Laguna’s heritage was built on traditional merchants, not “high-end mixed-use”

Most of us feel this place is special, and it’s not just the coastline. Unlike the towns around us, very few of our houses are similar, not many of our streets are straight, our Canyon is still pretty wild, each beach has its own personality, and our commercial districts are comprised of an interesting mosaic of diversity. It seems that each home, each street, each beach, and each shop has its own story to tell. It is a compelling, appealing, fascinating collection.

We become worried when developers pool together to raise $97,703 for the Laguna Liberate PAC to tell us to fast-track commercial development, dilute our design review board, and vote for the two most pro-developer City Council candidates. The developers have already bought major chunks of Downtown and into the Canyon. One of their recent commercial makeovers maneuvered successfully for a 180 parking space exemption. Another one is poised to present a plan to the Planning Commission on November 7th to tear down most of the block north of Ralphs and turn it into a four-story high-end hotel. The current design standards would allow a maximum of 80 rooms, but they are asking us for 112 in an area that is already too heavily congested. Finally, another plan is going to turn the entire block north of the Art Museum into a large five-star hotel. 

Taking that block along PCH, north of the Art Museum, as an example, it was a diverse collection of individual shops and galleries until one person wrote everyone there a check in hopes of turning the organic Laguna collection that was there into his dream of a mega-block. Of course our traditional merchants can’t compete with those high-end ambitions. Of course they are surrendering and leaving town. Their little one-story business can’t compete with multi-story mixed-use slick redevelopment. 

There is no argument that these projects might be of such high-quality that any town might covet them. The problem is that we are not just any town. We treasure that fascinating collection of diversity that has been organically created over time as individual lots were developed by individual owners for different purposes at different points in time. This applies equally to Downtown, South Laguna, and the Canyon. It is one of the last, and best examples of a real town with a real heritage and real diversity. That is the town that we want to protect from a PAC of developers who are set on Liberating it from the residents here. 

David Raber

Laguna Beach