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Laguna Beach

Plant Man Column

“A hedge signifies vision, persistence, and patience – qualities we crave in today’s world.” –Rita Buchanan

When we last visited, I contemplated a brief history of hedges, from the practical need for the earliest farmers to protect livestock and crops, shelter for private property spaces from the uncertainties of the outside world, and negatively, as a precipitant and accelerant of an ongoing feud between neighbors. No matter the reason for hedging, the right shrub selection will ensure the effect you’re seeking. 

If prompted, I frequently ask what are you looking for in a hedge? While the answers vary, creating personal privacy, blocking an unwanted view into a neighbor’s bedroom, and framing special garden features are often discussed. And, of course, the shrub should be fast growing when privacy is desired! 

While there are literally hundreds of choices for hedges, the following three shrubs have proven to be successful in Laguna.

Letter Kawaratani 1

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Boxwood, Buxus “Green Gem”

Boxwood is the iconic shrub that has been a favored hedge or garden feature over four millennia – from Egyptian to Italian and eventually Southern California gardens. It is my choice for a hedge around 3 feet in height. Easy to grow, although a bit slow in attaining its height, boxwoods may live for over a century. They don’t have to be clipped formally, as unsheared boxwood lends a softer hedging look in many gardens. 

Letter Kawaratani 2

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Privet, Ligustrum japonicum “Texanum”

The ubiquitous Privet is perhaps more functional than lovely, but as a 4 to 8-foot (or taller) hedge, their reliability and toughness is unmatched. Introduced from Asia, the plant’s growth habit is naturally dense, making it an ideal hedge for privacy. The growth is steady, but not fast. 

Grown informally, Privet blooms profusely with showy white flowers, however, many find the fragrance to be less than pleasant. If clipped formally as a hedge, it will bloom less heavily. The berries that follow are a food staple for many birds. 

Privet grows tall enough to be an effective windscreen near the beach, and can also be grown as a small patio or street tree. If one is so inclined, the plant is frequently the subject of whimsical garden topiary. 

Letter Kawaratani 3

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Kohuhu, Pittosporum tenuifolium “Silver Sheen”

This transplant from New Zealand has become a favorite in Laguna over the past two decades. The pittosporum cultivar grows quickly to 12-15 feet tall, and potentially taller. Younger plants tend to be denser; occasional pruning of the terminal (upper) growth will keep older plants fuller. 

Gardeners have learned that this cultivar requires good drainage and less hot sunlight than the species to avoid dieback. Nevertheless, with proper cultural care, these shrubs provide excellent hedging and screening in our coastal gardens.

To plant a hedge requires optimism and patience, as plants are not generally installed at mature size; I’m grateful that is not a Design Review Board requirement for landscaping! 

Take time to prune your hedges properly, by making the top narrower than the lower branches to ensure sunlight and air is available for lower foliage. And, by the way, please don’t grow a hedge to block your neighbor’s view. See you next time. 

Steve Kawaratani has been a local guy for 69 years. He can be reached at (949) 494.5141 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Steve Kawaratani

Laguna Beach

Dark money running Laguna now?

The City Council accepted $20 thousand from the Chamber of Commerce to help fund a parking structure study. The city kicked in $15 thousand. The funds are comingled. I asked the city to provide me with a list of donors from the Chamber for the $20 thousand. The Chamber stated that it was seven donors, donating $1,000 - $5,000, and that they weren’t current Chamber members. The city said they didn’t know who gave the money. The Chamber refused to give me their names. Why? What are you hiding?

The Chamber is a 501(c)(6) organization and as such is not obligated to reveal donors. The Chamber is in favor of building more parking structures at resident expense and has a record of saying so at Council meetings. Existing merchants have already fulfilled their parking requirements. So, who’s donating to the Chamber of Commerce? Wait – developers also are on record wanting a free structure. If I was a developer and wanted to hide funding a parking study to further my interests, I would channel it through the Chamber – now it’s dark money and I’m hidden. With this money from the Chamber and city staff drooling over a parking structure, in my opinion it is a foregone conclusion that this $35 thousand study will be in favor of a taxpayer-funded structure. It’s still unclear if our Shopper’s Permits will be valid in this lot. You pay, you don’t get to play.

