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Mailbag: Saddened by changes at Sawdust festival

I have been a part of the Sawdust Art Festival for the last 15 years. I served a number of those as a board member, which is a delicate, time-consuming and demanding job.

But the most delightful times were just being there as an artist, interacting with thousands of patrons, people who come for the first time or those who return again and again. The Sawdust is a beloved and integral part of the tapestry of our town with 200 charismatic artists, alluring music, great food and an atmosphere that entices customers back each year. The “Dust" has always been referred to as “family."

This last summer, I became so distressed and disillusioned I now feel I have to speak out.

We, the artists, elect our board of directors to do a difficult job and to represent us, to listen to our gripes, questions and suggestions. Of course, being a self-governing entity composed of controversial, creative people, like any large family there will always be predicaments "” infantile and profound.

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But we are Big Business now, more and more like the Festival of Arts, that fabulous venue that we splintered from decades ago, citing its juries, its rules and its restrictions as being too confining for the spirit of a true artist. We were the vagabonds, the free flying makers of ART, the feisty, irrepressible artists of the Sawdust. We had personal conflicts and blazing success. We had fun!

Year by year, as the show became more organized, it became less flamboyant, bound to happen when more and more rules are applied. But it remained the best show around because of its vibrant past and its brilliant artists. But mostly because of its soul. And in spite of it all and because of it all, we still had fun.

But a strange thing happened this year. The sweet soul of “the Dust" was stolen. I know just when this hijacking began.

Two years ago, when the new general manager was hired, several well-loved and capable employees suddenly “resigned," and another was fired. Much turmoil and unrest among the artists followed, remaining as the 2009 show started.

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I don’t know exactly when the general manager became executive director of the Sawdust Art Festival, but there he was, exerting his power, with the board members unified behind him like nine little lemmings who had no guts. These are people who were elected to represent us, the artists.

These are now the men and women who apparently are of no use to us at all. Every decision is miraculously “unanimous." Having served on this board, I know for a fact that this is pure coercion. As every true artist knows, there are never nine of us that will ever agree on anything.

Then when more of our staff left under mystifying circumstances, it became clear that the executive director was taking over the show. The artists were issued warnings not to discuss show politics on the grounds.

Looking like a witch hunt, it became even worse. The atmosphere was laden with rumor and speculations. We were denied access to information. It was worse than big government, it was more like a dictatorship.

Seven weeks into the show, two of our most loved and respected employees resigned on a weekend, under duress. One of these people has been banned forever from our grounds. Can you imagine? After the show ended, a great friend to me and all the artists, distraught over the wretched turn of events, resigned his position. A man of strength and grace, he ran our sales booth for 36 years. His resignation came as a shock to the artists, but makes clear the depth of the problem. I knew then it was all over for me.

I waited until now to air this concern because I do love this show. I have served it and profited from it and forged lifelong loves and friendships because of it. But due to this out-and-out hijacking, I can only see the management as a threat. I see our board members as a bunch of wussies, to weak to deal with an executive director who has taken over our show, foisting his personal agenda and power on all of us.

JENNIE RIKER

Laguna Beach

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Fear of sober living homes misplaced

We just got home from holiday and were surprised to read the articles and letters pertaining to the possible rehab house that may come to be at 31365 Monterey St.

To those who fear a “certain element" being near you, I have to say that they are most likely already in your midst. Your quiet neighbor, the person in the next cubicle at work, or the person working in your school, may be struggling with an addiction to alcohol, drugs or pain medication.

The big difference here is, those living at a sober living home are actively trying to change their lives and kick their disease.

My husband, myself and our therapy dogs work and volunteer a lot in the area of recovery so we’re familiar with the problem.

So, your FEAR may be just that: False Evidence Appearing Real.

Stop cell tower in neighborhood

As a concerned Top of the World neighbor who has lived in the area for 15 years, and a mom who had both of her sons participate at TOW Elementary School, I am deeply concerned about the proposed T-Mobile cell tower slated to be placed at Fire Station No. 3, which is just above the school.

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On Jan. 5, I learned that the city staff had recommended that a huge T-Mobile cell tower, 22 feet wide, by 36 feet tall, be placed right above the elementary school, beside a park and smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood. The city would be paid $20,000 per year for the lease.

Although the Federal Communications Commission has deemed cell towers safe, there is astounding evidence to the contrary. Children, youths and pregnant mothers are the most vulnerable to the electromagnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation that cell towers emit. Children being more susceptible because of their thinner, smaller skulls.

Some side affects to low level EMRs are headache, nausea, fatigue, sleep disorders, muscle pain, loss of memory and focus, among others. More serious affects could lead to leukemia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and, of course, cancer.

