Stuck in the Middle
“Clowns to left of me. Jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”
This phrase from the 1972 Stealer’s Wheel song came to mind as I was thinking of the council election forums. Is that what some of our candidates are feeling? Especially with the array of candidates of diverse opinions and uncertain backgrounds all being given time for long speeches week after week. It’s not easy to be up there trying to be professional, be yourself, surrounded by those trying to defeat you on election day, with an audience of demanding voters.
Political advice for candidates is to woo the “middle” voters, the undecideds, people who advocate compromise, and who avoid any political extremes.
It’s hard, because if candidates care enough to run for council and do all that it entails—raising money, speaking at dozens of forums, meeting hundreds of voters, worrying about hit mailers from the opposition, writing ads and steering the campaign in an effective direction—they must be really committed. Presumably then, they must have strong positions. Yet they are supposed to “be in the middle,” and say only things that are unlikely to offend anyone.
One candidate ran as the “nice lady with the hat.” Others promote themselves as businessmen, public safety advocates, or people who will control expenditures and make city hall run more efficiently. It’s hard to argue against niceness, keeping us safe or saving money. The real positions and personalities come out after election day.
Still, there are clues.
Michele Hall wants to renew the city and “eliminate vague and subjective decision making by all city controlled entities.” Does that mean getting rid of Design Review? No more recourse if a building is proposed in front of you that blocks your view? Our council, boards and commissions are elected and appointed to make discretionary subjective decisions, to interpret the codes and laws and apply them to meet the intent of the adopted policies—general plans. Eliminate that discretionary review function and you have only bureaucratic, rigid application of the letter of the law, no citizen input–and Laguna ends up looking like Corona del Mar.
Paul Merritt will “control spending of your tax money; increase pedestrian and bicycle safety and stop over-development in the Canyon to help preserve our beautiful Village by the Sea.” He’s lived here off and on since the 1960s, yet what has he done as a citizen to work on these issues?
Eli Grossman says he will bring “character and ethics” to city hall. He says he hasn’t studied the budget because he’s not going to be elected. “If I win, I’ll study it then,” he told Billy Fried in a radio interview.
Jon Madison “means business.” Yet he’s inconsistent. He hasn’t produced documents to verify his resume. He’s been chair of the Heritage Committee for years, working to preserve Laguna’s historic buildings. But in a recent interview he said he doesn’t support updating the inventory of historic buildings—something he and the Heritage Committee unanimously recommended.
Incumbent councilmember Kelly Boyd runs on his record and “wants to finish the work.”
Incumbent councilmember Toni Iseman cites many accomplishments and “puts residents first.”
Planning Commissioner Rob Zur Schmiede will bring “qualified, committed independent leadership for Laguna Beach.”
These latter three all have impressive records of votes and accomplishments, both in city government and for Laguna Beach causes. We don’t need to look for clues or read between the lines.
They don’t need to be “stuck in the middle.” They can be the leaders that carry on the impressive Laguna traditions—preservation of the Greenbelt, fostering the arts, protecting the small-scale village character of the community, inspiring and building consensus, moving all of us, including the “middle” enthusiastically into Laguna’s future.
Former council member Ann Christoph works as a landscape architect.
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