Laguna from the perspective of the younger generation

By Allie Sadoff

When my parents moved to Laguna Beach a year ago, I quickly realized it was my favorite place that we’ve lived. During my visits back from UNC-Chapel Hill during holidays, I’ve found myself with no lack of fun activities, including constant trips to my favorite restaurants within walking distance, such as the Taco Stand and Saigon Beach, weekly attendance of the farmers’ market to pick up Grammy’s Granola and fresh fruit, and stops by my new obsession, the store Tea and Turmeric. However, besides staying at my parents’ house, I don’t visualize an immediate future for me, a 19-year-old journalism student in Laguna Beach, and most of my age group feels the same way.

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Photos courtesy of Allie Sadoff

Allie Sadoff, journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill

The benefits of living in Laguna Beach would take forever to name. However, these same benefits have cultivated an environment that makes the area difficult for many younger students and recent grads to thrive in. Maddie Graboske, an Arts Games and Playable Media major at University of California, Santa Cruz, has lived in Laguna Beach for more than a decade.

She recounted many positive aspects of growing up in Laguna, such as the beautiful sites and artsy surroundings. However, she said the tourists that these attractions bring can reduce the enjoyment. “A definite con would be the influx of tourists at times; it’s understandably an important part of the economy of Laguna, but sometimes they overwhelm good spots and beaches or just generally act like they own the place,” she said.

The large number of tourists during the summer has more effects than overcrowding locals’ favorite locations. The tourist population causes the main focus of the area to be hospitality, leaving little room for other career opportunities to appeal to young people with aspirations outside of these fields.

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Maddie Graboske, Arts Games and Playable Media major at UCSC

“I haven’t really seen any growth in job opportunities of varying fields in Laguna, and that in part has to do with supply and demand of the type of labor needed in Laguna, most of which is hospitality and customer service,” Graboske said.

Even those who are interested in hospitality fields may have difficulties starting out in these careers or with new businesses. While tourists fuel many Laguna businesses, they also add the challenge of the need to cater to a high tourist population. Jessica Harmon, the owner of the clothing store Attu, has lived in Laguna Beach her entire life until recently moving to Long Beach.

Harmon said the economic range of tourists makes owning a business in Laguna tough. “You have some people that are coming and staying at like the Montage who are wealthy, and they can buy a lot of things. Then you also have other people who may be just coming into Laguna for the day and are really looking to spend the time, so they might be looking for things more like souvenirs,” she said.

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Jessica Harmon, owner of clothing store Attu

Harmon said that another challenge is conflicting views from older business owners about the aesthetic of Laguna. While younger businesses may want to advertise in new, trendy ways, the city’s rules prevent some of these endeavors. “If there’s something going on in the store and you want to let someone know what’s going on with a cute chalkboard sign, the city doesn’t allow us to do that. I feel like that’s backing up the other businesses that are wanting it to look like a clean, expensive looking town.”

The current perceived demographic of Laguna reflects the lack of younger influence. “When I think of Laguna, I do tend to think less nuclear family and more two partners, or to be frank, wealthier people owning/renting out their beach properties when they’re not there and only living in Laguna for the summer months,” Graboske said. It’s unreasonable to expect young generations to live in and positively influence Laguna when the rent is far above their capabilities, their careers would likely grow far quicker elsewhere, and rules and city norms often prevent their innovation attempts.

“I find the true ‘Laguna’ can be found at the art festivals and in the galleries, or at the beach with the people playing chess or feeding pigeons,” Graboske said.

Laguna Beach at its heart is the perfect location for young people. With arts and history around every corner, it has allowed many to grow up with unique experiences. If we want Laguna to continue to benefit upcoming generations, we need to evolve to create an environment more conducive to career growth and societal innovation.

Harmon believes the younger generation can lead this charge to change Laguna for the better. “I think if younger people want a town that’s more for them, or like they visualize to meet their needs, they have to get involved in the city more. They need to show up to the meetings, run for office and express their voices.”

Allie Sadoff is a journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill.