It’s that time of year again, when we look back and wonder, “What happened?” On my radio show last week, a guest surprised me by asking what were the two or three biggest memories I had for Laguna this year. I thought for a moment, wanting to be positive. Of course there’s our relentlessly good, drought-stricken weather. But I had to be honest. And so I said, “Being on the losing side of every battle I believed in.”
On short-term rentals I believed there was a middle ground, where only actual residents could rent their homes, and under strict conditions and behavioral guidelines. I felt prohibitions would pit neighbor against neighbor. Lost that one. I believed that the test parklet at Alessa restaurant was a roaring success, and that instead of eliminating it, the city would have expanded the program to include public parklets, where anyone could sit and perhaps eat their takeout from Whole Foods. Nope, they killed it.
And I believed the City Council acted in a very dubious manner when they conspired to get the community to vote against a flawed medical marijuana dispensary Initiative (that was signed by 3,000+ residents), when they had every opportunity – and an ethical obligation – to float an airtight competing measure that was written and vetted by the City. (It was served up by our police chief and systematically ignored.) Lost that one too. And I lobbied behind the scenes for a skate park, with several locations in mind I felt could work. Nada.
The one that cut to the bone for me was the parklet. It was supposed to be a no brainer, a win for all stakeholders, and a tiny first step towards a real, pedestrian friendly, complete street. After all, they work so well in other cities. And we know from poll after poll that the community supports trial street closures. Instead we had a small group of angry merchants and citizens who decried its size and the fact that it snuck up on them. It was a no-win for the restaurant, despite a beautiful first pass that made Forest more vibrant and gained over 400 letters of support from patrons who experienced it.
It impacted me because I was simultaneously involved in an unrelated attempt to test a street closure on “lower” Park Ave, that moribund stretch between Forest Ave and the library. I was part of the same team (Transition Laguna) that then Mayor Whalen had convened for recommendations on trial closures on Forest Ave, which Council unanimously approved back in Feb, 2015. A lot of effort went into it, but when it got to the goal line, Council caved because of pressure from area merchants that removing parking – even for a few weeks – would doom their businesses.
So we developed a more innocuous plan to convert Park Ave into “Park Plaza,” a beautiful pedestrian promenade, with café tables and chairs spilling onto the streets, and café lighting strung across the beautiful shade canopy of ficus trees. The only merchant on the street, Adonis Restaurant, loved the idea and even volunteered to hire someone to manage it. He knew this would activate a blighted corner of downtown. We had drawings made, and every detail covered, and it was presented to city officials, who liked it but wanted it vetted by the merchants. It never happened, because after the decision to ban parklets, officials felt any modifications to downtown would be too contentious. So here we are again, with no public seating options on our jewel of a street, just a slavish devotion to cars, parking, and the notion of “convenience.”
I also took a bath on the national scale. The most decent and inspiring candidate I had ever seen, Bernie Sanders, lost to an inept and corrupt political machine that failed to grasp the real mood of the nation. Of course at the end of the day I still put on my big boy pants and know I’m fortunate to be a white man living in such a tasty part of the planet. So let me end my column on a good note. 2016 marked the final year of a President so dignified, thoughtful, measured, and so very bright, that we often forgot how good we had it that least eight years. Now we certainly know.
He gave so much hope to so many minorities. He lifted us up when our standing on the world stage was at an all-time low and our economy was in the gutter. He fought for human rights. He got 20 million people health care coverage. He protected the land and fostered clean energy and signed the Paris Agreement. He made us proud to be an America that could elect a black man with a Muslim name.
So I choose to bask in 8 years devoid of gaffes, controversy, scandal, and indictments. Eight years of economic recovery and growth. I’m so proud to have called Michelle First Lady as well. So smart, down to earth, capable and cool. This was the real Camelot. And they could dance, too! You can’t fake the funk! So Happy New Year everyone, and buckle your chin straps!
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8pm on KX93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]
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