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Mailbag: Village Laguna tactics failed with Pearl Street home

December 16, 2010

Last week in City Council chambers, I promised to report on Councilmember Verna Rollinger and her merry band of Village Laguna vigilantes any time they try to manipulate our political process. Here's Report No. 1 about 154 Pearl St. — site of the oldest cottage in Laguna.

For two years, the property owner diligently worked with the city on a plan to preserve the cottage. After that plan was unanimously approved by the Heritage Committee and by a 4 to 1 vote of the Design Review Board, that should have been the end of it. But Village Laguna appealed, and at the Dec. 7 City Council meeting when the appeal was heard, we all bore witness to a textbook lesson in Village Laguna's bullying tactics.

Tactic 1: Pack the chamber to create the illusion of broad community support.

Tactic 2: Stretch the public hearing out for more than an hour to create the illusion of a strong case by having Village Laguna members make the same weak arguments ad nauseum.

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Tactic 3: Misrepresent the deliberations of both the Heritage Committee and DRB to create the illusion of controversy.

Tactic 4: Try to kill the project on a legal technicality.

Tactic 5: Totally mischaracterize the architectural plans to create the illusion of a contemporary structure replacing an historical one — no wonder Village Laguna wants to keep real architects from serving on the DRB.

Tactic 6: Have Councilmember Rollinger faithfully regurgitate every Village Laguna argument in the hopes of convincing her fellow council members — hey, didn't Milli Vanilli get busted once for that kind of lip synching?

Now here's the good news: The normal 3-2 Village Laguna majority on the council — Rollinger, Iseman, and Egly — failed to uphold the appeal. Egly defected because she simply couldn't buy some of the weakest arguments ever offered by Village Laguna against a solid project.

This raises a broader issue: Is Village Laguna drunk with the arrogance of its power? At one time, it played a useful role in historic preservation. But with each victory — and with what it thinks is a solid majority on the council — the group has veered ever farther from its mission. Now, instead of selfless political action from the group, we have what looks essentially to be a group of grumpy old men and women who want to stop everything — just because they can.

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