Village Matters


Now Is the Time

ann christoph
By Ann Christoph

The possibility of pending death weighs heavy on all of us, as we confront the unpredictable and seemingly senseless loss of nine lives, including the well-loved and famous Kobe Bryant.

But we each have our own circle of tragedies around us. For me, a client with pancreatic cancer, and a brother-in-law just today is told to get his affairs in order—liver cancer. Long time Lagunan Bill Blackburn lost to a brain tumor, and just last week, lovely and sincere Lisa Marks left us after a short siege with the same insidious destroyer.

How we linger and agonize over every decision, as though forever we will have another day to think about it one more time. We as a community need to get our affairs in order and move forward and accomplish worthy projects that have waited much too long.

The care and restoration of the digester building is one of those projects. Yes, we can think it over, but since 1983? If you subscribe to the “wait until the time is ripe” theory, the argument is strong that even that time has arrived. Now we have an opportunity to not only restore this historic landmark, but to create a destination for the community and visitors to enjoy not only the unique building, but this important interface between the canyon, festivals and the downtown.

Local filmmakers, visionaries and philanthropists Greg and Barbara MacGillivray along with Mark Christy, who beautifully resurrected the Ranch, have proposed to lease the facility, make the restoration happen, to provide public restrooms and, “a public serving venue, such as a small café, retail, and/or an art gallery,” MacGillivray’s offer to the city states. MacGillivrays propose to contribute $500,000 toward the project and are asking the city to commit what they would have spent anyway to demolish the structure and to build a new public restroom building. “We think it could be an aesthetically beautiful, fun and functional amenity for the town. Together we can take this decaying structure and make it a jewel to be proud of,” Christy elaborates.

Now is the time to say, “Yes!” and to ask city staff to work with these dedicated community members to make this happen.

This project will enliven downtown, emphasize our city’s dedication to our unique heritage, and add to the atmosphere during the Festival season.

The downtown specific planning lingers on as proposals to solve the downtown’s “problems” suggest intensification—adding more housing, enlarging buildings and reducing parking requirements as solutions. The revisions to the historic preservation ordinance would remove protections from many of our most iconic buildings—the very ones that distinguish our town. The downtown action plan, which is supposed to implement the recently adopted Landscape and Scenic Highways plans—that emphasizes saving trees—actually proposes to remove over 100 of the downtown’s trees. Remember the traumatic removal of the large trees on Ocean Avenue? Will we as a community stand for more of that?

So we will be forced to argue these points at more and more public meetings. Maybe there will be a compromise and they won’t remove as many trees as they first proposed. Maybe they will moderate some of the proposed parking and height changes. Maybe a few historic buildings can be saved. Even with changes like these, results may be mediocre and uninspiring at best.

We need to move on with a beautiful vision, one that builds on the unique qualities that we have—the sense of history, the village quality, the genuine small-town feel. It’s not a grand scale plan that’s needed, it’s moving forward on fine-tuned cleaning, planting and maintenance. Saving historic buildings. Incentives to operate the Hotel Laguna as it was until the plans for restoration are approved. Pop-up businesses and exhibits in vacant storefronts. Opening the theater again.

We need to move beyond trying to stop bad things from happening to enthusiastically moving forward. It seems we are in constant conferences with specialists, experiencing the equivalents of chemotherapy and radiation in our public processes, without a cure in sight. However, unlike with fatal diseases, we have destiny in our hands, we have the ability to change course, to dream of recovery and make it happen.

All it takes is us—doing it now.

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







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