Column by Ann Christoph in 11/17/17 Laguna Beach Independent
It’s Just the Perception: The truth of the matter is something else again. How do urban legends/false perceptions live on? Do people really believe false statements if they are said often enough? The past elections proved that they do, but somehow I thought Laguna would be different, that we are small enough that there are independent ways for people to glean the truth for themselves. Last week I was proven wrong and it was so upsetting that I couldn’t write my column. I had to wait to let it settle in my mind.
I was invited to be part of a group interview with the consultants for the Arts Commission’s Creative Placemaking project, which is to “assist in determining how the City can ensure Laguna will remain a vibrant arts and creative community.”
To get background on our community they wanted our group of Lagunans to talk about the status of the arts in town, the issues we face, and what our hopes are for Laguna Beach of the future. Our diverse group included an artist, photographer, architect, realtor, gallery owner, restaurant owner, former arts commissioner—earnest, involved people who had obviously been thinking about these matters for awhile. This is some of the discussion:
The core of an arts community is artists, but how can they continue to be in Laguna when the cost of housing is so high? How can the next generation of artists survive?
Solving this is key to maintaining Laguna’s soul. The early artists came here because of the beautiful and dramatic landscape, the quality of the light, and creative atmosphere. Their work came from the spirit of the place. That connection is key to keeping the art of the festivals genuine and honestly innovative and keeping the galleries from being just outlets for works produced elsewhere.
What facilities are available for the arts? And do we need a new facility—an arts center?
The general consensus was that there are many underutilized facilities in town. The city would better spend its funds to subsidize and coordinate the full use of existing spaces before thinking about a new building.
We told the story of the Greenbelt, appreciating the natural frame it creates around town and how the community fought so hard to preserve it.
There was a lot of talk about the downtown. Some thought that it was not lively enough, that Laguna had lost its “edge” of years past, and urged converting Forest Avenue to a pedestrian plaza like the trial one at Park Avenue and Coast Highway.
Then, amid all the productive talk about our future, came this startling comment, “But there is a group in town that just says no to everything and the Council placates them way too much.” There were nods all around. “Really? And what group are you talking about?” I asked. “Of course, everyone knows—it’s Village Laguna.” Without the work that Village Laguna has done and continues to do, we would lose the special Laguna character the group had praised earlier in our discussions, I maintained.
Since I have been on the board of Village Laguna for years, I know the untruth of both parts of their accusation. We say yes a lot. We support preservation of the Greenbelt, and urged creation of Main Beach Park. We supported the larger park at the Montage that everyone now appreciates. Our members helped write the Downtown Specific Plan, and we are working with the Chamber of Commerce to update it. We were active in obtaining the national recognition of Laguna and the Greenbelt as a Historic American Landscape. We say yes to saving and planting trees, and beautifying our town. We say yes to historic preservation, key to maintaining the distinctive character of Laguna.
We do say no sometimes, but was it really so bad to say no to high-rise buildings along our coast when we supported the 36’ height limit city wide in 1971? Or when we say no to intense oversized development that will damage neighborhoods and the image of our city?
And we don’t get placated. We work very hard to understand the issues facing us, and present thoughtful responses and suggestions. When the village entrance design was proposed to be just a parking lot with a narrow landscaped path instead of a park, we joined with the Beautification Council and developed a plan with more generous landscaped spaces. We illustrated what could be done and submitted it to the city. We strive to contribute and work for positive solutions, but only sometimes are our efforts successful with the council.
Sometimes I think council members are reluctant to agree with us. Would they be accused of being on “our side” because of pervasive impressions such as those I had just heard? How sad that we seem to have “our side” and “the other side” when we should all be working together for the protection and betterment of our very special town. The false perceptions seem very difficult to change.
[Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and city council member. She has been an active community volunteer since 1971 and is involved with many committees and organizations including Village Laguna and South Laguna Civic Association.]