The Kibitzer

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The Season of Angry Invective

By Billy Fried

After this savage election season concludes, I call for a new PAC: Loosen Laguna’s Sphincter. The air has become toxic, and for once it’s not the cars. A dozen candidates sucking oxygen out of the atmosphere. Measure P factions chasing each other relentlessly through town in pursuit of stolen yard signs – “Lock him up!” Peter Blake channeling his inner Morton Downey Jr. Social media is about as fun as Boko Haram. The whole community unleashing its venom towards Village Laguna. And Village Laguna and its surrogates fighting back with a vicious counter-attack of deception and fearmongering, claiming Liberate Laguna is about to bulldoze our town and replace it with high rises (right, and George Soros is funding the immigrant Honduran caravan). And then there are those gorgeous, ubiquitous yard signs, making our town look like one big mattress sale.

Let’s unpucker, take a deep breath, drop down to Treasure Island for a yoga class, listen to the waves, and remember where we are. This is not Syria, people.

The good news is, it’s over on Tuesday. We will have three new councilmembers. Or three old ones. I’m betting it’s a split down the middle, with Toni Iseman and Peter finishing one-two. Measure P will sink faster than a drunken toast at a wedding.

And then it’s back to a whole lot of nothing, when the political neophyte Peter comes to grips with reality. When the City Manager sits him in the back room and informs him who really runs the show. When he realizes how laboriously slow it is to float an agenda item. And find the money. And hire consultants. And get it approved. Then get it past CEQA or Coastal Commission or Caltrans. And after running that gauntlet and declaring victory, then comes the inevitable appeal by an overheated neighborhood group who doesn’t like it. And when the appeal is finally denied and Pete’s throwing a victory rager at his gallery, they show up and slap him with a subpoena, suing and tying it up for years. Are we having fun yet?

On top of that, Peter’s got to pay the piper for maligning Toni so relentlessly. She has the memory of an elephant, a network of dedicated foot soldiers, and knows where the bodies are buried. She may already have a plot picked out for Peter. Think the art world is cutthroat? Good luck, Pete.

Tuesday nights will never be the same.

I like Toni a lot. It’s hard not to. She shows up at all the right places, says all the right things. She was born for this, and has always been the most accessible. She’ll have coffee with you and ask questions about your family. You feel heard, and can’t help but be charmed.

But anyone who can survive for two decades and outlast her enemies has accumulated battle scars and alliances that simply don’t permit objective new thinking, but rather a reflexive calculation on how it will impact her politically. It breeds stasis, because the path to reelection is not by taking chances, but simply being the guardian of the status quo.

My issue with Toni is ideological. I thought the self-proclaimed environmentalist would do more to stem the flow of cars, instantly recognizing the value of garages, roundabouts, car-free pedestrian zones, and bikes. We’ve argued this for 20 years, but she has stood in the way of every effort to reduce carbon in our town. This, despite the fact that we are facing the most existential crisis of our time.

We are at a flashpoint between those who want to see Laguna evolve into the next century with new ideas for transportation, place making, retail, and carbon reduction, versus the forces of “don’t change anything.” It’s a referendum between our older, retirees with no debt and an easeful life—who want to discourage visitors despite the fact that they’re already here—and those who still commute, work, have mortgages or rents to pay, and want to mitigate traffic while making downtown a place we all want to hang out—who love Laguna as much as anyone, but know it can be better.

Peter is the only candidate with a dramatic vision for the city, with pedestrian-only streets, outdoor seating, musical performances, art fairs, farmers markets, street food, and electric bikes coursing through town. His passion to remake downtown into something cool and appealing to residents is infectious. He’s a well-travelled, sophisticated guy with good taste. He’s sometimes abrasive because he is deeply frustrated over the direction we are going, and if he’s elected, it will be refreshing to have someone with new energy on the dais.

It’s time for younger, actively working people to serve. Not retirees or lifetime public servants, but people on the ground with skin in the game, who know there is something terribly wrong with our downtown when merchants experience a 30 percent drop in summer sales, despite a robust economy, and who have bold ideas on how to fix it.

Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5 and can be reached at [email protected]


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  1. Nice column! I agree that this town needs a broader vision that embraces innovative ideas to make it more livable and sustainable and all that good stuff.

    Your beef with the status quo is totally valid.

    Only problem is I think you picked the wrong guys to “shake things up”–a bunch of mega developers and Peter Blake.

    I won’t go all into Blake’s personality flaws, since he has done an impressive job of demonstrating those by himself.

    And I doubt the developer money used to get him (and Sue Kempf) onto the city council–more than $150,000–will end up perpetuating your wonderful progressive ideas. (Two of the 5 developers have projects before the city to build total 3 resort hotels.)

    I wish your voice on this race was more impartial, because you say all the right things and say them well (something hard to find!).

    At this point, we can only hope you are right if we are wrong. #Vote

  2. Love your writing here, creative and fun to read..mostly true..I disagree with your dealie on Toni..She does not say the right thing, she is too busy defending herself for her lack of leadership and poor decisions, no one should be making decisions for 20 some years..But your take on Peter is right on..Good taste, sophisticated and forward thinking…vote Peter Blake in and it might not be bad to have a CPA on board either..toni was never, “residents first” it has always been toni first..make toni gone…


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