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Our Laguna: Village Laguna continues the height fight

August 04, 2011|By Barbara Diamond
  • From left, Ed Sauls, Bonnie Hano, Mayor Toni Iseman and Arnold Hano at a Village Laguna party in 2009.
From left, Ed Sauls, Bonnie Hano, Mayor Toni Iseman and… (Courtesy of Rik…)

Fear that Laguna Beach would become Miami West or a Waikiki wannabe drove a group of Laguna Beach residents to take on City Hall in 1971.

The City Council had approved a new zone from Broadway to Bluebird Canyon Drive that would allow 100-foot-tall hotels on the city's beaches. A group of locals, already outraged by the city approval of additional height for the Surf & Sand Resort, began fomenting a rebellion that ultimately led to a height limitation not just on the beaches, but citywide. It led to the formation of Village Laguna.

"Both were the crowning achievements of my political life," said Arnold Hano, 89, who chaired the group that became known as the Yes on Aug. 3 Committee. He also served as the first president of Village Laguna. "One fed into the other."

The 40th anniversary of the successful "yes" vote on Aug. 3, 1971, and the council's capitulation the day after, will be celebrated Aug. 29 at Village Laguna's annual picnic at Aliso Beach and proclaimed at a City Council meeting in September.

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"We want to remember the important things that make our town special," Mayor Toni Iseman said.

And the who.

"A lot of people who thought of themselves as environmentalists got together, but the core group consisted of Bonnie Hano, Ralph Benson, landscape architect Roger McErlane, Lois and attorney Bill Wilcoxin, Dave and Evelyn Munro, Jon Brand and Phyllis Sweeney, a Realtor who was later to be elected to the City Council and become the city's first female mayor," Hano said.

"The first thing was how can we stop the zone. The city granting the Surf & Sand a variance to add 23 feet in height in a 35-foot zone was a contributing factor, but words like Miami and Waikiki kept bouncing around."

Informed by Benson, who worked in the county counsel's office, that the initiative process could not be used to get the new zone rescinded, Hano asked if the building code could be amended by a vote of the people.

"Ralph came back the next day, all brightened," Hano said.

Benson cited language in the city's code referring to mass and scale, which could be amended to state a citywide maximum height.

"That took it out of being a 'no' vote to being a 'yes' vote, which was very important to us," Hano said. "And it meant we wouldn't have to exhaust ourselves fighting project by project."

The committee began meeting on Tuesday nights in the back of the late David Rosen's art gallery in the 800 block of South Coast Highway.

"Anyone could come in," Hano said. "The door was always open. "

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