Out of the Blue: Fight Monsanto; get more out of Village Entrance

What a refreshing day May 25 was. Besides a beautiful and sunny start to Memorial Day weekend, more than 1,000 people gathered at Main Beach to express their indignation that a single company named Monsanto could be granted so much power by our government to control and manipulate our food system.

It was an amazing display of solidarity between young and old, mainstream and off-center, locals and visitors. Everyone behaved peacefully, but demonstrated forcefully.

While there were the usual pithy slogans and histrionics, the underlying message was to educate the public about the choices they should be able to make about what they put in their bodies. And why they should demand more locally-sourced, organic food free of preservatives and genetic modifications.

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Village Entrance

In other news, the Laguna Beach City Council preliminarily approved a two-year budget May 21 that includes $5 million for the Village Entrance project, 10% of the purported $50 million needed.

While I am in the minority who believes this will only add to congestion rather than detract from it, and that the real issue is flow (not parking), I accede to Elizabeth Pearson wishes when she mentions all the new visitors we will have when the Irvine Company completes its master plan at the end of Laguna Canyon Road. I also know that this is a legacy project that has been on the books for decades, and the council wants to get it done. And if the council supports it, then I will too. But not without some strings attached.

First, I agree with Kelly Boyd that a decision of this magnitude should be put before the public. I know it only drags things out, but we've waited this long — And we learned a lot more about urban planning in the intervening years. Do we want to make this the core of our major civic improvements over the next decade?

Councilman Bob Whalen is an expert on municipal financing, and he has informed us that Laguna Beach has a great credit rating and that money has never been cheaper to borrow. So getting the funds to build the structure should be a no brainer. Well then, might we think bigger, borrow more and fund a grander vision? There's private and public money, parking revenues and bed taxes. Plus grants and federal funding that could be obtained in the name of creating safer evacuation routes. With interest rates this low, we may never get this chance again.

Let's marshal our considerable talent and develop a master plan that includes other elements that have been considered through the years, like undergrounding the power lines on Laguna Canyon, and building a dedicated bike path along the State Route 133 that follows the old road into the coastal wilderness and around the lakes.

Many complain that biking is difficult in town because of traffic and hills. But this ride would be nearly flat, with a dedicated lane for families to ride out of town and into our magnificent green belt to savor so much of what makes Laguna special. Along the way one could stop at artist studios, the Marine Mammal Center, the dog park, the nature centers, and other points of interest we zoom by now.

While we're at it, perhaps we should consider a performing arts amphitheater at Big Bend, and a skate park too. This would be a major lifestyle and recreational upgrade, something that directly benefits people who live here.

Also on the table should be the crown jewel of our extreme makeover — a Forest (pedestrian) Promenade, with a trolley that connects it to the parking structure.

I went to the Art Walk in Santa Ana Saturday, and the conviviality and energy of their pedestrian promenade at First street was palpable. People meeting and greeting outdoors, with restaurants and galleries spilling onto the sidewalk, plus inviting landscaping, trees and lighting. So much happier than the parking lot and eyesore we have now known as Forest Avenue.

I just don't know anyone (save a few merchants — but not all) who don't think this is a great idea for Laguna. And with the additional parking structure, the California Coastal Commission could not possibly hold this up. Only a council that does not have the will to confront a vocal minority.

So perhaps there could be three options put before the public: a) do nothing, b) fund the current plan for the Village Entrance, or c) develop a bigger plan that improves many other aspects of our overall quality of life that we can all live to see and enjoy.

BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and on the board of Transition Laguna.

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