Spirit Defines Community

Thoughts of what makes a community have been rambling in my head for a few weeks. What is it about Laguna that is so vastly different than Dana Point, Newport Beach or San Clemente? Aside from the lack of track development (save TOW), we are all multi-racial cities, populated with families, children, old folks and varying income brackets. We are all coastal communities in South Orange County.

We all talk about being different, but what is it, exactly? Some would say it’s a sense of a village, but I would argue that the village died a long time ago and has been replaced by a small city run with a tight fist by a City Manager and a morphing City Council.

Is it the restaurants? We have some of the best, and a great variety of flavors, regional offerings, and world-class chefs. Once upon a time eating out meant leaving town. Now, it’s difficult to choose which trendy spot for an evening of savory delights. 230, Sorrento Grille, 5’2” are my own mainstays.

How about shopping? Some folks complain about the inability to purchase simple underwear or a pair of socks, and for those of us who remember, losing Sprouse Reitz was a huge blow. Boutiques, always a mainstay, have blossomed. Although instead of clothes crafted in the sewing rooms of locals, most merchandise is made in a foreign country.

Recent press has likened Forest Avenue to a mini-Rodeo Drive. I can only say … I hope this never becomes true.

Okay. Laguna doesn’t have a harbor like Newport, a Festival of the Whales like Dana Point, and it doesn’t have a pier like San Clemente.

We do have art festivals, and a quirky history grounded in artists – an image we today cling to an integral component of our identity. We have a boardwalk and beaches that are the envy of our neighboring cities, and Heisler Park shimmers as a jewel of public access next to the Pacific.

But those are all external items, and I propose that community is more about its people than about its build-out.

While watching a the film, “Little Miss Sunshine,” nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, I was struck by how much the characters in the film have in common with the characters in Laguna Beach.

Before you scream, “Are you kidding?”, let me play with some analogies.

First of all, the film is quirky and out of the ordinary. It is filled with wonderfully eccentric characters who are offbeat and memorable. These folks are lovable and truly want to do the right thing.

These are qualities that I would ascribe to the citizens of Laguna.

The father in the film, Richard, is the developer of a motivational success program. Entrepreneurs in Laguna are more common than not, and the town is filed with self-help systems, new age motivational techniques and seminar producers.

The mother, Sheryl, is the peacemaker. She is the one who pulls together all the disparate parts and tries to make the family whole. She reminds me of our past mayor, Ms. Pearson-Schneider, who worked diligently throughout the Bluebird slide to insure housing, safety and follow-through for those whose lives were affected.

The son in the film? A brilliant teenager filed with angst. How many of those do we have in Laguna? I like to think that Laguna is populated with bright thinkers.

The daughter? A dreamer. A believer. A not quite perfect beauty queen, but never-the-less, a competitor. She presses forward against the odds while holding steady her ideals. Just like Lagunans who take an active role in the future of their city.

The grandfather is an aging whacky drug user. Not an abuser, but a recreational user. Okay, I know that no one wants to speak publicly of the folks they know who smoke a little weed or snort a little beak, but it is not exactly a secret, or even unusual. We are all trained to just say no, but dig a bit beneath the veneer.

Their Volkswagen bus is perfect metaphor for life lived in a can-do town. While the vehicle lost its ability to start in first gear, with enough of a push, it was jumpstarted in third and move to fourth without a clutch.

We kept our festival. We’re rebuilding our hillsides. We’re working together to clean up our waters, bury our utilities and find a way to make Design Review less adversarial. We argue in council, but do beach clean up side by side. We breathe one breath … it’s Laguna, and a little sunshine in our community seems the right fit.

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