Village Matters

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Laguna Changed My Life

By Ann Christoph

“Oh, those new people, they don’t understand Laguna.” I’ve heard that accusation, sometimes from some of us long-timers who have become battle-scarred working to preserve open space, keep buildings in village scale, and protect our artistic heritage. But I’ve also heard from those very “new people” a chorus of appreciation, and the testimonial: “Laguna changed my life!”

“How?” I wondered. “I would never have been involved in community groups, meeting people, finding ways to help people who need it in my previous life,” one woman emphasized. Laguna’s not structured—if we see something that needs to be done, we get the appropriate groups to take it on, or just form a new group. It seems Laguna must have more nonprofits per capita than most other towns.

I walked out to my parking lot yesterday to talk with a neighbor and met someone new (a third generation Lagunan) who has returned after years away. “Yes, some complain it’s changed too much, but look at this. It’s beautiful. I can walk my dog safely and meet my friends too…there’s the open space all around us. Our community had the foresight to preserve it. It’s remarkable. I marvel every morning as I look out at a beautiful day ahead that we are so fortunate.”

But perhaps all this goodness and appreciation has a downside. Have we have already made Laguna Beach out to be too nice? Everyone wants to come here. It’s getting too crowded. Prices have gone up. Housing is not close to affordable. People who have been here a long time working to keep it nice are accused of being selfish NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) because they eschew intensification and loss of neighborhood character.

The proposed solution by some advocates of more building is to foster YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yard), people who are supportive of more housing regardless of its impact, even on themselves. The theory is that building more housing will lower prices and make it possible for more people to afford homes.

Developers and the state see big barriers to more housing happening without intervention. They want to dictate to local governments how to provide more housing, overruling local design and density restrictions.

Indy columnist Michael Ray’s solution to the barriers is to silence all the selfish NIMBYs (which he equates with old people) and mute the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) so that development can proceed as quickly as possible.

Orange County Register columnist Joe Mathews says that “protecting community character is the anthem of California’s religion of obstruction.” He accuses community character protectors of posing as “righteous neighborhood activists” who victimize the have-nots.

Should we feel guilty about all our efforts to appreciate our exceptional setting and build what many would argue is a model community? One which took the initiative to direct its own destiny—in forming an art colony (instead of a beach fun zone), keep buildings at village scale (instead of promoting high rise buildings), preserve the Greenbelt (instead of allowing a blanket of urbanization at our doorstep)? We plead not guilty.

Rather than denouncing those who have contributed to the building of our community over all these years as obstructionists, we should look to them and to ourselves, the community supporters and activists, to help solve the affordability crisis, so that solutions will be found that will work in Laguna.

Laguna construction and land costs are such that development professionals point out that new housing units will not be affordable unless they are subsidized. If a well-rounded community of artists, teachers, service professionals, young and old is important to us, and I think it is, we should be willing to find ways of providing it, including subsidies, a housing foundation and housing management. Rather than to be overwhelmed by standard solutions from the state, we can be innovative in this, just as we have been with the other past challenges.

Laguna has not only changed our lives, it has the potential to inspire other lives and communities. Laguna has changed us, and it can also change the world.


Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and member of the City Council. 









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  1. Dear Ms. Christoph,

    I am more than a little tired of you lying about me, Liberate Laguna, and out intent.

    Therefore, I have a proposal. Let’s debate our points of view on the Billy Fried radio show. You can bring one other Village Laguna member and I can bring one other Liberate Laguna member.

    We can be civilized, yet direct. We both can state the facts as we see them. We both can talk about our points of view and why we each believe how Laguna Beach should be run.

    Previously, Mr. Fried has invited such debates on his show, and Village Laguna consistently declined.

    So how about it?

    Michael Ray
    Founding Board Member, Liberate Laguna

  2. Anne, please spare us your self-absorbed BS. Decades of politically motivated activism and you couldn’t win the election. Your second loss in a row. Maybe that should tell you that your views are out of step with the residents of this community. Maybe they’re tired of you and Village Laguna suppressing their ability to build or remodel their homes without your approval? Maybe they’re tired of the lackluster downtown that years of your obstructionism have created. Your outdated policies have created a dead zone fit for low-end tourists and transients. Anne, why don’t you move on from your passive-aggressive rants and let us move on towards an exciting future for the next generation? Gadfly like you are no longer tolerable. Our community wants fresh ideas. A town that reflects the sophistication levels that the current residents aspire to. It’s time for a new generation to express themselves!



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