Stimulating the Staid
On Willa’s corner, at Eagle Rock Way and Santa Rosa Street, we have a Little Free Library. Neighbors leave books they’ve finished and can go away with another of interest. How serendipitous that I would find two books that got me thinking about how Laguna’s generations interact.
Several months ago, I saw Bob Mosier’s 2014 autobiography, “Flying with Biscuit Bomber Bob.” I had only known Bob Mosier as an active north Laguna resident, a member of veterans organizations, and conservative speaker at city council meetings. I wanted to learn more—what was the back story? There he was on the cover as an 18-year-old enlistee and aspiring aviator. He became a pilot of transport planes in the South Pacific during World War II, delivering biscuits and all manner of needed supplies and equipment to troops battling the Japanese on isolated jungle islands. He describes flights over long stretches of open ocean to obscure dirt strips where enemy fire might hit at any time. And of course, it was not only snafu, but situations constantly changing requiring improvisation and courage. (And remember, in the midst of all that, the uncertainty hung over all. They didn’t know, as we do, reading the book from our comfortable sofa, that the war would come out on the Allies’ side in the end.) After the war, he married Beverly, fathered four children and had a challenging career as an electrical engineer advancing digital long-range communications in the aerospace industry. He retired to Laguna Beach in 1985.
Then last week, a 1985 Time-Life book, “The Soviet Union,” caught my eye. The book describes the Soviet Union before Gorbachev, before the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (1991). The authors had no way of knowing that their description of the country was only a fleeting snapshot.
The struggles of managing such a gigantic country with its cold and forbidding climate, multiple ethnic groups, religions and languages, and tumultuous history resulted in a society that made the day-to-day lives of its residents difficult and primitive by our standards—small apartments, shared living arrangements, and limited availability of so many goods we take for granted.
One look at the climate map in the book and I could see the significance of the focus on Ukraine and its future. Areas suitable for agriculture, with relatively mild climate and long growing seasons, comprise a tiny portion of the area of the former Soviet Union. These stretch from Ukraine to Armenia, and include a small section of Kazakhstan. Millions of acres across most of the rest of the country are too cold and too dry. With the break-up of the Soviet states, Russia is left without the most productive agricultural areas it relied on.
What has made our country great became clearer by comparison. Areas suitable for agriculture extend country-wide. Climate is temperate or warmer—not sub-arctic. Two sea coasts with open ports. Religious liberty and tolerance. Freedom to be creative. Acceptance of diverse cultures combined with assimilation into a melding common culture.
If the Allies had lost World War II, all of that could have been crushed and we would be living in a different world. This was surely in the minds of our soldiers, like Bob Mosier, that were on the front lines. And this generation, termed “the greatest generation” when they returned from war, was determined to make the most of this victory. To come into the modern age, develop technology, to make life more pleasant, convenient, and enlightened by comprehensive education. A mobile society, nuclear family, suburban development, burgeoning industry and impressive modern architecture resulted.
My generation said all of this had gone too far—environmental impacts of all that growth had been unrestricted. Post-war urban life was too standardized and confining. Community, extended family, long-term roots in a society, were important too. Appreciation expanded for the natural world and its importance to the planet now and long into the future. This emphasis manifested in Laguna Beach with the adoption of the 36-foot height limit in 1971, the preservation of the Laguna Greenbelt, and Laguna’s artistic heritage and village character.
Now, there’s another generation speaking up that says all that has gone too far. Members of the group, “Young Minds for Laguna’s Future,” want to promote places they can go with their friends; they find Laguna Beach too staid. They want something new, stimulating—like the mushroom-shaped sculpture proposed at the Village Entrance. Group member Tyler Russell spoke at the last council meeting and, motioning to the audience, said the conversation surrounding the Downtown Specific Plan is being dictated by people who will be gone in 20 years, and the council should plan for the younger generation instead. Later on, Cathy Jurca—who urged the Council to investigate the impact the state’s housing requirements would have on Laguna before committing to adding housing density downtown—quipped, “I’m 55; I hope I have another 20 years!”
I hope we were never that harsh with Bob Mosier and his cohorts, even when we disagreed and wanted to push policies that were more environmentally protective. There are always ways to find common ground that can be achieved without accusations.
Having stimulating, exciting activities can be even more interesting in historic buildings—as San Diego’s Gas Lamp District, and Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco exemplify. The staid Chamber of Commerce and maligned Village Laguna both agree that the city’s permit process should be more accommodating to new proposed businesses. Both supported the city hiring an urban economist to advise on attracting businesses that will expand business offerings and stimulate the overall health of the downtown.
Surely we can encourage a downtown future that younger generations and older generations will enjoy and patronize. And we can make 2020 a happy new year for all!
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and member of the City Council.