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Column: This year, as before, it’s back to the future in Laguna Beach

Columnist David Hansen predicts the top issues of 2018 in Laguna Beach by looking at its past.
(Photo by David Hansen)

It’s usually pointless to predict the future, which is why every year I try to do it.

Since 2012 I’ve guessed what issues would be important to Laguna Beach for the coming year. If I look back at my favorite prognostications, they are as timeless and ridiculous as ever. In other words, Laguna — being Laguna — has its own timeline that resembles one big, endless loop.

The topics just circle among themselves, like misfit cars fighting over a downtown parking spot.

And for some inexplicable reason this process never gets old.

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So what I’ve learned after looking back over the last several years is that to successfully predict the future in Laguna, just look to the past and put a new spin on it.

For 2012, I suggested a new program to solve the city’s undergrounding problem, “Adopt a Power Line: A new petition will emerge to eliminate those pesky power lines that obscure our ocean views. Residents will have to ‘adopt’ a power line, roll the dice and pay seven times the amount shown to the nearest utility.”

This year it appears residents will be asked to pay for undergrounding but the amount is uncertain. My guess it will be seven times the dice plus a few zeros.

Also a perennial topic in 2012 was the homeless. There was talk even then of a new location for permanent housing. Why stop there? I asked. Turn it into “Reality Show Homeless: Coming to cable, watch as our colorful homeless live in the Laguna Beach Transition Mansion, steps away from the beach. But not in anyone’s backyard.”

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I trust that people understand I’m not making fun of the homeless. It’s really a statement about our priorities and self-interest. And it still is.

Did we get permanent supportive housing in Laguna in 2012? Obviously not. Will it happen in 2018? Doubtful.

Two years later in 2014 I predicted undergrounding again — sort of. I noted that the city was looking into a comprehensive plan, but I was suspicious: “Whenever I hear ‘comprehensive plan’ and ‘Laguna Beach’ in the same sentence, I know the project will never get done. The inimitable Arnold Hano first wrote about undergrounding in Laguna Beach in 1961. Need I say more?”

2014 was also another year when we tried to tackle the Village Entrance. There was a proposal to have pretty landscaping and a walkway. The parking structure had been taken off the table, so I suggested that I hope the city plants roses in this expensive garden so we can all smell better about ourselves.”

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By 2015, the city really started to feel the year-round impacts of tourists. Terms like “crushing” and “soul-sucking” came to mind so I suggested a “Tourists vs. Residents Smackdown: Critics say that in our constant quest to satisfy tourists and improve the business tax base, Laguna has sold its soul.

“Business rents have become untenable, especially for downtown merchants, and the only ones capable of surviving are the deep-pocketed chain stores, exclusive shops or very expensive restaurants. …Forest Avenue is resembling Santa Barbara, with its high-end boutiques and name-brand anonymity. Is it terrible yet? No. But we’re heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps we will find out this year who wins.”

In 2016, I predicted that updates to the Downtown Specific Plan might be approved but that nothing would change: “The city will approve a fancy, expensive consultant’s report on how to improve the downtown, but residents will not be able to see the difference. In modern, technology terms, this miracle is called ‘vaporware.’”

One 2016 prediction that unfortunately still hasn’t happened: “Emerald Bay and Three Arch Bay unite to further humiliate Laguna in a Fourth of July fireworks arms race: No one wants to say it out loud, but the fireworks display at Main Beach has become a dud.

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“It barely lasts for 15 cringe-worthy minutes. Unless you’re 3 years old, it’s a bore. Last year, the party was over — long over — and both Emerald Bay and Three Arch Bay were still going strong. In fact, pretty much every fireworks display up and down the coast lasts longer than Laguna’s. But it’s not just the length; it’s the originality of the fireworks themselves. Laguna needs to step it up in 2016.”

My suggestion this year? Just allocate all of the Village Entrance and Downtown Specific Plan monies to fireworks.

So in 2017, it was worth noting that I came closer to actually predicting a few issues. Granted, they were pretty easy: homeless woes, business challenges and downtown malaise.

“Without more permanent supportive housing, the homeless in Laguna will continue to languish. … The volume regularly outpaces the support. As a result, there will be continuing impacts across the board: negative behavior, fights, drugs, police involvement, resident frustration, civic reputation, campfires in the canyon, etc. There’s no easy answer to this complex problem, but a new site might help considerably.

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“More business diversity, please: Despite the economic uptick in 2016, there were some alarming trends that started to emerge. Rent increases forced out long-time 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, it was more touristy shops, less funk, more swank. Lower-income residents are dying by a thousand cuts. Will 2017 help stop the bleeding?

“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 will take to its grave the belief that ‘nothing is wrong’ downtown. Despite the fact that every city in the world which has created a thriving pedestrian zone, 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.”

Obviously, there are recurring themes in Laguna Beach, just like waves carving lines in the sand.

Maybe that’s it. We like the soft, predictable repetition.

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It helps us sleep at night.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.


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