According to, “Politically active nonprofits – principally 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s – have become a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles. The term ‘dark money’ is often applied to this category of political spender because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding.” Well folks, it’s here in Laguna now too. If you want to fly under the radar, just donate to a 501(c) and you are anonymous. 

In addition to the Chamber we have a number of these in town that are, in my opinion, trying to influence policy. In my opinion the radio station’s General Manager, Tyler McCusker, comes to mind with his continual message that Laguna is run down and needs changing (the station is a donor to the Chamber by the way). His message is we need new development, we need to change what we have now, get rid of the old folks in the way, and embrace large developments. Where is their donor list? There were developers on his Board of Advisors (their names have since been taken off the list). I wonder why? In my opinion I’ll bet they have donated to the station.

And speaking of which, this same radio station asked for a Community Assistance Grant of $40 thousand. This is on top of the $13 thousand generator we bought them (and $8.9 thousand to repair it), $14.5 thousand antenna, $20 thousand in building improvement grants, and $62 thousand in previous Community Assistance Grants. Should residents be funding a 501(c)(3) that can hide its donors especially when city revenue is questionable right now? Note: the station’s list is not published anywhere that can be seen. So whatever form they use, their donor list is hidden.

Other organizations in Laguna are also nonprofits. According to, Laguna has 518 tax-exempt groups. We also have Political Action Groups, like the Police and Fire PACs and Liberate Laguna, that have to report donations greater than $100. But suppose they then turned around and bundled those donations into one large donation to a candidate? That bundled money is now anonymous. Dark money.

Whether it is to elect a candidate, or in the case of the Chamber of Commerce, advance your agenda in town with hidden donors’ money, residents need to be mindful that sadly in Laguna today, money talks and residents walk. 

Michèle Monda

Laguna Beach

The History of Laguna’s Historic Preservation Ordinance

July 14, 2020 is the hearing date for the new Historic Preservation Ordinance (HPO). On balance, it is a sensible law. The history of how we got to this point is worth sharing.

The inventory and Historic Resources Element of the General Plan emerged in 1981. Minutes of the August 4, 1981 City Council meeting record the event: “…there were 13 members of the committee and they had prepared a proposed historic element for the General Plan.” The matter was referred to the Planning Commission for public hearing, which was held on September 9, 1981. 

On October 6, 1981, the matter returned to the City Council. The public hearing and council comments suggest that owners could “…seek low-cost loans to help them keep their homes up and prevent problems of deterioration.” A council member stated that the ordinance would “ease the way for owners to obtain help in maintaining their property.” The Historic Resources Element was adopted by the Council. 

On December 21, 1982, The Laguna Beach City Council adopted Resolution No. 82.111 recognizing the Historic Resources Inventory. The justification provided for adoption of the resolution was the City’s “pending application to the County for $148,000 in Housing and Community Development Block Grant funds for an historic preservation/housing rehabilitation program. For “…the funding proposal to be acceptable to the County, there must be an officially recognized roster of historically and architecturally significant buildings.” It is not clear whether any low-interest loan was ever made available to any owner of an inventory house from these funds. The Council did however clearly state that: “Inclusion on the inventory will not, in itself, impose any special obligations or requirements upon the property owner…” 745 properties were identified to be listed on the inventory, and were given designations as “E”, “K” or “C” depending on the condition of the structure (“E” being best). The inventory was intended only as a gateway to listing the home on the historic register. Listing on the register was voluntary and required an application by the owner. Once approved, the owner could apply for benefits, including property tax reduction through the Mills Act, and the ability to keep existing non-conformities. As a condition, the property was to be maintained according to preservation standards.

