Village Matters: A Message From the Sky

By Ann Christoph.
By Ann Christoph.

It was the day after the 1993 fire. There were fragments blowing in the wind. Half burned pieces of paper, part of someone’s life, fluttered down like sooty snowflakes.  In the parking lot behind my office, I picked up one of them. There it said, “Reason” in large type. It was part of a headline.

I opened the garage door and my phone rang. It was Lida Lenney, our mayor. She was organizing the upcoming council meeting where we would talk to Laguna’s residents for the first time after the fire.  She said there was going to be a lot of public testimony and she wanted us, the council members, to limit our comments to three minutes.

I saved my scrap of paper for the hearing; its message seemed a poignant sign. The council chamber was filled with upset and angry people, whose property and lives were so damaged by the fire.  We listened, tried to respond, and outlined ways to help.  Still the fury seemed unchecked.  My comment on “reason” was overwhelmed and cut off by the mayor.

There have been other meetings like this, where the force of the spirit in the room has dominated to such an extent that a reasoned, balanced view is not possible.

One of these was the first council meeting about the Historic Resources Element and the listing of heritage structures. The hearing room and the corridor outside were filled, mainly with people who protested their properties being part of a historic preservation program. The council responded by greatly weakening the recommendations in the report, making the preservation program completely voluntary. Now years later, we have a historic preservation program in place with incentives including property tax relief, and property owners are seeking to be part of it.

Last week’s facilitated meeting on the village entrance was another one of those meetings. A strong campaign against a parking garage and bonded indebtedness succeeded in convincing the council to change the idea of a village entrance parking garage that has been in place for over 20 years. An amazing turn-around.

Yet the end result is a only a landscaped parking lot. After the task force work, the competition and its related ambitious goals, the enthusiastic big ideas from the designers who competed, the project has been reduced to a very small idea indeed.

The magic of the original winning concept has been lost in favor of having 90 parking spaces between the creek channel and Laguna Canyon Road.

The meeting participants were so absorbed in stopping the parking structure and avoiding the expense, that the implications of “Option D” that the council adopted were not really evaluated.

For the past 20 years, the village entrance goal for the area between creek channel and Laguna Canyon Road was a landscaped space. The winning design restored it as our introduction to the canyon, by giving space to a naturalistic landscape, and respect for the creek.  As we and visitors drive out of town or walk along a path or trail we would start to be imbued with the flavor of the canyon, with sycamores, oaks, native plantings and rustic details. Coming in to town the area would be the highlight of a hoped for restoration all along the canyon and creek. An uplifting entrance that ties the art world of the festivals to the beautiful natural landscape that is the inspiration to artists of today and to those who founded our art colony.

The proposed concept “Option D” allows only a 30-foot strip for landscaping and a path.  The rest of the area is asphalt paving and parking as we have now.

The area in question is only 110 feet across at its widest point, funneling down to 70 feet.

This is not too much land for our community to devote to beauty instead of parking. Making the whole area a lovely landscaped space with a path will make all our thoughts and efforts on the project worthwhile.

Parking demand in the summer could be met by using valet in the city lots.  This would increase the parking capacity by 20%, obviating the need to have the parking lot on the Laguna Canyon side of the creek channel.

No structure, no huge expense, the sense of the meeting has been achieved.

Now let’s reason out how we can have the inspiring beauty too.  We can do this. 

Landscape architect Ann Christoph served on the City Council in 1993.




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