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Sounding Off: Residents want beach dining

It’s a shame that a tiny but forceful minority in this city hew so rigidly to rules, and cannot use common sense and good judgment to sometimes allow them to be bent. I’m talking about Bill Rihn and Penny Elia’s complaint to the Coastal Commission over the long-awaited Sands Cafe at Aliso Beach "” and the cafe owner’s plans to put a few tables in the sand next to the cafe. The cafe was scheduled to open April 1, but now the owner possibly wants to sell and get out. And we’ll be without a snack bar for yet another season.

Yes, according the commission, this is an intensified use. But are a few tables pushed to the very back of the beach "” against the bluff, where no beachgoer would ever lay a towel "” really harming anyone? Especially considering where the snack bar used to be "” front and center by the old pier?

To the contrary, the ability to enjoy a bite, watching the sunset with your toes in the sand (the only such place in Laguna) would be a boon to our community "” and perhaps have a ripple effect that could help local merchants. People will eat on the beach regardless. Isn’t it better to offer a service where you know the beach will be cleaned after?

I met the owner, Michael Weiss, a few months ago, and he was brimming with enthusiasm and ideas on how to make a staid snack shop into a destination, with tiki-themed wicker chairs and palapa umbrellas. This was no rogue operator selling tchotchkes on the sand. Michael left his career, and beat out the bids of several seasoned restaurant operators, to win the concession and realize his dream of creating a more dynamic dining experience than what we ever had before. I imagined this would be patronized by all of us "” not just tourists. And now his plans are scuttled because our community watchdogs have decided that dining on the sand isn’t good for any of us, even when the county deemed that it was "” and gave him a lease to do so.

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Of course these are the same people who opposed the Montage (gee, what a disaster that turned out to be). And, in full disclosure, also fought my attempts to offer kayaking to the public at Treasure Island (unanimously approved by our elected officials, but successfully appealed by them to the commission).

What rankles me is their notion that they know what’s best for all of us. It seems to fly in the face of the coastal commission’s actual mission, "...to enhance the human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by our current and future generations."

What part of a carefully regulated dining in the sand experience violates these tenets? I’m sure Rihn and Elia believe what they are doing preserves the environment for all of us. But please, before you take such punitive actions, why not ask around a bit and see if this is really what the majority of us want.


BILLY FRIED lives in Laguna Beach. BILLY FRIED lives in Laguna Beach.

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