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SOUNDING OFF: Cookie cutters hover over city character

Many residents were shocked and dismayed last week to learn that Goko was being replaced by the formula-based, assembly-line style Quiznos. Most of us assumed our city policies prevented such a clear departure from our focus on village character and resident serving businesses.

A closer look revealed that our Downtown Specific Plan, which prevents franchises such as this, extends only to Legion Street, leaving a great deal more of our beloved village susceptible to the type of homogenization and diminishment of village character embodied by franchise chains like Quiznos.

When you extrapolate what has happened to Goko on a broader scale within this key, resident-serving area of Laguna, you realize what’s at stake in the future unless we act. Without our prohibition of formula-based franchises in this area, Video Works may become Blockbuster, The Stand may become another Starbucks, as well as Laguna Coffee Company a block away. Sapphire may be bought out by The Cheesecake Factory, and Heidelberg may degrade into Jamba Juice.

It sounds extreme, but it’s happening all around us. Experience has shown us in Laguna for decades that it is only our visionary city policies and active resident involvement that keep our village gem unique and prosperous.

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In the ’70s, we prevented the development of massive resorts that would have enclosed and privatized our crown jewel, Main Beach Park. In the ’90s we stopped the development of more than 3,500 homes in Laguna Canyon, creating what is now a renowned and spectacular greenbelt of open space. The City Council and residents have waged countless other key battles and implemented crucial policies to protect our quality of life and the character of our amazing village.

The formula-based takeover of local businesses outside the Downtown Plan is happening now and it is a major threat to both Laguna residents and the tourists who come here for our unique ambience. I encourage the City Council to direct staff to explore how the Downtown Specific Plan’s prohibition against franchises can be extended further into the other areas of Laguna whose character is just as beloved and important as that of Downtown.

It’s not essential to extend the entire Downtown Specific Plan — perhaps just the franchise provision would be necessary, resulting in a less-complex process that would have broad resident support. With the right policymaking by the Council and staff, you can permit property owners to charge full market rent and safeguard their rights, while prohibiting the clearly damaging presence of formula franchises that diminish our quality of life and the village character we have worked decades to create.

Until such an ordinance is in place, I urge residents and visitors who love Laguna’s charm to boycott the new Quiznos so that we may show our firm resolve to not allow dull, unhealthy, formula-based corporate franchises to destroy the village we so cherish.

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DEREK OSTENSEN lives in Laguna Beach.


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