Hansen: A school, a road and a lost city

There is a Garden of Eden in Laguna Beach with peacocks, swans, turtle doves, pomegranate trees and angelic children.

And right outside is hell: suffocating traffic, angry drivers and mind-boggling bureaucracy.

It's the Annaliese School on Laguna Canyon Road, where the state of California, county of Orange and city of Laguna Beach meet in a Bermuda Triangle of frustration.

The good news? The school — and Laguna drivers — might be getting some relief.

Right after Labor Day in September, the county will start a six-month road widening project at that vital intersection, adding a second lane leaving town and other improvements. The project is the outcome of the large, new housing development (aka "Laguna Altura") under construction up the road in Irvine.

The result is supposed to improve traffic flow.

"I think it will help a lot," said Steve May, Laguna Beach city engineer.

Whether it does remains to be seen. The fact is, for a variety of reasons, Laguna Canyon Road will never truly accommodate the traffic we get.

So we grin and bear it.

The thing I find ironic in this case is Annaliese, which has tried for years to work with the city and other agencies to improve the flow of traffic. It is a perfect dichotomy of Laguna's famed-yet-nebulous "quality of life." In other words, we pride ourselves on our sublime environment, yet sometimes shy away from sustaining it.

Corinne Manetto, director of marketing at Annaliese, calls the school a "magical oasis."

"I'm director of marketing but haven't had to do any marketing this year because we don't need it," she said.

But she worries about the continuing traffic and was surprised to hear about the upcoming construction. She said the school received no notice of the project.

Mark my words: When the work starts in front of Annaliese, some people will complain that evil forces are widening the canyon and turning it into a freeway.

Others will say it's a Band-Aid approach that is too little, too late.

Two people can look at the same road and see two different things.

Laguna Beach is clearly hamstrung with its traffic options. There are serious geographic constraints. There are more government agencies than there are fishermen.

Amid this turmoil, one has to wonder if we have lost our vision.

Lee Miklosy, chairman of the Complete Streets Task Force, had an astute observation in a letter to the editor last week.

"For every person enabled to walk, bike or bus in Laguna Beach we eliminate one car from the streets and free up one parking space," he wrote. "In a world of increasing gasoline prices and consequences, this shift to balanced mobility is inevitable."

The expression "balanced mobility" is interesting. We praise "balance" in every other area of our life, so why not mobility? There are complex reasons why not but the main one is simple: We don't have many choices. We are dependent on cars.

There are other examples, however, of cities that deal with gridlock and heartache. They simply don't allow it.

Years ago I was fortunate to ski in Zermatt, Switzerland. It does not allow combustion cars. You have to park outside of town and bus in on these electric shuttles.

I'm not suggesting that we shut down Coast Highway or Laguna Canyon Road. We can't (because of the Bermuda Triangle Commission). I'm just saying, we are not doing ourselves any favors with avoidance — or letting others do it for us.

More irony, do you know what we should be saying? Do you know what Laguna Beach is supposed to be?

"Rising above a rare Laguna Canyon environment … a romantic hideaway echoes the splendor of its natural setting. It is a destination. A retreat … that invites you to live a life of beauty, privacy and tranquility that is utterly unique in Orange County."

What is it?

The description of Laguna Altura, the nemesis that is Irvine, which is making a token attempt at improving our intersection.

The question is: Are they improving our life as well?

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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