Hard to see good news in reviewing 2016 in Laguna

It was a strangely hyped yet underwhelming year, like when a good movie ends badly.

The same could be said for Laguna Beach's year in review. There were some interesting highlights but nothing worth full admission. It was a rental year, in more ways than one.


Here's a colorful recap of some top stories, in case you missed them.

10. Albertsons-Haggen-Gelson's fiasco: After a decent grocery store leaves town, it's like longing for a past president. Albertsons was just OK, but looking back now, most people would love to have the store back. Instead, we had the short-lived debacle that was Haggen, which may have meant well but had some kind of curse that was taken out on customers through outrageous prices.


Then we got the similarly priced Gelson's. I don't even know where to start with this store. How about the soda? Who refrigerates all the soda? Seriously, what's the point? I don't know, but it's emblematic of Gelson's: a little out of touch and tries too hard.

9. Death to coyotes: So we had some coyotes that dared to be themselves and kill some pets. The city gave a hunting outfit the green light to start trapping and killing the wild animals, so people fired up their torches on both sides. Predictably, humans encroach on nature and then whine about it when nature fights back. I said at the time that a coyote is like the wolf's ugly half-brother — scrawny, jumpy and unpredictable. Coyotes are like the West's hyena. It won't surprise me if they become extinct — just because that's our answer to everything: kill it and ask questions later.

8. The infamous mother-son duo on Forest Avenue: He drops his octogenarian, wheelchair-bound mother off almost every night and drives away in his Prius. She begs for money for hours on end and has been known to urinate and defecate on public benches. Come 11 or 12 o'clock, he rolls back into town and they drive off to their Irvine apartment. It's inexcusable.

7. Expensive restaurants: Several new restaurants opened in Laguna in 2016. White linens, trendy martinis, dimly lit menus with things like ancient grains, turmeric and heirloom broccolini with gochujang. All are what you'd expect. None are cheap or kid friendly. Other tony coastal cities have restaurant diversity. Here, it's as if we're going out of our way to turn into the worst of Santa Barbara, La Jolla and Newport Beach.

6. City inaction: The city has painted a few crosswalks, worked on the sewers and complained to Caltrans, but that's been about it for 2016. Think about it. What has the city really done this year except pay for more consultants? It's been a series of mixed messages and false starts, like when city officials asked the owner of Alessa restaurant to design a "parklet," then hastily told him to take it down because someone complained about the loss of parking, more or less. This behavior is foreshadowing what will happen with the Downtown Specific Plan update next year: lots of talk, not a lot of action.

5. Teetotaling Art Walk: In a major PR gaffe, the city's Police Department busted a bunch of art galleries for serving cheap wine without a license during Art Walk. The whole drinking during Art Walk thing was sometimes problematic, sure, but having the cops step in like they did was unfortunate. Apparently, they tried to give notice through the Art Walk's monthly meeting, but not all the galleries got the memo. Art Walk officials probably should have tried harder to prevent it, but the police should have known better. Clearly, a bad move all the way around.

4. Bad Airbnb: This story is probably not over yet, but basically Laguna doesn't like short-term rentals. Let me rephrase that. People who live next door hate short-term rentals, but everyone else loves them. Long term, there will be short-term rentals. It will happen legally or illegally. Laguna is too desirable. Besides, it's a tourist town so why fight it?

3. The death of artist live-work: In another blow to the city's art colony legacy, a proposed live-work project for artists was denied by a Superior Court judge, but not for normal reasons like land use or density or character. Instead, it was because of the California Coastal Commission's ineptness. Essentially commission members violated public disclosure laws, or ex-parte contacts, according to the judge. The Coastal Act requires that they promptly report any contact with developers, environmentalists and others that occur outside of official proceedings. But they rarely do that. As a result, Louis Longi's project is on life support.

2. City Council election: There was a firecracker candidate, Judie Mancuso, who livened up the City Council race, but she didn't win. This is where Laguna is unlike national races. We don't go crazy. For some inexplicable reason, we trend toward boring. It's unclear why, exactly, but my theory starts with the blue hairs. It's simple demographics. The people of Laguna are old — older than any other nearby city along the coast on average. So that typically means in jammies by 7 or 8. Keep it safe, predictable and off the lawn.

1. Pedestrian danger: And the top story in Laguna Beach in 2016: the routine killing and maiming of pedestrians. It should come as no surprise that the city's pedestrian accident statistics top state charts. We have a full-throttled freeway running through the center of a tourist town. There are dark intersections where it's hard to see people even during the day. Sometimes people cross blithely, but for the most part, it's just inherently dangerous conditions.

The city has tried to repaint some intersections, but the worst locations are controlled by Caltrans, which says it might get around to improving them in three years. Perhaps this is why Laguna doesn't want to encourage more walking by making new pedestrian zones downtown.

Keep people in their cars because the body count will not look good on tourist fliers.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at