This proposed tower is inconsistent with the residential nature of TOW, and certainly inconsistent with the nearby elementary school. Besides the health risks I’ve already mentioned, the tower would gravely damper property values of homes in the surrounding area.

There is a city council meeting regarding this issue Feb. 2. I urge families of TOW Elementary School, and other concerned neighbors to come out, and let it be clear that cell towers are unacceptable near schools, parks and neighborhoods.

CAREY STROMBOTNE

Laguna Beach

Controls needed on outdoor lighting

A most interesting item appeared on the Laguna Beach City Council agenda at the beginning of the year.

The question of instituting an outdoor lighting ordinance was brought back by Councilwoman Verna Rollinger. Interestingly, the same question came before the council in 2007 and 2008, introduced by Councilwoman Toni Iseman.

In these early attempts the proposed request for review passed in the vote. The council had requested the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board to evaluate the concept of a lighting ordinance.

That is where the process stopped. It appears these agencies never got around to checking this out, both times.

Third time’s a charm, or so I’ve heard. I hope that our community speaks out together this time so we can get it settled.

A lighting ordinance on the General Plan would simply equalize, to some degree, the exterior lighting used on residences and commercial properties.

Imagine flying over the city in a small plane about 9 p.m. these days. There is a downtown church parking lot that resembles some parking areas of Las Vegas, while a school in south Laguna looks like a football stadium at game time every night.

Then there’s the occasional homeowner on the hill who thinks his neighborhood is crime-central, so he lights up his house like a prison yard. This type of insecurity can wreak havoc on neighbors.

Don’t you think it’s time for some limitation on the glare, the light trespass, the nuisance? Back in the day, Laguna tried to outlaw neon signs. What was that about? No neon, but you can have all the high wattage sodium vapor you want?

I am not sure what part of Laguna the members of the Planning Commission or the Design Review Board live in, but I am sure of this: They, too, have been exposed to excessive outdoor lighting at some point in this town. Please help me remind them that our fair city needs its starry nights back.

SHARON GERRARD

Laguna Beach

Holiday trash is excessive

Did you happen to notice the overflowing trash bins on the streets as a result of the holidays? Many just held plastic bags of everything and anything without any regard for sorting into the appropriate bins especially such easy things as paper, glass and plastic.

On one street I saw a live, well dead now, Christmas tree in the recycling bin, obviously a new perspective on that. Boxes of all sorts of sizes and shapes were stacked and placed on the street.

The drivers of these huge "” and they are huge "” trash trucks often have to navigate down narrow streets where people park with no regard for the next driver. Sometimes there is no opportunity for them to turn around or go on to other streets and they have to back up.

Do these folks who live in our neighborhoods and just dump stuff anywhere without any regard think that these drivers who have to service such large routes each day have time to sort out the trash or move things out of the way?

I have seen some panicked looks on the faces of these drivers when confronted with bins piled high with lids flopped over in the wrong direction and bags and boxes stacked up next to the bins while driving some narrow streets.

Waste Management may provide private pickup service, but I don’t believe that this is what we are contracted for.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times stated that L.A. generates 4 billion tons of trash each year. I wonder how many tons Orange County creates and now that Newport Coast is a residential area and no longer the local dump, where it goes especially with NIMBYs around.

When the city first introduced the sorting by trash system, I believe we were told that those who did not sort out their trash would be fined. Would that be a new source of revenue? But for some people even paying more does not provide enough incentive as you can see by the water they continue to waste.

GANKA BROWN

Laguna Beach

Ocean habitats need preserving

I recently read an interesting article linking our ocean habitats to climate change.

The article states, “Few people may realize it, but in addition to producing most of the oxygen we breathe, the ocean absorbs some 25% of current annual carbon dioxide emissions."

Carbon dioxide has been identified as the primary heat-trapping gas linked to global warming.

The article continues, “Half the world’s carbon stocks are held in plankton, mangroves, salt marshes and other marine life. So it is at least as important to preserve this ocean life as it is to preserve forests, to secure its role in helping us adapt to and mitigate climate change."

In making a “case for better management of oceans and coasts," the author of the article advises: “Countries should be encouraged to establish marine protected areas "” that is, set aside parts of the coast and sea where nature is allowed to thrive without undue human interference "” and do what they can to restore habitats like salt marshes, kelp forests and sea-grass meadows."

In looking at the big picture of ocean habitats and climate change, I’m reminded of the admonition to “Think globally and act locally." Our City Council members (Verna Rollinger, Toni Iseman, Elizabeth Pearson, Jane Egly) deserve commendation for putting this advice into action through their stance on the Marine Life Protection Act. Thank you to so many others as well who are committed to acting locally in response to global issues that concern us all.

JUDY TEVERBAUGH

Laguna Beach



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