City Hall Should Stop Trying to be Our Mother

The following is an op-ed that was published in the OC Register on May 10, 2020 authored by Lincoln Club Member, Robert Loewen. Read below.


The city of Laguna Beach reopened its beaches recently, and today, I took my first walk on the beach since the shutdown in March. Felt good. I suppose I should be grateful that my local government gave me back this right, but I’m not. Instead, I resent that they took it from me in the first place. I feel like a rebellious teenager because our local elected officials are trying to be my mother.

I was blessed with a great mom. From her I learned to follow the Golden Rule, respect authority, and follow the rules while making my way in the world. So this is not a screed against mothers.

My beef is with the Laguna Beach City Council, which wants to be my mother but isn’t. When it reopened the beaches this week, the city only allowed access from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. So the beaches are still shut down after 10 a.m. Based on what?

We live in a small town, so I know some of the council members. The mayor once coached my son’s little league team, and I know him to be a good man. No doubt, he and the other council members thought they had good reasons for shutting down the beaches after 10 a.m., but I am aware of no evidence that the coronavirus would spread materially faster if the beaches were kept open until, say  noon—or even 6 p.m. So the shutdown time was arbitrary. That’s something a mother would do—decide what is best for her children and set clear rules that she knows they can follow to keep them safe. But the city council is not my mother. Honest, mom, I can make good choices on my own if you just let me.

The City Council has also shut down the parks. We live near one of them–Bluebird Park, a wonderland where young children play on all sorts of swings, slides, and climbing apparatus. My kids grew up in that park. In fact, we have been to weddings of people who were toddlers when they became playmates with my oldest daughter there. She was 8 months old when we moved to Laguna.

Now she is 39 with children of her own. Before the shutdown, our grandchildren played there when they visited. No longer. The city has fenced off the playground equipment even though the COVID-19 death toll among children of that age is essentially zero. Arbitrary, but just what a mom would do.

My wife and I have been sheltering in place and wearing masks during our infrequent visits to the grocery story, not because the governor and city council ordered it, but because it is a rational response to a scary pandemic. Social distancing cannot work without such voluntary cooperation.

Yet by following the model of city council as mother, our local government evokes an emotional response in me that feels like teenager rebellion; I want to break their stupid rules just because. I am 72, so it has been a long time since I felt this way.

Assuming that others feel the same, our elected officials should wonder whether their arbitrary rules are counterproductive.

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