Out of the Blue: The loss of civility

Many people assume I have designs on political office since I often use my column to advance my opinions.

Now why would I want to go and ruin a perfectly good gig?

Truth is, who would want these thankless jobs, where half the population loves you, the other half loathes you, and everything you try to do to better the city gets undermined by a loud and uncivil minority, who call you names and make accusations about your honesty?

Take for instance the artist live-work project on Laguna Canyon Road, which has been put through the ringer by opponents in the surrounding neighborhood. Opponents have tried to dredge up every imaginable charge to derail the project, including the insinuation that the developers have engaged in criminal activity.

Still, after dozens of hearings and modifications, the project was approved by the Planning Commission. But of course it was then appealed by members of the canyon association to the City Council, which heard it last week and denied the appeal.

Finally, end of story, game on, and we get housing for 30 promising artists collaborating in a shared work space, further sustaining our legacy of nurturing artists in a town that is impossibly expensive for all but the most successful of them.

Win. Or so we thought.

This week, in a desperate Hail Mary, the opponents are crying foul, saying that the whole project must be annulled because Linda Dietrich, one of the planning commissioners, should have recused herself from voting because it was a clear conflict of interest.

Here's what they sent our city officials: "All of our City Council members, all of our appointed planning and arts commissioners, plus our DRB [Design Review Board] are forewarned that criminal charges can be filed, sanctions (fines and jail time) are possible in these instances of intentional fiduciary lapses. The state takes the oaths of these members seriously; breach of those oaths has consequences."

Wow, so Dietrich could be fined and sent to jail over this breach of her voluntary, unpaid job? Who would want to even answer to those charges?

Dietrich is a dedicated public servant who served on the Arts Commission and the artist live-work task force to help find affordable housing. She remarked off-handedly at a meeting that she has a prejudice because she was on the Arts Commission, and has thus supported this project from the beginning.

Well, duh, of course Linda has a bias for more artist housing. Doesn't everyone, including the opponents (except in their neighborhood)?

But that doesn't detract from her responsibility as a planning commissioner to ensure that the project conforms to code. She and two others determined it did. And now opponents are trying to hang her on the fairly broad interpretation of a single word, as if that should reverse the decision made with countless government hours and thorough vetting.

Is Dietrich guilty of an intentional fiduciary lapse? Give me a break.

Dietrich did not personally benefit from the transaction. She has a single home in north Laguna that she and husband purchased years ago.

So hopefully the city attorney throws the accusation right back at the mud throwers and challenges them to a day in court.

Blue Water naysayers

And look what happened after last weekend's lovely Blue Water Music Festival, a fantastic freshman effort by Rick Conkey to exploit the underutilized Sawdust Festival grounds and celebrate our wealth of musical talent.

Conkey bent over every which way to accommodate stakeholders, including Sawdust's neighbor, [seven-degrees], which had scheduled a wedding that evening. The parties agreed on a sound decibel maximum, as well as a half-hour moratorium on sound during the actual ceremony, which made for an odd moment.

Police were on hand to ensure compliance. Everything went without a hitch. It was a glorious community celebration on a beautiful day made especially tasty because of the expansive, open and bucolic Sawdust grounds.

Only now we discover the management of [seven-degrees] is apoplectic about the noise and may oppose a second music festival.

Does this sound like the Laguna we'd all like to know and love? A city of the arts and tolerance?

What especially rings hollow is the fact that the Sawdust was there long before [seven-degrees]. When you build next to a public event space, you know there will be events — and accompanying noise.

But stop the Blue Water Festival from happening? Where is the humanity in that? When is enough money enough? How about agreeing on a date a year in advance when nothing is already scheduled at [seven-degrees] and then blacking out its use for one single weekend for the greater good of our community?

Similarly, when you buy a house next to a tavern, whether it's Mozambique or the former incarnation, Tijuana Flats, you know going in that there will be a certain level of noise and boorish behavior. But it doesn't give you a right to rewrite the laws and inhibit the owners and the public from their right to enjoyment when ownership turns over.

If you live next to a bar in a resort town, you wake up with litter in your yard. Know what you do? Clean it up.

And what about the Forest Avenue promenade? While most of the town supports it, we are being held hostage by a few merchants who cling to the belief that without adjacent parking they are doomed to fail, thus denying our town some desperately needed public space in the best location possible.

Our city must evolve into a less nasty, more progressive place. It is projected that in the coming decades the world's population will rise from 7 billion to 9 billion, with most folks living in cities.

Laguna must prepare for the inevitable growth in visitors with progressive changes to our transportation grid. We must accommodate more artists, the homeless, ancillary parking and other special interests by rewriting the plan for Laguna Canyon.

This is our light industrial road — not the Champs-Elysees — and it can be put to excellent use as our corridor for intentional, managed growth. We are no longer a village — the 405 made sure of that.

But who am I to affect change? Just an agitator on the outside, with no intention of sullying myself in the fray known as local politics.

BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and member of the board of Transition Laguna. He can be reached at billy@lavidalaguna.com.

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