Where is the commitment to Laguna Beach?

Nov 4, 2022

By Bob White

I’ve spent the weekend immersed in all that is leading us to the upcoming election….focusing most of my attention on Measure Q.
We own our home in Woods Cove, two blocks from the ocean we love.
My own design firm has been on Forest Avenue for 19+ years.
I’m emotionally and fiscally vested in OUR town…..and spend my days right in the heart of downtown.
I still pinch myself every day I get to call Laguna Beach HOME.
My work designing Private Residences for successful families takes me to the most beautiful towns in America.
I’m currently working in 13 different states……in towns where people go to “get away” and/or live…..to make amazing memories for their family.
I visit my projects regularly throughout the year…..winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Places like Carmel; the Napa Valley,; Park City, Utah; Bozeman, Montana; Sun Valley, Idaho; Asheville, North Carolina; Nantucket; Aspen; Cape Cod; Hanalei Bay, Kauai……to name just a few. The one common denominator of these towns is that they ALL share many of the magical qualities and attributes we have here in OUR own town of Laguna Beach…..physical beauty, wonderful neighborhoods, interesting people, tourism that adds vitality, and amenities that serve many.
There is one dramatic difference though……
ALL of these magical places are “in motion” and consistently getting better, refined, enhanced, edited, and being “invested” in. These are places that people LOVE, but they are also places that feel safe to INVEST in from a business standpoint.
As I read all the information I can absorb about Measure Q, I’ve tried to be open-minded. I had a conversation this morning with my neighbor (who has been here MANY years) about the “Yes on Q” sign he’s had in his yard. I asked him for some advice……to help guide me as the election is coming.
His reply surprised me…….as he said, “I actually took the sign down this morning”.
“Wow…..ok, please share with me”.
He went on to say that he now realizes the “No on Q / Don’t be fooled” signs are in his favor. We had a terrific conversation of deep thought and exchange of ideas.
He went on to say “we already have measures in place (municipal zoning code, etc…) to protect the small-town scale and character of our town.”
“We already have a City Council, a Design Review Board, a Planning Commission, etc…..that struggles to understand the complex nuances of a project……why would we even consider putting our future growth and this complicated discussion in the hands of voting residents who have no professional  training, urban design/place-making education, or understanding of what they are even asked to vote on…….that would be CRAZY…..as we all know they would just SAY NO to EVERYTHING.”
I couldn’t agree with him more…….as it was perfectly stated.
My own perspective is this……
The word “Developer” (via the Indy paper and all the propaganda) has become a negative word. 
I even hesitated this morning in my neighbor chat to use the word, as I’ve been tainted by all the Indy press and the so-called “no growth” constituents. 
Then I thought to myself……..
The most magical and memorable places on Earth have been visioned and executed by “Developers”.
People who have invested their vision, their emotion, their willingness to “risk” their own reputation and maybe their personal wealth.
Sure…..many of them are in it for profit, as it’s their chosen “business”, but many of them are also visionaries driven and inspired by wonderful places and experiences they’ve had.
As I look at my clientele, MANY of them are successful developers…..place makers, creating experiences and destinations where people go when they decide to leave the comforts of home…..and are looking to be inspired, to entertain, the eat, to shop, to share in Community.
When done well……EVERYONE benefits and profits.
As I look at our town, compared to the wonderful places I get to work professionally, I see VERY FEW willing to INVEST in our town….to make things better, fresher, more interesting, more relevant.
You can literally count them on one hand.
Where are the outside investors…visionaries….that want to bring their expertise and passion to our town?
Be it for locals or tourists…..share with me something inspired that has been created here in our town in the last 5 years….or even 10 years?
When was the last time a Pottery Shack happened?
Hotel Laguna (our flagship moniker in the heart of town) is “partly” open, but what a quagmire of time and emotion.
It feels ANY other project (restoration or otherwise) gets caught up in a cobweb of bureaucracy and thick mud.
Is that what the leadership of OUR town is seeking?
I’ll travel from one summer to the next in a place I work like Asheville, NC and there will be two/three/four wonderful new buildings…..full of happy people enjoying a dining experience in a patio, wrapped in a cool retail experience, with a couple of small offices looking down from above…..in what has become a terrific “small scale” mixed-use destination.
As I continue to stroll around Ashville, there will be two more buildings being renovated and another under “new” construction.
All of this commitment to a town in hopes of being a beautiful evolution of place……is being taken on by a “Developer”.
Where is the commitment to Laguna Beach?
We have aging and tired buildings……with virtually NO “new” investment?
No “next new chapter” of exciting evolution.
ALL great towns evolve…..except my own…..right here where I live and work.
The paint is peeling off most buildings as our town argues “overbuilding….. and becoming the next Dana Point or Huntington Beach”.
Are you kidding me?
The most exciting development we’ve had in the last two years is “Ahba” restaurant in South Laguna……which consists of a dozen or so tables…and about 1000 square feet max!
We’re spending this Christmas, as a family, in what is arguably the “most beautiful town in America”…..Charleston, SC.
Historic and Magical….as you may know.
My research for a great “rooted” hotel experience, and dinner reservations had led me to wide range of historical and NEW options….designed to fit the context and scale of their historic town……all by “Developers”.
Why isn’t Laguna pursuing the same?
Why are talented and capable developers with great insight, capital, and courage leaping over and past our town?
I can tell you why……. because I’ve asked a number of them who I currently work for……
The answer I get back, sadly, is…….. “are you kidding me, Laguna Beach is a disaster to work in”.
I don’t plan to leave this magical place of visual beauty, so I’ll take comfort in knowing that my work will continue to take me to these wonderful towns that feed my soul and inspire me.
It’s a shame our local leaders can’t figure out a way to get their agendas together to FINALLY do something positive around here……but I won’t give up hope.
In the meantime, I’m definitely casting my vote for the leadership options I have in November that believe in Progress for Good and adding more wonderful layers to this place we call HOME.
Thank you for reading.
Bob White, Principal

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