After a fight, you can either make up or stay mad.
In 2019, my guess is Laguna Beach will do neither. Instead, it will take a new course and wake up.
After a bruising 2018, which saw political brawls and neighborhood rebellions, Laguna will face recurring tests that will pit the old guard against the new whippersnappers.
If Laguna embraces collaboration, there could be unprecedented progress in a city notorious for its obstructionist, milquetoast policies.
My hope is that Laguna takes more chances and actually lives up to its brand as a world-class art colony that vigorously showcases its creativity, charm and intelligence.
In that spirit, here are some areas that I predict could use some much-needed gumption in 2019.
In 2018, the business community was a shadow of itself. Vacancies were at an all-time high. Resident-serving businesses continued to close. In the meantime, city rules continued to hamstring businesses, building owners and others from doing progressive, out-of-the-box development. I still believe the 36-foot height limit should be revisited in certain limited areas to allow for careful expansions and possible affordable housing. In addition, as my friend Chris Quilter has advocated, there should be a vacancy tax imposed on locations that are shuttered too long.
My guess is every business and residential renter will tell you that the rents are too high. And they are. I’ve often wondered if there was a conspiracy among the real estate community. I even spent time researching it, trying to find suspicious patterns. But I couldn’t. Either the conspiracy doesn’t exist or I’m a poor researcher. The point is it’s still a perceived problem, which is why I think the city should form a rent task force in 2019.
A prediction about Laguna would not be complete without the homeless. What will be different in 2019, however, is that the homeless will be more firmly divided into two camps: homeless and transient criminals. For the last several years, it’s been the criminals that garner headlines, but people lump them together into the “homeless” tag. That needs to stop.
It’s surprising that Laguna is not a snow-covered mountain resort because it is white, white, white. There’s no arguing the demographics, but that doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. I firmly believe that the overwhelming lack of diversity is the elephant in the room, and Laguna better tackle it in 2019.
Laguna is slowly — achingly, insufferably, painstakingly — getting closer to becoming a cool European city. Will anything substantial happen in 2019? I doubt it. But I do think the more the city implements Europe-like policies the better. For example, close Forest Avenue to traffic. Stop the tourists, especially day-trippers, outside the city. Make them park on the fringes and shuttle them in. Period. Resident-only driving in key areas. If it’s done right in Laguna, everyone will benefit, including businesses.
It is inevitable that the canyon will change, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In order to accommodate better transportation and overall tourist management, there needs to be strategic parking combined with an efficient shuttle system. That means a dedicated shuttle and bus lane — possibly even a rail or trolley system. Ultimately, it will happen if Laguna truly wants to become an environmental leader.
Speaking of the environment, if Laguna does nothing to control the tourists, the reefs will go barren. They already are in several areas. It’s completely out of control. Social media is making it even worse. Most tourists are oblivious and too self-absorbed to care. Add the reef problem to ongoing run-off pollution, and you have an untenable situation. Frankly, 2019 should be the year of the ocean. Double the budgets. Triple the staffs. Do whatever it takes.
I’m going to say this one last time: All power lines in Laguna Beach should have been buried 50 years ago. Make it happen.
Non-breaking news: In 2019, Laguna artists will continue to struggle. No artist live-work project is on the horizon. Housing and studio rents will remain out of reach. More artists will move out of town — Santa Ana, L.A., Long Beach, Dana Point, San Clemente.
Speaking of moving, after seven years of writing this weekly column about Laguna Beach, I have decided to move closer to L.A. I will still write for Times Community News, but in a different capacity, covering more of the county and trying to stretch myself in different directions professionally.
Nonetheless, I will always consider myself a Lagunatic. I hope you have enjoyed my stories about the issues and characters that gave Laguna its voice. It was an honor serving both your mind and heart.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and departing Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.