Seven years later, in a dramatic overreach in light of the record, a local group proposed a draft Historic Preservation Ordinance to the City Council seeking a sweeping edict that: “All structures listed on the Historic Inventory shall be considered to be historically significant and shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter.” Public hearing for the proposed new ordinance was scheduled for May 2, 1989 with the declaration that: “Your property is listed on the City’s Historic Inventory and is therefore eligible for preservation incentives and is subject to the provisions of the ordinance.” In other words, the voluntary program would no longer be voluntary. This effort met with open rebellion, with 200 people appearing at the May 2, 1989 Council meeting to object and protest. Through that protest, the inventory owners were reassured by the Council that the historic preservation program was entirely voluntary, and that these homes would not be so restricted without the voluntary and knowing consent of the owner. Newspaper headlines trumpeted: “Council Gives Historic Homeowners a Win,” with Mayor Gentry referring the matter to the Planning Commission “…with the instructions that any private property placed on the list is done at the pleasure of the property owner, and not the city.” Gentry also said “…it was never the City’s intention to force the residents to join the historic house list against their wishes. Why force someone to join a historic house list if they don’t want to? It was never out intent that this would be anything but voluntary.” 

The declaration by Mayor Gentry should have ended the issue. But it came roaring back in the early 2000s, when the City again started playing hardball with the owners of inventory houses. Applications for even the most minor remodels were met with incandescent resistance. The City began treating changes to inventory homes as modifications of “historic resources,” applying an entirely new level of scrutiny and restriction. As the restrictions gained a foothold with the planning staff, even homes that were not listed on the inventory but were merely “old” received a date with the heritage committee. Even after applicants went through the entire pre-DRB zoning process, with no concerns raised, their applications could be hijacked from ordinary DRB consideration if a member of the public or a DRB member suggested the house might be “historic,” with no proof other than a bare allegation. The applicant was forced to retain an historian and consultants who would assess the house at a cost to them of thousands of dollars, and those consultants would often decree the house to be an “historic resource.” This all took place without the owner being accorded a public hearing on the issue of historicity. This put even the most modest remodel effort for an older home out of reach. We had arrived at the point of, in my opinion, severe administrative abuse.

None of this activity even remotely complied with the law. Under CEQA, an historian cannot deem a private structure to be an “historical resource.” That is a government function, because this type of property restriction cannot be imposed without due process. Moreover, with regard to the inventory, despite the assurances of the original drafters in 1982 and the Mayor in 1989, there was no way off and no way out. Somehow the inventory, or even age alone, was deemed by the City to create a presumption that the property was historic. This was contrary to law. First, age alone creates no presumption. Second, a person urging a finding that a property is historic bears the burden of proving that premise. There is no burden on the homeowner to prove the property is not historic, unless a legal presumption applies. Third, under CEQA, a presumption of historicity attaches to properties listed on a valid local register. No presumption attaches to an inventory that has not been maintained in accordance with the law. Laguna’s inventory had not been maintained as required by California law, and therefor created no presumption at all. Nonetheless, the restrictions were imposed by the City until homeowners fought back.

The new Historic Preservation Ordinance, in my opinion, solves these problems and rights these wrongs. It will make clear that the 1981 inventory, which has been abused, and has caused confusion and financial hardship, does not and shall not be interpreted to create any inference of historicity. The burden of proving that a property is an historic resource is on the shoulders of the person advocating that position.

It is critical that the consent of the owner of the property be obtained as a condition of historic resource designation. This was promised in the beginning of development of the historic program, was reiterated in 1989 by Mayor Gentry, and is consistent with the law. 

It has been a difficult road bringing this issue to this point. It required countless hours in public meetings, in public communications, in discussion with staff. It required bringing this to the attention of the public. We have arrived at a point where this problem can be corrected in a way that respects and encourages those who wish to participate in historic preservation, as well as those who do not. All Laguna Beach residents should support the new Historic Preservation Ordinance.

Larry Nokes

Laguna Beach

School Days

To learn or not to learn that is the question. Well, in one sense that’s true, but in the final analysis it’s not. The issue boils down to how we educate and keep safe our kids who after all are the future of the country – who must be educated and trained to manage the increasingly complex technology and social issues in this mercurially dynamic world. We may think of ourselves as the greatest and most innovative – speak to Trump and his constituents – but China, India, Germany, and South Korea might contest that view.

