Village Matters


Location, Location, Location

ann christoph
By Ann Christoph

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.

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  1. Wow. Ok, next time some pro-developer hack tells you Village Laguna is a political organization just show them this column by Ann Christoph. No one with an ounce of political acumen would ever write anything like this.

    People who haven’t had mommy/daddy leave them a house or haven’t otherwise been here for 40 years are simply members in the auditorium of a play starring Ann Christoph and her friends? Geeez Louise.

    I don’t mind helping people who couldn’t otherwise afford to live here. Without these original Laguna characters the town wouldn’t be the same. But don’t kid yourself, the earners, the people who have had to earn their way into Laguna, pay for everything. We pay for the schools, the lifeguards, the dais that the council literally looks down their noses at us from. We pay for every lightbulb, post it note, and computer screen at city hall.

    I don’t mind paying for the schooling for the children of people who freeload off the house they inherited from family. I don’t mind paying for the schools they don’t pay for, the pool they don’t pay for, the police and fire that they don’t pay for, or the lifeguards at the beach they don’t pay for. But don’t tell me I worked this hard and pay for everything for these people only to have them tell me back that my family is nothing more than a member in the audience of someone else’s play.

    I’m going to type this slowly, because some people need to read it slowly: The developers have 2 out of 5 seats on the city council. Once they get a third seat that’s it. The Planning Commission and Design Review Board are already lost for years to come. Yes, elections have consequences. Deal with it.

    There’s another election in 8 months. I think we can all agree Peter Blake is one of a kind. So the question for the developers becomes, “Where do we find another Sue Kempf?” After the developers find their third vote the war is over and they win. They will strangle everything you love about Laguna Beach.

    But there’s plenty of hope. Nearly 7 in 10 Laguna citizens (new and old) aren’t buying what the developers are selling, That leaves a golden opportunity to organize and unite those voters who are opposed to the developers and their schemes. Some schoolyard nonsense about “I was here first and you’re watching my play!” isn’t going to get you single vote or bring any new constituents to your side.

    Politics is very simple: Find out what people want and give it to them. And in case you haven’t noticed, you can’t do anything at all if you don’t win at the ballot box. Prop 13 grants Ann Christoph and her ilk free stuff, but no special rights beyond that. There are not two classes of citizens in Laguna Beach and if you’re going to unite people in this fight against the developers and their political pilot fish you’d better come to grips with that fact as soon as possible.

  2. I’m sorry I fell into the trap of believing that there are more than the few people at council meetings that try to divide our community by telling older people they shouldn’t be listened to and that people who pay more taxes should have more say. I’m sorry to have offended Mr. Blaine.

    But I’m so glad to be assured that 7 out of 10 of Laguna citizens aren’t buying what the developers are selling. It’s also good to know that apparently Peter Blake and Sue Kempf are recognized as being part of the 3 out of 10 that want to let them have their way.

    My column starts out with “some say” that those who are paying higher taxes should have more to say about the decisions we make as a city. Perhaps I should have been more specific because these kinds of statements come from Peter Blake who is assuming that those who have come here more recently and who are paying higher taxes will want what the developers are selling–that they will want things to be more “upscale.” In the case of the Downtown Specific Plan this means more dense and intensified uses–without the normally required parking. This “upscaling” comes along with support of the mushroom sculpture at the Village Entrance, the demolition of the historic digester building, the gutting of the historic preservation program, and the removal of over 100 trees in the downtown in order to replace them with “refreshed trees.” These are just some of the decisions we are facing in the next few months—and all of them have the potential to seriously damage what we love about Laguna while “buying what the developers are selling.”

    I’d like to reemphasize the second last paragraph of my column where I invite all to get involved:

    “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.”

    If Mr. Blaine and the rest of us in the 7 out of 10 can all unite to be sure that in the short run we strongly object to the current direction of council decisions, and that we don’t ever have a developer-oriented majority on the council, it would be just what Laguna needs to keep the special character that we love.
    I welcome that—now’s the time to get the momentum going.

  3. But WHY should people, who pay higher property taxes (because of legal changes) have more of a say anyway. Please explain.

  4. We bought our property five years ago, pay a FORTUNE in property taxes, and I wasn’t remotely offended by Ann Christoph’s column. I thought she made a fair point, and I can personally attest to the truth of it: we bought in Laguna Beach because of the way the community looks, and the community looks the way it does because people like Ms. Christoph and others who been here much longer than we have worked very hard to make it so. And now it’s up to those of us who love Laguna, regardless of when we bought, what we paid, or who we are, to fight hard to make sure all its loveliness isn’t wiped away by developer greed and PACs. I didn’t feel excluded or schooled by the column. I just feel enormously grateful for what other residents have accomplished here and hope to add my fair share.


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