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Beyond Complaining

By Ann Christoph

The message of this column is supposed to be “Stop complaining and do something positive instead.” But I run the risk of complaining about complainers! How do I manage to avoid that?

As I was browsing through an antique store, I was tempted to buy this sign. It featured a modified mouse trap centered below the words “COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT.” Where the bait is supposed to go was a shiny red button. Below that was “PUSH FOR SERVICE.” The mouse trap was ready for service all right—ready to snap on the finger of any complainer who dared push that button.

People in service professions must often wish they had one of these devices they could pull out at perfect moments.

But just last Monday our city police officers voluntarily set themselves up for a barrage of complaints. They held a “Tacos with Cops” get-together at the South Laguna Community Garden Park, with Mexican food from Papa’s Tacos. Organized by community services officer Natasha Hernandez, the event gave us a chance to meet the officers who patrol our area. The most strident of the NextDoor complainers didn’t show and the tacos put the prospective complainers in a more grateful mood. Still, the officers had plenty of questions to answer and complaints to respond to.

There were questions about the homeless, and Natasha promised that there would be an upcoming forum on how the situation is being handled. She said the new reservation system at the Alternative Sleeping Location has improved the situation. (People are assured of a space for 30 days and do not have to wait around every day to see if they are chosen for one night at a time. This has reduced the number of lingerers at Main Beach and the Canyon.) There were questions about hospital releases of patients who seem not to have a destination. The police department will be meeting with the hospital administration soon.

Officers seemed pleased to be able to explain what they do every day and the laws they operate under.

One said, “In my job, if I please one person, there is almost always another person who may be very unhappy with what I have done. An observer might misinterpret what I’ve said in an encounter with another member of the public and confront me. It’s just the nature of the job. I can’t let it bother me. To me, a good day is doing my job the best I can and being able to go home to my family.”

Local firefighters stopped by too, and I was grateful to meet one of the men who had responded to my call for help and had taken me to the emergency room. What important services these police and firefighters give us every day, standing by, highly trained, just in case something life-endangering happens. No complaints there!

In my landscape architecture job, I hear plenty of complaints about how the city permit process is not going well. “Takes too long, is too confusing, conveys mixed messages, is overall very frustrating.”

It’s hard to say, “Don’t complain, that’s just the way it is.” Because in some situations complaining is the only avenue we have to shake things loose and see that badly needed changes are made.

On the other hand, taking action and demonstrating how a change can work can be even more effective. In a healthy community like ours, we talk to others about ideas for change, organize action teams and committees, and get exemplary projects mobilized. Examples: Friendship Shelter, which came to be as a result of a small committee meeting at St. Mary’s Church; the Food Pantry; the Day Worker’s Center; the Grad night at the high school; No Square Theater; Laguna Beach Live; beach clean-up days; Main Beach; Bluebird Park; Village Green and the Community Garden Park—all part of our community because individuals saw needs and opportunities to make change—and figured out how to do it.

We can take on the City Hall processes too—I and others who have been involved in taking projects through the city processes formed a small committee and made a list of suggestions that we submitted to the city—want to join? Let me know and we can work on what to do next.

So many good things to be done, so many people to thank and appreciate—there are amazing contributions we can make beyond complaining.

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

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