It’s Never Enough
No matter how carefully researched and presented.
No matter how polite.
No matter how heartfelt.
No matter how true.
It doesn’t matter; testimony from much of the public at city hall is discounted. “They’re activists—the real people aren’t here,” a councilmember recently accused. “Liars!” he shouted. “People need to get their facts straight,” said a planning commissioner, without citing what is wrong with the facts presented.
Or we’re too old. “We can’t live in the past. I like to listen to the young people,” Arts Commissioners said.
Or we’re afraid of change, testifiers assert. “Change can be frightening for some people, but we need to embrace change.” As though we Laguna advocates who appreciate what a treasure Laguna Beach is, and how vulnerable it is to being overrun and spoiled, have some deplorable psychological condition that prevents us from seeing the wonderful potential that change can bring.
Laguna Beach is not just any town that could need revitalizing. It’s not like the many towns we drive through on the way to somewhere else—towns that need to be brought back to life because the only successful businesses are payday loans and liquor stores.
Our town has none like it—Laguna Beach and the greenbelt are recognized nationally as a Historic American Landscape. The documentation supporting that distinction notes that our dramatic and scenic landscape is the basis of our development as an arts colony. We have a tradition of unique, now historical architecture, and of environmental awareness and protection that resulted in a distinctive village community and in the protection of 22,000 acres of open space, the Laguna Greenbelt. Millions of people seek out the Laguna experience every year. Hundreds of homebuyers pay a premium to buy a tiny piece of the Laguna dream.
Our charge is not to “enliven,” “put us on the map,” or to “bring us up to date,” but to foster the unpretentious beauty, the qualities that make our community and its environs so lovable for so many—and to protect it from forces that could destroy the delicate balance keeping us from being just any beach town.
Andres Duany, world renown urban planner, warned us when he came to be interviewed to work on our Downtown Specific Plan. “This is a place of extraordinary character, of delicate and fragile character, built over time by very unusual people. I recognize and admire what has been achieved here. And I know what destroys this kind of place. The role of planners is to figure out what can go wrong with a place like this, and vaccinate against it, prevent it from being lost. This place is very fragile, and very, very subject to destruction by the forces of the 21st century.”
Those forces are at work right now, in hearing after hearing at City Hall. And the voices of those who try to stand in the way of those forces, are not only being ignored, but demeaned and discredited.
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and member of the City Council.