2009 Environmental Award
Arnold Hano has led environmental insight and action in Laguna Beach for more than fifty years. The adoption of a city-wide height limit that precludes new high-rise buildings anywhere in Laguna Beach is probably the accomplishment that is most memorable, but his continuous involvement in nearly every major issue our community has faced has changed the direction of our city markedly. Our town is more livable, more beautiful and more united and positive in our approaches to solving problems because of Arnold Hano.
As his wife Bonnie puts it, “Arnold’s contribution is that he’s very inventive, develops ideas and galvanizes people behind a cause. And he does that with humor and heart.”
Arnold and Bonnie, their daughter and a puppy arrived in Laguna Beach on September 1, 1955 and moved into a house on Goff Street. Arnold was a free-lance writer and Bonnie a psychological counselor. The Hanos have lived in Laguna Beach since that time except for a two-year period of service in the Peace Corps beginning in 1991.
Hano has an array of writing credits related to the sports world, including biographies of Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, and “A Day in the Bleachers,” which has been continuously in print in paperback since 1982. He also wrote biographies of Sam Huston and Paul Gauguin, and a western titled “Last Notch,” the first with a black protagonist. His short story about book burning, “Crate at Outpost 1,” was broadcast over Radio Free Europe.
He wrote two important essays for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, playing an important role in keeping environmentally damaging projects from going forward. One piece condemned Disney’s proposal for a resort at Mineral King. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas quoted Hano in the Court ruling on the project. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall personally thanked Hano for another article objecting to hydroelectric dams in Grand Canyon.
Hano’s writing in Laguna Beach began with play reviews for Bud Desenburg at the Laguna Beach Post. Then in 1959 he began a column, “Hello There” under the pen name of Woody Cove. Hano estimates he has written over 500 columns on local issues, writing as “The Village Character” for the Laguna Beach Independent and under the title “Village Voices” for the Village Laguna newsletter.
His first tackling of an environmental issue in Laguna involved a 40’ x 10’ two sided billboard that suddenly appeared in Laguna Canyon advertising the new community of Leisure World. Hano criticized the unwanted sign in his column saying it dehumanized us because of its scale, and its lights, resembling headlights, created a safety problem. The day after his column appeared, the billboard was removed.
In the late 1960s Laguna Beach had a councilmember who wanted to dynamite the caves in the canyon to get rid of the hippies. When the dynamiting scheme failed, he proposed banning dogs from the city’s parks and beaches. Since the hippies were often with their dogs, this proposal targeted two elements he felt were objectionable. The community, with Hano’s involvement, organized to object to the dog ban. A compromise allowing dogs to visit some of the parks and the beaches during certain hours was worked out. This success alerted citizens to their power, and when a proposal surfaced to build hotels 100’ tall on the beach front, they were ready to take it on.
An ad hoc committee was formed with the Hanos’ leadership, and an initiative to limit the height of buildings in Laguna Beach to 36 feet was submitted to voters. On August 3, 1971 the “Anti-High Rise” initiative passed 3 to 1. Laguna Beach became the only city in the country to use the initiative process to impose a city-wide height limit. This was a watershed moment in Laguna Beach. Without it we could have had a row of tall hotels all along the beach front. Because of the initiative we still have the village scale that residents enjoy living with and tourists look forward to experiencing.
After the election the ad hoc committee became a permanent organization, Village Laguna. Hano was the founding president and served two terms. Through his work with Village Laguna and independently, Hano tackled the major environmental issues that followed, including preserving open space and parks and controlling the character and intensity of proposed developments. Bonnie and Arnold have been a very effective team in working on these issues.
Arnold Hano and Jim Dilley, founder of the Greenbelt, were the only Laguna representatives at the first Earth Day held at UCI in 1970. This nation-wide teach-in marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. “Dilley represented the outside of town, I represented the inside,” Hano said, explaining the different but complementary roles of the Laguna Greenbelt and Village Laguna.
When the Design Review Board/Board of Adjustment was instituted in 1971, Hano was one of three members and served as Vice Chair. Architect Chris Abel was chair and realtor Milt Hanson was the third member.
Hano and Village Laguna were deeply involved in preventing the development of Laguna Canyon, in the proposed Sycamore Hills project. Community efforts resulted in obtaining the “buckle” of the greenbelt, now called the James Dilley Preserve. Other issues tackled in subsequent years included obtaining state bond funding for more open space purchases, writing of the general plan documents, design review policies, sign ordinance, outdoor display policies, supporting the Coastal Act and the Coastal Commission, and working with the emerging Environmental Impact Report process--all the foundation components of today’s environmental policies.
Recently Hano has been a consistent participant in Planning Commission workshops to rewrite the land use element of the General Plan. He is involved with the Resource Center and the Homeless Task Force. At a recent Council meeting he expressed concern about the future of Laguna’s businesses. His comments and those of others have led to a Council committee to explore ways the City can assist in improving the economic health of our commercial areas.
This environmental work involves dedication meeting after meeting, column after column, year after year. This is where Hano has been, never giving up, never losing interest, always optimistic that we Lagunans will find a way toward the best answer.
This is why Arnold Hano deserves the environmental award, a recognition for a lifetime of service and inspiration to the community.