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Hansen: Cliff house symbolizes both rich and poor

September 27, 2012|By David Hansen

•?The gap between the rich and poor is at its widest point in nearly 40 years.

•?Nationwide median income fell 1.5% to about $50,000 or 1.5%.

•?The poverty rate is 15%.

Who benefited in 2011? The affluent. Income for the top 5% or those making over $186,000, grew at 5.3%.

Laguna Beach is unique. Its median household income is about $100,000, and the poverty rate is half the national average.

One reason Laguna Beach is unique, however, is that the numbers do not tell the real story. In some ways, they are skewed. There are demographic pockets of income in Laguna.


Socially, the rich and poor rub elbows in Laguna all the time, and no one is the wiser. Go to the Sawdust Art Festival and see the hundreds of resident-artists. Ask them how they're doing.

Artists typically rent houses in Laguna. The rental market in the city is quite high at 40%, compared to about 30% nationally, adjusted for vacancy.

So here's where we get back to the rich and poor.

What are absentee homeowners in Laguna doing right now? They are refinancing and lowering their mortgage. Do they take that money and lower the rent for their tenants? I'll let you decide.

Is this wrong or anyone's fault? I don't know, to be honest. We used to say it was the expected outcome of free market capitalism.

Is it the fault of those who have money and spend it on home remodels, employing local firms and workers? Probably not. How can you blame them for being successful?

Then why all this talk about the gap between rich and poor?

Maybe because of what that house symbolizes.

For the poor, it's validation that something is wrong. The system is not working. It's an iconic, natural location marred by a man-made financial failure. They may take some quiet personal comfort in that, but publicly, they complain — and are complaining.

For the rich, they probably just look at it as bad pork bellies and would like to buy it. There is comfort in that too.

The facts get in the way of the perceptions here but the outcome is the same: The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer.

Everything is completely above board with the Yousefi house, and the new one will be a great improvement. He has played by the rules and paid his dues with a laundry list of government agencies. That's not the point.

It's just funny that we've had to live with the irony of a beautiful cliff and an eyesore house. Let me put it this way:

One wonders if the local plein air association, made up of artists who no doubt struggle near the poverty line, has taken the Crystal Cove promontory off its list of sites, fearful that a rogue painter would actually paint the scene true to life, giving Laguna Beach a black eye in the festival.

Frankly, that's a painting I would buy — because it's the type of reality we need.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at

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