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LAGUNA BEACH : New Organization Formed by Activists

Saying the city’s most powerful political organization has lost touch with “moderate to conservative” residents, a new political group calling itself the Laguna Coalition has formed.

Members say their organization offers an alternative to Village Laguna, a political action committee that has enjoyed considerable success in getting candidates elected to the City Council.

The coalition, which began meeting recently, is made up of representatives from homeowner associations and various business and interest groups, said Darren Esslinger, a spokesman for the group.

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Over the past decade, 75% of the candidates endorsed by Village Laguna have gone on to win election. Four of the five current City Council members are Village Laguna members.

But coalition members say the council, prodded by Village Laguna, has veered off track, filing unnecessary lawsuits, attempting to buy land the city cannot afford and disregarding the rights of business and property owners.

“I think they’ve become so narrowly focused,” Esslinger said. “I think we reflect the basic ideals of this community more than Village Laguna does at this point.”

Village Laguna President Johanna Felder brushed off the criticism Sunday as coming from the “fringe side of the coalition"--those, she said, who are mainly interested in promoting development.

“They want the (San Joaquin Hills) corridor in; they want to see this whole place maxed out,” she said. “Village Laguna is dedicated to preserving and promoting the village atmosphere, and I feel most people in Laguna feel as we do.”

Village Laguna was formed 20 years ago by residents concerned that high-rise buildings would separate the city from the ocean unless activists blocked such development. Since then, the group has become involved in a wide range of issues, from hillside management to homosexual rights.

Esslinger said many people in the coalition are, like himself, Village Laguna members who have become dissatisfied with the way the older group wields power. Now they are committed to putting a new majority on the City Council.

That won’t happen this November, since only two seats are up for grabs and those are now held by members most likely to cast dissenting votes.

But members of the newly formed group say they will stick together to eventually make a change in Laguna politics.

“People have property rights, and they have not been paid attention to in this city,” coalition member Ann McDonald said. “We’re not trying to take over the city, we just want a balance.”


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