Los Angeles Times

Hansen: With people like this, Laguna may survive doomsday

Almost every day you read stories about impending world destruction because of our own mistreatment: too much carbon dioxide and not enough sustainability.

But not in Laguna Beach. There's a strong case to be made that if the world ends tomorrow, Laguna would be exempt.

At least that's what Brian Seveland hopes.

Seveland, 49, is one of those behind-the-scenes Laguna guys who has had multiple lives. In the end, they arrive here, making something new and different.

You may have bought coffee from Seveland at the farmers market on Saturdays. Or maybe you ate his homemade butternut squash gratin at a Transition Laguna Thanksgiving.

The 23-year resident is tall and quirky with a sideways glance. You might underestimate him at first, but there is something more under the surface.

And in his case, it's dirt.

"I've always been about growing my own food. I love that," he said, explaining his view on sustainability. "I grow tomatoes. I grow all my greens — mustard greens and collard greens, lettuce and cabbage, stuff like that.

"Grow what you like and start simple. That's really the goal: Go toward simple. If you make it complex, it will never work."

But this is not just a feel-good story about organic mulch and all-natural pesticides. It's about taking responsibility for your own contribution.

The fact is, the end-of-the-world warnings are not coming from zany street preachers anymore. They are coming from people of science and technology.

The United Nations, NASA and top scientific groups around the world are becoming more strident about the warming planet.

Put it this way, how many people in Laguna have not thought about a rising coastline?

"It's insane," Seveland said. "I don't know how we do it on a global scale; that's why Transition Laguna is really all about doing it on a local scale. When you start thinking about it as a nation with over 300 million people, it's overwhelming."

Seveland started by looking at his life.

An information technology executive for a major company, he was living bicoastal with homes in Miami and Laguna Beach. He would fly more than 200,000 miles a year.

"I'm a type A, trying to work on being a type C," he said. "I used to be the Range Rover-driving guy on the hill, making $300,000 a year and not worrying about anything. That's not my life today."

Now he's part of the "slow food" movement, which officially started in 1986 in Rome when McDonald's opened a franchise next to the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna. Italian journalist Carlo Petrini became outraged and a movement was born.

"We sell tomatoes that are grown for shelf life rather than for flavor," Seveland said. "So slow food is really trying to counter that and say, how do we get heritage crops? How do we get food that is local and tastes great? How do we get those foods back into our society?"

Seveland says the key is to be realistic and don't bite off more than you can chew, so to speak.

"We all start slowly. First is, grow your own food. If you like certain foods, if you like fresh herbs, if you like fresh tomatoes, throw a container on your balcony — do whatever. Start easy.

"Next is, look at the ingredients of what you're buying from the store. If it's got more than five ingredients that you don't recognize the names, why are you buying it?"

After you get past the basics, perhaps then you can start to do what Seveland does: Recycle his washing machine water.

"We're the guys who are like the guerrilla gray water guys. We're taking our water from our washing machine and putting it into a large container and using it to irrigate our ground. So it's a whole lifestyle change."

Not everyone might be ready for gray water, but if the doomsayers are correct, something has to change. Plant by plant, tomato by tomato, perhaps it will add up.

Will it be enough to keep the coastline intact?

Will Laguna Beach have the fortitude to make tougher decisions about sustainability, better mobility and creative live-work spaces?

On a city government level, Seveland is not so hopeful.

"In general, the city is all about regulation," he said. "Whether you're starting a new business, you're starting a restaurant, you're doing anything, the city unfortunately just isn't there to help people. They set rules. They've been really reluctant on Complete Streets and trying to get bike lanes."

It's not just about growing food. It's about creating a new, better version of Laguna Beach — something innovative, bold yet workable.

Let's see the upcoming City Council candidates take that on.

Let's ask them if they use gray water.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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