Hansen: Stories from Laguna’s quirky rearview mirror

It’s popular to do year-end retrospectives, but I should just repeat last year’s. Why? Because Laguna Beach is really Latin for “Groundhog Day.”

Here is an excerpt from my column last year:

•"Let’s revitalize downtown but not really do anything: Like an aging beauty queen, Laguna Beach stares too long in the mirror — the rearview mirror. Whether it’s compromise by committee or hiring yet another consultant to tell us the obvious, the city is very adept at moving sideways, not forward.”

That’s pretty much the same thing that happened this year, and my guess it will happen next year and the year after that ….


When family calls, you answer: This was probably my favorite feel-good story of 2015. It actually started in 2014 when I wrote a profile about longtime resident and overall badass Jimmer Coombs. Early this year, his granddaughter in Oklahoma read the story online and contacted me. Both she and her mother, Coombs’ daughter, had been looking for him for many years. Coombs had no idea — never met them. He didn’t even know he had a granddaughter. Long story short, once he learned about the situation, he drove to Oklahoma and met his long-lost family. Everyone hugged, cried, took selfies and talked long into the night.

Best story ever.

When immigration stayed personal: On a national level, politicians wanted to build bigger fences and keep immigration impersonal. Locally, however, immigrants like Irma Ronses at the Laguna Day Worker Center are important contributors to the community. Ronses has been working at the center since 1999 and lives in Laguna Canyon. Her five children are all grown — and college educated. Immigration is not a policy issue; it’s a human issue.

The disaster called Haggen: The grocery store arrived with so much fanfare and hope for affordable organic food and locally sourced products. But immediately something was off. It was overpriced and quickly imploded like a weird grocery death star. And now in its place we are supposed to get a Gelson’s. Gee, thanks.

No more cheap movies: Perhaps it was inevitable but it was still sad to see Laguna South Coast Cinema close. Granted, the place needed a lot of work. Most of the seats were lumpy and uncomfortable. The sound from the adjacent action movie sometimes overpowered your romantic comedy. It was very analog in a digital world. But it was ours and we liked it — apparently not enough, however, to keep it open.

Death of the ocean: The starfish died, then the urchins. The kelp left town, and the reefs turned that dead brown color. Even today, our beloved Marine Protection Area looks like a war zone. Global climate changes and El Niño wreaked havoc on our coastline. About the only cool thing were all the exotic species dropping in. I mean, how awesome is a hammerhead shark?

The drought that applied only to Corona: We spent most of the year trying to ignore the drought, believing it should be an agricultural or industrial zone problem — or anywhere in the Inland Empire. Us: “We don’t have a drought; we live next to the ocean.” Eventually, we grudgingly started to cut back, only because we didn’t want to look worse than Beverly Hills.

Woo-woo, let’s party in a Laguna broom closet: It was clearly the year of illegal services — I mean, freelance contractors working without insurance, benefits or unions. Are you an apartment building owner burdened with rent control? Just kick everyone out and put up an Airbnb sign. In Laguna, it’s not as dramatic — yet. We just allow visitors to rent the back room and throw a lot of parties.

Great, here comes the trolley, finally: Oh wait, it’s full. Perhaps a victim of its success, the summer trolleys in Laguna were very popular. While the times and routes were sometimes off the mark, the city tried hard to keep things rolling. The expectation is the service will continue to get better, and if that means fewer cars on the road, ring that bell.

It’s the First Thursday of the month, let’s drink some free wine: Dubbed “drunk walk,” the city’s art walk tradition had become a little too saucy, according to gallery owners. A few decided to stop serving alcohol; others suggested cutting back the hours or having restaurants be the focal point for alcohol. Meanwhile, the politically correct members of the commission in charge of art walk denied there was a problem.

You know what they say about denial.

Either way, 2015 in Laguna was filled with interesting stories, some touching, many bewildering, but always typically Laguna.

Which is how we like it.

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