When you consider what is in my opinion the failure of leadership in this country in the handling and management of the pandemic here and the almost disregard of overwhelming coronavirus infections among the population nationally – the lack of testing resources, ventilators, masks, the minimization of the seriousness of the epidemic, the focus on rebooting the economy instead of saving lives, and the overall politicizing of the whole pandemic disaster – you have to question what happened to that greatness. My intention here is not to politicize, but when you review the past 3.5 years, so much of what this administration has been involved in, in my opinion, has been a farce and failure.

The administration notwithstanding, I believe having on-site school classes is too risky. In spite of the loss of valuable social contact, it is not worth infecting fellow students and those at home. Applying all of the safeguards and limiting the number of students and days of on-site attendance can still result in a continuation of the spreading pandemic. 

So…keep the kids at home and encourage them to adapt to online learning.  Make the lessons more interesting and challenging. Some kind of additional incentives might help. As to the issue of food for those families that depend on the schools for such programs, that can be handled separately by agencies that specialize in food distribution for the needy.

Arnold Silverman
Laguna Beach

Artillery Fear

I feared the continuing artillery

As I heard shells screaming by.

I prayed none were addressed to me

For if so, I would surely die.

We dug our holes as deep as we could

And found boulders to try to hide.

But none of that mattered much should

One come close to your side.

Most of us were blessed I guess

In that we made it back to the States.

But for all these years I still get stressed

When that scary screaming recreates.

Arnold Silverman

Laguna Beach

Land of the free and home of the brave?

In 1992 my mother and I visited Russia (St. Petersburg/Moscow), Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Finland. Our tour guides for the cities were proud to point out that all statues of Stalin, Lenin, and any other autocratic leaders had been removed. In fact, the city of Leningrad reverted to St. Petersburg almost immediately. In Bulgaria, they don’t have any status honoring any from the Ottoman empire that ruled them for several centuries. Having traveled to Germany many times I never saw a statue of Hitler or any of his cronies. That puts an interesting twist on the notion that we should honor our history by keeping statues of men who were involved in slavery in one form or another. These folks can be part of our history – we have no choice – but to idolize them by creating 20 ft. statues? To look at them we have had to crane our necks up – that is a symbolic statement – to look up. Many indigenous people are still looked down upon.

When I was a child and lived in the jungles of Venezuela I was aware of how people treated those whom they considered lower class or worse. I didn’t understand why people would do that because they looked like me (well not quite as I was a towhead and…). I often shared my candy with children I saw and tried to treat them as equals. My parents received reprimands from neighbors when they saw me doing this, and my parents did nothing to stop me. Things haven’t changed. The term “chosen one” has connotations and is still used by those who in the end are not really chosen.

I hope that we make a sharp turn and return to what the intent of what America was to be – the land of the free and brave – part of Francis Scott Key’s famous song. We are finding out that Mr. Key had slaves – however his slogan is still powerful and these words should continue to thrive. 

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

Trump is 100 percent wrong

This past weekend, President Trump falsely claimed, “99 percent of coronavirus cases are totally harmless.” Really? I did the math and he is 100 percent wrong.

As of 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, 2,897,613 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 4 percent actually have died. Yes, 130,007 have succumbed to the virus.

If this wasn’t enough, hospitalizations currently are increasing in 20 states, with Texas leading the way. The Lone Star State just announced a new all-time high.

I don’t know who in the White House gives Mr. Trump his daily briefing, but he or she needs to go back to school when it comes to math. Real lives depend on real facts.

Denny Freidenrich
Laguna Beach

Plant Man Column

“A hedge between keeps friendships green.” –French Proverb

The practice of growing hedges as living walls dates back to the earliest farmers, who desired to delineate their parcels, keep their livestock contained, and shield their crops from chilly winds. Additionally, dense thorny shrubs were required for security, deterring both potential two-legged intruders and wild animals.

From a horticultural perspective, shrubs spaced close together to form a barrier are a hedge – from a border of 3’ high Iceberg roses to an imposing row of 50’ high giant bamboo.

