It’s astonishing to get to the end of a year and realize all that has happened since the last time we took stock of events.
There weren’t any landslides or other local disasters in 2008 (knock on wood, since there are still a few days left) but the year didn’t lack for drama or crises.
Of course, 2008 will be known as the year the bottom dropped out of the world economy and the ramifications of that are still unfolding.
In Laguna Beach, however, property values have so far held up, and the city and school district both counted their blessings throughout the year with no decline (actually some increase) in property taxes, the bedrock of city services.
Private businesses weren’t so lucky, however, and by some reports, 40 businesses have closed their doors over recent months. Ironically, some merchants who had been struggling to attract shoppers actually made headway as consumers began “shopping Laguna” due to record high gas prices. Those prices have now fallen, but perhaps those customers will keep coming back.
Here are some of the most dramatic and noteworthy events of 2008 from an editor/reporter’s point of view:
On May 30, the Forest Avenue post office was closed, parts of downtown evacuated, and postal employees decontaminated, when someone mailed a “white powder” letter that turned out to be benign. This incident brought out the bomb squad and a haz-mat detail which set up shop for hours near the post office.
In June, we covered the emotional marriages of same-sex couples from Laguna Beach, after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions. This story would play out over the rest of the year as opponents campaigned to overturn the ruling, and eventually succeeded in passing Proposition 8 — declaring marriage as valid only between a man and woman — in a bitter election campaign marked by acts of vandalism and anger. (See below for more.)
On Sept. 11, a 29-year-old scuba diver disappeared while spearfishing with companions off of Treasure Island, and, despite trained divers searching extensively in underwater caves, John S. Park, of Buena Park, has never been found.
In October, the long-shuttered Boom Boom Room “rose from the dead” to host a Halloween party benefiting the “No on 8” campaign working against the ban on same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, “No on 8” organizers reported that Proposition 8 had gotten a donation from the son of the building owner, Stephen Udvar Hazy — himself in the news because of his affiliation with the insurance giant AIG, the recipient of a federal bailout resulting from the mortgage collapse. (AIG’s post-bailout lavish company stay at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel was also news fodder.) This was thrilling to Laguna’s Fred Karger of Save the Boom, who hoped Udvar Hazy would be forced to relinquish the Boom to gay ownership under financial pressures. That, however, did not happen, and the Boom property is slated for a complete makeover as a boutique hotel — with no restaurant or bar included, as if to purge the site of any “gay” vibes.
On the environmental front, 15 months after being lauded as a “Beach Buddy” by the Natural Resources Defense Council for its pristine ocean waters, the city suffered what is probably its biggest-ever single-incident sewage spill — 600,000 gallons of raw sewage that spilled out of the Bluebird Canyon sewer facility on Oct. 29 and closed four miles of beach.
On Nov. 8, residents of Laguna Beach protested the passage of Proposition 8 with a 1,000-strong march of picketers that filled downtown on a Saturday night in an old-fashioned demonstration of the right to petition government, and raised funds to continue the legal battle for same-sex marriage rights.
The notorious “Cowboy,” a man who had been living on the streets of Laguna Beach for decades, reportedly stopped drinking and entered rehab with the help of the city’s new “homeless cop,” Laguna Beach Police Officer Jason Farris. And Cowboy wasn’t the only street dweller to be given a hand up by Farris, who has a knack for playing tough while being caring and sympathetic. By the end of the year, however, the ACLU of Southern California would sue the city in federal court alleging police harassment of disabled homeless people who claim they are routinely rousted from sleep by police.
As they say, the news never sleeps. Thanks for being our readers, and have a Happy New Year!
CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 494-2087 or email@example.com.