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Our Laguna: Environmentalists to be honored as Villagers of the Year

October 06, 2011|By Barbara Diamond
  • Carolyn Wood is one of the 2011 Villagers of the Year.
Carolyn Wood is one of the 2011 Villagers of the Year. (Coastline Pilot )

Environmental activists Elisabeth Brown and Carolyn Wood will be honored Saturday as the "Villagers of the Year."

Both women have been in the forefront of the battle to acquire and preserve open space in and around Laguna, starting in the days when "tree hugger" was meant as an insult not as a compliment.

"These are remarkable women," said Mary Fegraus, whose environmental credentials are also first rate.

"I have always been in awe of Carolyn, first because of her filing cabinets on the history of Laguna Beach. She is a compiler and anyone would be foolish not to ask her for information.

"Carolyn is so focused — she can be stubborn — when she wants something. But most of the time, due to that stubbornness, great things have happened for Laguna Beach.

"She is the more radical of the two — and more about Laguna — where 'Lis' has been more focused on regional open space.

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"Lis and I go back a long way. I really got to know her when we served for six years on the Planning Commission in the mid-1980s. She convinced me to go on the Laguna Greenbelt Inc. board.

"During those years, she was my mentor. She has always been an inspiration to me."

It was Brown who taught Fegraus about coastal canyon habitat, invaluable knowledge for the 17 years Fegraus served as executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

And it was Brown who lobbied for Fegraus to succeed her on the Coastal Greenbelt Authority, the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park oversight committee, from which Brown recently retired after 20 years.

Brown has served as president of Laguna Greenbelt Inc. even longer — more than 25 years — and as a member of the board before that.

She is not one to seek the limelight — she never chained herself to a tree or blocked the path of a bulldozer, but she was a bulldog behind the scenes.

Brown moved to Laguna in the 1970s with her first husband, Allen. A threat to their serene Canyon Acres home kindled her passion for the environment. She joined former resident Belinda Blacketer, landscape designer Jeff Powers, Ray Unger, and of course, Wood, to successfully block development of projects planned for the end of Alta Laguna Boulevard above Canyon Acres.

At the same time, Brown earned a doctorate in biology from UC Irvine — a field of study she had pursued as an undergraduate and post graduate student at UC Berkeley.

Brown really hit her stride in the 1980s.

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