Village Matters


Decisions Erode Village Character


Anne Christoph

The City Council had the opportunity to preserve our Laguna village character Tuesday.  These chances happen one at a time, in small but important steps. Do we take the so-called sensible, easy choice, or the more difficult, complex one, the one that will help keep the unique heritage of our town in tact?


Our choices of the week involved trees and a cottage.  Two of the defining characteristics that as Heritage Committee chair Jon Madison says, “Make Laguna, Laguna.”


If there’s a problem with a tree or a cottage, the easy answer is, “remove it.”  Take out the cottage to make room for a construction yard.  Remove five mature trees because they are across the street from a power line.


The Edison Company proposed removing five Eucalyptus trees in Bluebird Canyon at their expense.  Some residents wanted the trees taken down, while other speakers urged the council to have an expert evaluate whether the trees are healthy and safe, or a hazard.  A comprehensive approach to improving safety in the neighborhood, while more difficult, could also be more effective than arbitrarily removing certain trees because someone else is willing to pay for it.


The testimony of Mace Morse was compelling and heartfelt, “I’m not afraid of something bigger than myself.  I find solace under those trees.  They are not just in our neighborhood.  They define the neighborhood.”


Yet, four councilmembers, Jane Egly, Kelly Boyd, Elizabeth Pearson, and Toni Iseman decided to let Edison remove the trees with no further consideration.  After all “we” don’t have to pay for it.  And there’ll still be some trees left.  At least until another request comes along.


Then there was the proposed demolition of a cottage on the Fourth Avenue lot that the South Coast Water District wants to use as a staging area for sewer tunnel repair. The cottage takes up a small space on the corner of the lot.  Restored it could serve as construction headquarters and restroom.


District representatives spent many minutes explaining the importance of doing the tunnel repair and why they needed to go forward unimpeded by the cottage.  Yes, indeed, the project is needed.  Still, construction of the new tunnel access shaft will involve lots of noise, dust and ugliness for the neighborhood over five years of construction. As Mayor Iseman said, restoring the cottage would be a gesture, a way to compensate a little bit for the impacts. And at the end of construction we would still have a cottage there—one that not only tells a story of Laguna long ago, but of how we still care today.


Councilmember Verna Rollinger, said it well, “The tunnel project and saving the cottage—in Laguna we can do both.”  Council members Egly, Pearson and Boyd disagreed and approved demolition of the cottage.


Making the most convenient and expeditious choice doesn’t acknowledge the unique and beautiful opportunities Laguna presents.  With each of these decisions we become more standardized and more like most other towns around.


We’re not just looking out at Laguna and enjoying our views of its unique village streets, trees, hillsides, cliffs and ocean.  We are part of it, and in appreciating it we are changed.  We get involved, meet neighbors, feel the strength and enthusiasm of community.  We become more attuned and sensitive, more dedicated to keeping those qualities in our village that have made a difference in our lives.


This becomes harder and harder as bit by bit, those parts of Laguna where we find solace and inspiration, not only disappear but are intentionally destroyed by the edict of those we elect to protect our town.


Now’s the time to dig out the old campaign brochures from council elections past, and read those paragraphs about candidates loving our town and keeping the qualities that make Laguna so special.  They all say it, but they don’t all vote it.


How can we get back to those lofty goals, the promised care for keeping Laguna, Laguna?


Love it, live it.  Be Laguna.


Landscape architect and South Laguna resident Ann Christoph is also a former mayor.






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