Mailbag: Old structures not necessarily historic

This letter responds to Richard Picheny's personal attack on me in the Coastline Pilot's May 4 story, "Cottage to be torn down."

Picheny indicated that I do nothing as a council member to protect old cottages. His statement is simply untrue. Here is one example: Several years ago, when I was involved with fundraising for our community/senior center, the city had purchased parcels on Third Street, where four old structures were located, to be used for the center. A couple of these structures had been made available by the city to the 2005 landslide victims to live in at no-cost while they were trying to rebuild their lives and their homes, and I had been inside them visiting those folks. While they were extremely run-down, some had value, in my mind.

With the assistance of some very generous Lagunans, I helped to relocate some of the victims in those structures to other housing; the Third Street structures became empty. As progress was made on the community/senior center, a decision had to be made as to whether to move and store the Third Street structures or demolish them. I voted with others on the City Council to move and store them, clearing the way for the center.

The structures were moved to Laguna Canyon Road at Big Bend. I then approached another generous Lagunan who I knew owned a property zoned for multi-unit structures that could accommodate all four units to see if she would consider taking all of them — moving them and rehabilitating them at her cost, thereby restoring them to their original glory and keeping them in our community. She agreed to take the project on and to make the financial commitment. A generous architect designed, pro-bono, a concept plan that would work and which would have resulted in a quaint enclave of tiny cottages that would be high-quality and affordable.

To my great disappointment, some of Picheny's friends fought this proposal and, therefore, it was dropped. Later, one cottage was taken and moved by a Fullerton resident; the other three sat in the Canyon for three years and disintegrated in front of our eyes (not to mention that they also became a scary fire hazard). Ultimately, a majority of the City Council concluded that no one was going to invest in these dilapidated, unsafe structures and that it was time to have them demolished. I, personally, was disgusted that some of those very same folks who accuse me of not saving cottages were the ones who prevented my trying to do just that with the structures that sat in the Canyon and rotted.

As a concluding statement, I'd like to say this: just because a structure is old does not mean it is historically significant or has value to investors. If groups such as some of Picheny's friends in Village Laguna and the South Laguna Civic Assn. feel that a structure should be saved (even though, in many cases, it either does not have a highly rated historic designation and/or has not been maintained in its original form), then I would suggest that those who want to save it raise the funds to (a) buy it from a property owner and restore it — and, if necessary, (b) pay to move it and (c) find another location for it.

Elizabeth Pearson

Laguna Beach

The writer is on the Laguna Beach City Council.

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Council uses common sense on balloons

Too often the public becomes disenchanted with government activism, so it is refreshing to see the Laguna City Council using common sense and acting in the best, long-term interests of the community.

At a meeting on April 17, the council rightly chose to implement a public awareness campaign about responsible balloon use instead of an outright ban of balloons as a response against litter. The Balloon Council, a national trade organization of balloon manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers, applauds the council for this action.

Balloons symbolize celebrations and contribute to a $100 million industry. Florists, grocers, party suppliers and other small businesses in Laguna Beach — along with children's birthday parties — would be unnecessarily harmed by a ban on balloons.

The City Council's decision to educate instead of regulate aligns with the Balloon Council's nationwide responsible balloon retailer program to educate customers and retailers about proper balloon use. This includes proactively educating customers on how to best enjoy balloons with practical tips such as not releasing foil balloons and using natural rubber latex balloons that are biodegradable.

It is with the sensible thinking of leaders like the Laguna Beach City Council that we can mitigate problems while preserving the jobs of balloon retailers and maintaining the public's enjoyment of balloons.

Noah Lichtman

Newark, N.J

Editor's note: The writer is a spokesman for The Balloon Council.

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Underage drinking is illegal

I regret not having attended the first City Council meeting where the social host ordinance was first taken up. Clearly, many different opinions and strong emotions have been stirred up by this.

We have those who feel overly regulated, and who don't agree with the spirit of the law in the first place. We also have those who believe that the current side-stepping of the law — which clearly prohibits underage drinking — is a kind of Faustian bargain to save more teens from even worse outcomes if their inevitable drinking is engaged beyond the watchful eyes of some parent hosts. We have teens wanting to bear the responsibilities for their own actions without "big brother" telling them what to do.

Some people see social hosting as part of a wholesome approach to teach kids how to drink responsibly, which they call the European model. We even have David Hansen, a columnist at the Coastline Pilot, who compares the reinforcement of the legal prohibition of underage drinking to coercing 12-year-olds to wearing pink socks in support of breast cancer awareness ("Hansen: Are we driving our teenagers to drink?", May 4).

My question is this: Exactly how does the proposed ordinance change an already existing situation where underage drinking is illegal? How does it empower local law enforcement beyond what powers they already have? In all the coverage read, I haven't seen this clearly delineated. This seems really critical in understanding exactly what we are debating about in the first place.

Having attended multiple PTA Coffee Breaks and parent education meetings put on by the high school, I am aware that there really is a lot out there in terms of unambiguous research on the effects of teen drinking.

For example, many people see the European model as a means to prevent alcohol abuse by introducing children to alcohol in the home. Yet in Europe, 25% of male teen deaths are related to alcohol (10% among female teens). This same study by the European Commission shows the average age for one's first drink is 12 1/2; for getting drunk, 14 years old.

Among 15- to 16-year-olds, more than 90% have drunk alcohol, 18% have "binged" three or more times in the past month. (Bingeing generally is defined as having five or more drinks on a single occasion.)

According to the World Health Organization, France's death-rate from alcohol is two and a half times that of the U.S. (4.0 per 100,000 vs. 1.6 per 100,000 U.S.). These statistics suggest that the effectiveness of the European model is a myth.

We now understand that the development of the teenager's brain is still in process and will continue to be until they reach 25. (This fact is widely accepted by experts in psychiatry and major industries such as insurance and car rentals.)

In fact, studies have shown that the age of "first use" is correlated with the development of alcohol and other drug dependencies. In one study, among kids whose first drink was at the age of 11 and 12, nearly 30% went on to develop alcohol abuse or dependence within 10 years; for 13 and 14 year olds, abuse/dependence was 22%. For those whose first drink was at age 19 and older, the rate dropped to 3% (Source: American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 157, No. 5, May 1, 2000).

While I sympathize with Hansen's discomfort about what feels like teen (or parent) coercion, underage drinking is not choice of sock color. And to suggest this polarizes the discussion.

This proposed social host ordinance is more a pro-teen effort among people who have looked deeply into the realities of teen drinking. It's less a question of civil rights as much as it is a question of responsible parenting and abiding by already existing law.

We all live in a culture awash in sensation-enhancing substances and ambivalent parenting styles. It's hard to know what is best if the facts are obscured by emotions. But we still must understand what exactly this new ordinance will change. And it has not even been drafted yet!

With the laws against underage drinking already on the books, teenagers continue to be served alcohol in the homes of presumably well-meaning adults or when the adults are away, and an ordinance may or may not have the desired effect. Possibly, the highest good to come out of this entire process is a healthy discussion in our community about the facts and the surrounding issues.

Or perhaps, as my husband suggests, the best penalty for breaking the law in serving underage teens should be your name in lights in our local police blotter!

Kate Rogers

Laguna Beach

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