As with most things in life, you can look ahead with a glass-half-full gulp of optimism or a glass-half-empty gasp of reality. Let's split the difference and see what happens in 2017 in Laguna Beach. Here are my predictions for the year:
10. Ingenuity at the beach: This might be the year that some enterprising optimist will try to shake up Laguna's beach scene. Eventually, some new fad that will infatuate the masses has to come along. But that doesn't mean it will get the green light from bureaucratic and environmental officials. Similar to the water jetpacks in Newport Beach, which were run out of town by harbor homeowners, something novel will test the waters, as it were.
Will Laguna pooh-pooh it out of hand? Will the proprietor have the tenacity to jump through all the hoops? Who knows. But someday the beaches here will be more than strips of sand without bathrooms.
9. More homeless but fixed support: Without more permanent supportive housing, the homeless in Laguna will continue to languish. Some of the existing population will filter through the various programs, like the Friendship Shelter, but that won't move the needle much. The volume regularly outpaces the support. And this means a continuation of certain results: fights, drugs, police involvement, resident frustration, harm to civic reputation, campfires in the canyon, etc. There's no easy answer to this complex problem, but a new site might help considerably.
8. Hope for better art: In 2016, the City Council conceded that the art scene had plateaued. The Cultural Arts Plan — yet another study — confirmed the malaise, saying that "Laguna Beach's artistic identity is important and valued, yet some believe it needs to evolve." Exactly what this evolution means remains to be seen, but 2017 needs to be the year for action.
The studies, reports and surveys are all in. It's time to step up. No more forgettable public art installations. No more insulting, paint-by-number galleries. Take some lessons from Santa Ana. Embrace energy, take some risks and live a little.
7. Watch environmental pollution: As the vast inland fields of Irvine continue to get covered with oil-stained pavement, Laguna will suffer. The discharge at Aliso Creek will only get worse. The flooding overall will increase as more channelization and runoff happens upstream. People love to claim Laguna as "their beach," but they never offer to mitigate their environmental footprint. Whether it's marine damage or just simple overcrowding, Laguna will continue to bear the brunt. In 2017, keep an eye on ocean quality, species die-offs and litter because, let's face it, Laguna is loved to death.
6: More business diversity, please: Despite the economic uptick in 2016, some alarming trends started to emerge. Rent increases forced out longtime businesses. Retail diversity seemed to flatten out, especially among restaurants and high-end boutiques. If a resident-serving business left, rarely was it replaced in kind. Instead, the city saw more touristy shops, less funk, more swank. Lower-income residents are dying by a thousand cuts. Will 2017 help stop the bleeding?
5. Seek ways to boost civic involvement: If you travel in city circles — attend a committee meeting, go to a fundraiser or volunteer at a nonprofit event — you will see the same people over and over again. While Laguna has a solid group of loyalists, it's still a fairly small group. Unfortunately, no young people are coming through the ranks to ultimately take their place.
It's a big problem and not just on the local level. State and national groups have seen declines in the number of millennials actively taking part in civic action. In 2017, the city needs to address the issue and start rethinking how it gets work done. For example, no more 18-month committee reports. Think Twitter and Snapchat, not Dewey Decimal System.
4. The year of the full-time traffic jam: Will 2017 be the historic year when Laguna's traffic completely shuts down? Already, during the summer — or even Valentine's Day — the traffic into town stops abruptly at State Route 73. It's interesting to watch the cars flip around on the 133 and head toward Crown Valley Parkway to use the south entrance of town. Rather than stay in four miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic through the canyon, it's faster and easier to drive almost 20 miles out of the way through Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel.
One could probably even stop at the tasty Baja Fish Tacos off Crown Valley, grab a snack and still beat your buddy who stayed on the 133. It's becoming obvious that Laguna officials have no desire to fix the traffic because it's a built-in tourist governor. Throttle the roads, and we will never get completely overrun. So they say.
3. Forget any new parking: If we assume No. 4 and the full-time traffic jam, then it's unlikely 2017 will see any new parking. What you will see, however, is substantially increased meter rates downtown. Again, the idea here is to make it completely uncomfortable for day-tripping tourists so they won't want to visit.
Even though a new parking study will be conducted in 2017, little to no action will be taken on it. For example, people have been saying for years that we need to beef up satellite parking. That won't happen next year. We could also better maximize downtown parking with more rigorous public-private partnerships. Yeah. No, that probably won't happen either. And we don't know why.
2. A tree will fall in the forest and hit a car: Forest Avenue will remain a dedicated car sanctuary in 2017. Despite the fact that Forest is underachieving, Laguna officials will take to their graves the belief that nothing is wrong downtown. Despite the fact that cities around the world have created thriving pedestrian zones, Laguna will cling to its parking spots. Despite the fact that the city's own consultant for the new Downtown Specific Plan update will suggest meaningful improvements, alas, the city will keep its head in the warm Main Beach sand.
1. Pedestrian deaths will surpass sea lion deaths: In 2016, Laguna put up those flashing signs coming into town warning drivers about pedestrians. And how did that work out? Another banner year for accidents.
Admittedly, it's hard not to look at these predictions for 2017 and feel any kind of optimism. The reason is they are pretty much the same issues we had in 2016 and the year before that and the year before that….
Somehow, though, I have to believe that Laguna can tweak a good thing. Right?
It's human nature to try and improve. Even a little?
We are glass-half-full people, so let's prove it.