Village Matters


Back in the ‘80s

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

Back in the ‘80s. That phrase seems so strange to me, having grown up with references to old times like “before the war (WWII)” or “back in the ‘50s.” Now here was a “young” man (who must have been about 40 if he was talking about being a kid in the 1980s) telling me about his fond childhood memories of Laguna. “My mom always took us to Laguna, near Shaw’s Cove, never to Newport. I loved Laguna the way it was then, before the big changes that made it all so expensive. I loved the Sawdust when it was rustic and casual and didn’t seem like big business. This garden is great, it makes me think of those times and that the spirit of Laguna is still here.”

We were just cleaning up after the Summer Festival at the Garden Park. People are always strolling by on the Coast Highway sidewalk, looking at the garden, asking questions and giving supportive comments. This man’s remarks were especially touching. He had clearly given a lot of thought to the impression Laguna made on him, and how that compares with what he sees today. He has never lived in Laguna, yet he feels a part of our destiny; he is emotionally invested in what happens here.

As we see the hundreds of people filling the trolleys, I wonder what their personal thoughts about our town might be. Do they value this spirit, the unique feel of Laguna that we like to think still does prevail? Do they share our new garden-lover’s values of the rustic, casual and personal, over the slick, sophisticated and mass-produced?

I think yes, that is why they come here, seeking a world they can’t find elsewhere, not in malls, not in fancy hotels and high-rises, not in rigidly planned communities. They’re not expecting us to be like Newport or Irvine or anywhere else. They’re expecting the Laguna they knew and loved, or if they’re coming for the first time, the creative, special artistic Laguna they have heard about.

That doesn’t mean nothing should ever change. It means changing within the guiding light from understanding and appreciating Laguna’s essence.

We have examples of how that is evolving. Sometimes it takes us a long time to decide, but the village entrance project is changing in that direction. Thanks to concerned and committed Lagunans a more low-key plan is now on the table, a softer, naturally landscaped plan with creek enhancement and preserved historical features.

At Aliso Creek, instead of condominiums intruding on the golf course and a large pretentious hotel as proposed in 2008, new owners are remodeling and improving the former Inn buildings, the restaurant and meeting rooms, all in keeping with the character of the canyon.

Both of these projects are in process. Criteria for the village entrance will be considered again by the City Council on Sept. 2 and the Aliso Creek project, now called The Ranch at Laguna Beach, is on appeal at the Coastal Commission.

Issues raised will be addressed, fine tuning and adjustments will be made, buildings will be saved and restored, trails and walkways will be created, trees will be preserved and planted, art and music will have new settings and Laguna will be better than ever.

Someday we’ll reminisce and say, “Back in the teens, Laguna got it right.”


Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former City Council member.

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