Location, Location, Location
Some think that people who have bought properties recently, who have paid more than those of us who purchased our homes years ago, should have more to say about how issues are decided. After all, they’re paying higher property taxes in addition to the cash they’ve put down or loans they’re paying on. But there’s another way to look it.
Buying a house in Laguna is more than buying a structure to live in. The most important part of the property price is location—the value of being in Laguna Beach—the coast, the views, the diverse neighborhoods of unique houses, the surrounding preserved open space, the historic small-town feel, the arts, schools. There’s an involved community of neighbors who relish making friends next door and in a myriad of action-oriented groups.
New residents are paying for a seat in the auditorium, but the stage was built and the play is being put on by those who’ve been here working for years. New residents enjoy the result of all the work of those who came before.
From the very beginning, Laguna has been independent and enterprising in building a community out of a patchwork of homestead claims. There was no Irvine Company to oversee and make an organized plan of it. It was addressing one issue at a time, step by step. Committees were formed, funds were raised to build a fire station, pave streets. Potluck fundraisers helped fund construction of the hospital. Water districts, parks and beautification, schools—all these community components one would take for granted in a master planned town came about as result of volunteers seeing a need, banding together and finding a way to fill it.
There was vision too—leaders like the Hanos saw the threat that high-rise buildings posed to Laguna’s village feel. The group that later became Village Laguna organized a campaign—voters passed an initiative limiting building height to 36 feet. Jim Dilley saw the devastating effect that spreading urbanism would have if it were allowed to cover the canyons and hills surrounding Laguna Beach. His 1968 formation of the Laguna Greenbelt with many dedicated activists, and with the support of thousands who marched in the canyon in 1989, has resulted in permanent preservation of 22,000 acres of open space surrounding our town. Imagine how many late night meetings, how many trips to Santa Ana to the Board of Supervisors, or to the Coastal Commission, how many bake sales, petition drives and letters to the editor, volunteer work days pulling weeds and planting, rehearsing and expanding cultural offerings, leading interpretive hikes, coaching young players, tutoring, comforting babies at the Assistance League…have happened in the past 100 years to create the community we live in and love today.
It hasn’t stopped there. We have more opportunities and needs to fill. What a perfect place for something we didn’t even know we needed—a nonprofit local radio station. Young minds want to expand our staid horizons. We’re working harder on housing and finding homes for the homeless. Model solutions will come from our community’s creative solutions.
Still we hear from those who want to monetize their Laguna investment. They want to do what they want with their property—often to the detriment of their neighbors and to the community as a whole. They want to declare that their historic property is not historic—and be free to demolish it or overwhelm its historic features with new construction. They want to hobble Design Review and limit the involvement of their neighbors. They complain that they’ve paid too much for too small a house.
Really, the price is small for the opportunity our tradition of action offers—to step out of the small house and experience the enthusiasm, feel part of a community that cares about others and about the future of the town, part of the long tradition that has produced a lovable town that is more than superficially beautiful.
Property values for individuals are not existing in isolation but are intricately tied to the improvements and preservation efforts of the whole community over time. Restrictions on individual property owners, rather than being viewed as onerous burdens, should be seen as part of an overall community plan that protects the whole while benefiting all individual property owners in the long run.
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and member of the City Council.