A garden may incorporate a wall of shrubs and trees, instead of using masonry or wood. In addition to creating overall property privacy and private spaces, hedges are a primary garden element for establishing a property entry, grounding a home to its site and to line the borders of a driveway.

Letter Kawaratani 1

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A creative hedge of Brazilian Sky flower, Duranta stenostachya, and an entry of Oliver, Olea europa

The psychology of garden hedges may be a window into the motivation of their design. The height of a hedge is more significant than the species; a low hedge of boxwood or myrtle may suggest the resident is welcoming and neighborly, and open to sharing their garden and home.

Letter Kawaratani 2

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Japanese Boxwood, Buxus macrophylla japonica

Conversely, taller hedges, like ficus or podocarpus, may be indicative that privacy is being sought, and that the intent is to create a barrier or shelter from the vagaries of the world. 

Letter Kawaratani 3

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Weeping Fig, Ficus benjamina

It is true that a fine line exists between welcoming and privacy. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Love thy neighbor, but don’t pull down your hedge.” Indeed.

Hedges exist for other reasons. I recall from my days as a delivery boy for the nursery that mature, well-tended hedges were associated with the well-heeled neighborhoods in Laguna, and were often a garden feature for the upwardly mobile to aspire to. My father, Pete, spent hours counseling his clients on the many plant species that could eventually become the perfect hedge; it is not lost on me that the first “Plant Finder” category in the Sunset Western Garden Book is for hedges.

On a less positive note with hedging, feuding neighbors may intentionally plant shrubbery to block ocean views or obstruct light and ocean breezes. These “spite hedges” can be remedied through progressive city ordinances and the legal system.

And so it came to pass that the City of Laguna Beach created 12.14.030 (b) in its Municipal Code to define a hedge – “‘Hedge’ means generally dense vegetation so aligned as to form a physical barrier or fence.” Today, for better or worse, the City is available to adjudicate the height of eligible hedges during a dispute. Among my many random thoughts on the eve of the holiday weekend, I wish that neighborliness and consideration would one day outweigh spite. Be safe and well; and see you next time.

Steve Kawaratani has been a local guy for 69 years. He can be reached at (949) 494.5141 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Steve Kawaratani

Laguna Beach

Wear a mask

Given all the controversy over face coverings, here are 10 things that are harder to do than wearing a COVID-19 mask:

(1) Holding your breath for five minutes; (2) sticking your hand in a garbage disposal (while it’s running); (3) driving 100 mph down PCH blindfolded; (4) pushing a 300 lb. boulder a mile uphill; (5) babysitting 12-month-old sextuplets; (6) eating 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes; (7) surfing a 40 ft. wave; (8) walking down Forest Avenue naked; (9) kissing a rattlesnake in the hills above town; and, (10) drinking Clorox bleach as an antidote to the coronavirus.

C’mon people. Even the vice president is doing it now. Wear a #$%@ mask!

Denny Freidenrich
Laguna Beach

Downtown business owners should pitch in for sidewalk cleaning

One speaker at the June 23 Budget Workshop suggested that shop owners pitch in and help clean the sidewalks in front to their own businesses. I tried some time ago to figure out how much the City spends on maintenance of the downtown, but the costs were scattered throughout the City budget making that determination difficult. So, I asked public works for an estimate and received a response saying the City had allocated $848,000 for maintenance of these areas in this year’s budget. For perspective, $848,000 is nearly what the City projects as revenue from all business licenses for all businesses in Laguna Beach. The last count I saw was that there are over 3,800 Laguna business licenses for Laguna, and the Retail Market Evaluation counts 442 businesses in the downtown. The proposal discussed at the staff report for the June 23 Budget Workshop was that there be a $64,000 cut in spending for downtown cleaning, but the staff report for the June 30 budget approval now includes $116,000 added back for steam cleaning, and porter services – made possible because the Treasurer found a $125,000 increase in the Interest Revenue estimate. Considering the dramatic revenue reductions expected by the City, while some may already do this, the earlier speaker’s suggestion that shop owners pitch in and do a little cleaning in front of their own shops seems timely.

John Thomas

Laguna Beach

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