. He questions Village Laguna’s campaign tactics—yet I invite the studious reader to review our mild-mannered 2018 ads picturing the clock downtown. But go back to that same election to see the work of the political action committee Liberate Laguna that Ray helped to fund—the one that supported Peter Blake and Sue Kempf—to see very questionable and misleading literature targeting the candidates they opposed.
Village Laguna is both a non-profit organization and a political action committee “interested in the betterment of the city and run by well-meaning residents.” Yes, Ray is correct on this point!
Village Laguna’s mission is to preserve, enhance, and celebrate the unique village character and cultural heritage of Laguna Beach. We foster community spirit and address social needs, and we work toward restoring and protecting our ocean and coastal habitats.
We do not oppose all change, as Ray asserts. We support change that will enhance our city. Village Laguna is proud to be an activist organization, because that means we are taking action, working for positive change. We sponsored an alternative plan for the village entrance that inspired the beautiful landscaping, pathways and parking area that have just been completed. We urge the City to simplify and expedite permitting processes and foster opportunities for meaningful citizen involvement. We support restoration of our city’s historic structures, such as the Digester building, as well as landscape preservation and beautification. We support local candidates whose goals are in keeping with our mission to preserve and enhance the village character of our town.
While we residents appreciate the unique character of our town and work to protect and enhance it, we are facing those who seek to manipulate the political landscape and build in ways that will damage Laguna‘s uniqueness for their own financial gain. Ray implies this fear is an unfounded rumor—but we have only to look at the proposed (and rejected) plans for the Museum Hotel in north Laguna, and the city reports of building at the Hotel Laguna without permits to see that it is responsible to question what developers propose for our city. Attacks like Ray’s serve to weaken citizens’ effectiveness and pave an easier path for those sponsored by Liberate Laguna.
In Ray’s view, Village Laguna is responsible for all manner of ills in our downtown and the rest of the community—problems that have resulted from national trends spurred by the internet economy (Amazon), the virus shutdowns, high commercial rents, and high housing costs. We look to work with others in the community on solving our problems and improve both the built environment and our relationships with each other. Toward that end we worked for over two years with Chamber and downtown business representatives on the Downtown Specific Plan ad-hoc committee.
Village Laguna invites all who love our town to join us in making the treasure of Laguna Beach even more beautiful and more harmonious.
Johanna Felder is president of Village Laguna.