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Out of the Blue: Ranch decision is a big win for Laguna

Sweet Jesus. Our long, local nightmare is over.

In a stunning rebuke of citizen skullduggery, the Coastal Commission voted 9 to 1 on Jan. 8 to allow Mark Christy to proceed with a project that nearly all of us agreed would improve Laguna.

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The state board granted Christy the coastal development permit he sought to renovate The Ranch at Laguna Beach.

This was a heroic tale of the community coming together at the eleventh hour for a down-home local, business leader and philanthropist to defend a project we all have a sense of pride and ownership in, one that should never have been derailed in the first place.

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There they were, giving up their entire day to sit on uncomfortable chairs before testifying at the Coastal Commission hearing — four councilmen, one city manager and many others.

Christy cannot be demonized for renovating a fading property, restoring its former glory, working within the existing envelope, and yes, raising the rates to whatever the market will bear.

All this talk about maintaining affordable accommodations in Laguna by restricting free-market enterprise is a joke.

Hello? We have affordable accommodations — it's called AirBnB and it is democratizing hospitality. The free market works fine.

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Despite the disinformation campaign by the usual people who trade on self-proclaimed environmental cred, the claims of environmental devastation and mitigation costs were systematically rejected in favor of something known as reality: This project makes sense, is sensitive to the environment and does not obstruct access to the beach.

And in the best outcome imaginable, Christy will jumpstart a bicycle/pedestrian trail in the canyon slopes north of the property. He agreed to start the funding with a $250,000 donation to the parcel.

This plan is not without challenges. Christy isn't the only landowner along the proposed trail. But Driftwood Estates, a Montage-related entity; the city of Laguna; and the South Orange County Wastewater Authority have agreed to donate land to make it work. Now the open-space advocates have to agree to the plan.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's first make sure a trail is even buildable along this steep area, and if so, use the best brains to engineer the easiest trail for the widest use possible, while minimizing habitat degradation.

Then, assuming Laguna Canyon Road gets a dedicated bike lane, imagine a day when you and your family can peddle from town to the adjacent wilderness parks, drinking in the beauty on two wheels and then looping the town on a flat, safe wilderness trail. That's rad! Laguna Rad.

Congratulations, Laguna. The best of you shined.

BILLY FRIED has a radio show on KX93.5 from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursdays called "Laguna Talks." He is the chief experience 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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