Opinion: Village Matters – Laguna Beach Local News


Community or place

To make life all it can be for us and our neighbors – that should be our personal mission and our shared mission with our government. It involves being kind, considerate, and open-minded. Listening to good ideas, no matter who utters them. Thinking of the tribute often heard at memorial services, “She or he never said a bad word about anyone.” Difficult to do when we are faced with the deluge of accusations in all our public forums. As unrealistic as it may seem in today’s strident milieu, rising above it may be what it takes to transform our city and our country.

What are the necessary elements for this change in attitudes and behaviors? Ian L. McHarg, author of “Design with Nature” emphasizes health: “We need to know where the health environments are because there the environment is adapted, the adaptations are creative. There is a creative-fit-healthy environment. What are its components? All of this we need to know to create the human city.

Right now we have the potential of a human city. We have many elements – beauty, favorable climate, educated population, engaging traditions of community involvement, availability of health care – but there is disease and stress. Why? Our lives and those of our friends are threatened by the incredibly high cost of housing. We watch our community erode with every real estate sign that goes up, with every sale that is made.

A person with a “normal” income left. Who is moving in? Sometimes a family that has the resources and has always wanted to live in Laguna is thrilled with their new home, but often it’s nobody. The house is on hold, waiting for someone to vacation there or be handed over to a new owner at an even higher price. Someone in an unhealthy relationship cannot move because there is no affordable alternative. Young adults cannot establish their own household. Even though those of us who bought homes a long time ago can still afford them, we realize that this situation is untenable. We cannot continue to lose people and still have a real community.

The Housing and Social Services Committee is meeting with concern, but there are only fictitious responses of places to build affordable housing. Maybe these unrealistic proposals to produce 394 state-required units will satisfy Sacramento’s quota system, but there won’t be anywhere my off-price neighbor can move to. The state’s secondary suite program provides for the addition of apartments on single-family lots, but with no guarantee that they will be affordable or even rented. No action has been taken on the Committee’s proposed housing trust, which could focus the community on this issue, accept donations and bequests, and develop a city-funded housing program. The Committee heard from George Ruther of the City of Vail, Colorado, which has a robust housing program called “Vail Indeed” involving restrictions on deeds of purchase. In exchange for housing funding for the owner, the unit must be occupied by full-time residents working locally a minimum of 30 hours per week. Some municipalities charge a vacancy tax to discourage leaving a dwelling unoccupied. There are options to consider.

Yet it seems like a problem with no solution, as the community energy needed to see this crisis as a crisis has not gelled. No one other than the Housing and Social Services Committee is proposing measures to solve the problem. It is an underlying stress on our community that permeates and keeps us sick.

Instead of taking it seriously, we get sidetracked to discuss where to get more parking and blame vacant storefronts. Whether a band in town is bad or good. Why it takes so long to get plans approved at City Hall. And should we add another city employee, who can’t afford to live here. Are we going to act or be prepared to admit that what used to be our community is no more than an expensive vacation spot?

Ann is a landscape architect and former mayor of Laguna Beach. She is also a longtime member of the board of directors of Village Laguna, Inc.

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