By Catharine Cooper
What — or who — determines the character of a town?
Laguna Beach has no shortage of residents with opinions, and, at times, sentiments of the crowd are deeply set and heated.
In my last column, I questioned the wisdom of the Planning Commission and the City Council with the placement of a rug shop next to four eateries and several boutique shops, and a real estate office in the midst of our prime shopping corridor.
I received several responses, which led to my lead off question.
Paula Hornabuckle wrote — and echoed the sentiments of several who contacted me personally — that I had “… managed to voice, EXACTLY, [her] feelings about the downtown area. And [she] was not alone.”
And speaking from the other pole, Derek Driver accused me of amnesia, saying that I “… forget that we live in the real world of private property ownership, not the wonderland of [my] musings or some hoped for utopia by the sea.”
He accused me of being, “… a starry-eyed community critic … trying to engineer a LaLaLand by the sea.”
I’d like to thank him for those last two comments.
Far better to be in LaLaLand by the sea than in a town choked by big box vendors and mammoth chains — which would be the result, if our city allowed decisions on shops to be based solely (as Driver suggested) by the bottom line.
One of the struggles with our mixed use, and the pressure on the Planning Commission and the Council for oversight, is a simple truth: chains have the luxury of spreading their costs, as well as revenues, across several platforms. Laguna Beach continues to be a “tony” address. Without the “dreaded” controls, we might look more like Irvine, Aliso Viejo or areas of Mission Viejo.
Driver also claimed that, in my ignorance, I did not realize that “… the decision that placed a real estate services company in our downtown was made by the owner of the property, not the Planning Commission.”
In part, this is true. The Planning Commission turned down the project 4-0, so they made a decision against that planned use. The owner appealed his case to the City Council, the other government agency. This “starry-eyed” columnist can only wonder what favors were paid back by the council’s decision to overturn Planning.
But enough of real estate and rugs. What do we want our downtown to resemble? It is our town, even if some would like no interference over its character in any way whatsoever.
Do we want vibrancy? Energy? Excitement?
Do we want quiet? Tranquillity? Staidness?
Do we want services that we cannot access at this time? Like men’s underwear or needle and thread. Have we become all about selling property?
The regulations that so many of us find distasteful, even intolerable — like the Design Review Board (not the individuals, just the process) — maintain a kind of even keel. We aren’t cookie cutter neighborhoods. We aren’t a city of grand mansions (sorry big builders — they just don’t fit too well here). We don’t have a blighted neighborhood.
Members of the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board are civic-minded citizens who donate their time (they might be slightly crazed) to be critiqued, second guessed, and loved and/or hated depending on the direction their decisions go. The point is, they are a part of the fabric our town, chosen after application, by our council members.
Elections for council recur this fall, and so we have the opportunity to participate in selecting those who have characteristics we admire. We have the opportunity to elect those who choose those who decide for the rest of us. If we want things changed, then we must be involved.
To paraphrase my opening question, what kind of town do you want to live in? It really is up to us.
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