Interview by Paulette Wamego
Her pussycat of a Doberman, Pepper, at her side, Laurie Niblock greets a newcomer much as she might a friend she’s known for all of her 30 years in Cayucos. With easy informality, she leads the way into her lovely, art-and plant-filled home, where her pride in Cayucos and her years of service to the community are evident everywhere—views of the ocean and landscape abound, the walls are lined with the work of local artists, all is eclectic and unpretentious.
Laurie is so completely at home in her surroundings, so well known and respected in Cayucos that you might guess she’d lived here all her life, that is, until your ear catches her charming German accent. Laurie grew up in the tiny German village of Northen (near Hannover), immigrated to the US in 1959 and spent many years in New York and Los Angeles before moving to Cayucos in 1990.
After coming to the States, she married, was widowed early, and remarried; worked at Volkswagen of America on both coasts and owned a travel agency. When her husband, Charlie, was ready to retire, the two of them began exploring the Central Coast for a quieter, less crowded home. In Cayucos, they found calm, but it’s difficult to see that Laurie’s life slowed down.
She almost immediately became involved with the Art Association, where she was President for two years and has been “gallery-sitting” one Sunday a month for 30 years. She still volunteers at the Senior Center Thrift Shop, and during her years on the Cayucos Advisory Council served as both President and Vice-President.
Even when Charlie was disabled by two strokes, the two of them remained active and well-known in the community. Laurie edited the Senior Center newsletter for 15 years, partly because it was a task she could do at home while caring for Charlie, who passed away last year.
It was at the Advisory Council that Laurie’s attention turned to preserving Cayucos’ stunning landscape. A now infamous, massive development proposed for the Estero Bluffs incited local leaders and residents to organize, fund-raise and eventually form the Cayucos Land Conservancy. Not only was Laurie a founding member in 1999, but she served as CLC's Board Secretary for over 20 years. Thank you, Laurie!
Of her vision for Cayucos’ future, Laurie says hers is not much of a vision as she’d like to see Cayucos change as little as possible. While she sees no way of stopping development, she believes limited water and community commitment will keep development slow and restricted mostly to in-fill. Toward that goal, she’d like “everybody to be ecologically conscious, think about the earth.”
It is abundantly clear to Laurie that the character of Cayucos has changed in her 30 years here. It has “gentrified” as property values have surged, and few can afford to buy. On the other hand, Laurie finds that our town retains the qualities she loves—it is still close-knit and low-key, and attracts people who are not “show-offs” and don’t flaunt their wealth. Still a travel agent herself, she readily acknowledges the importance of tourism, but hopes it will remain small-scale.
Laurie views the future of the Land Conservancy with obvious enthusiasm. She mentions the Chevron project, but also cautions that many people don’t understand terms like “conservation easement,” and some even hold the misconception that land conservancies are “in the business of taking land away from people.” She sees a need for more effective PR and welcomes the involvement of new members and new ways of presenting the CLC’s mission to the community.
As for her own community involvement, Laurie measures her successes largely in terms of personal satisfaction and intends to continue in her never brash, low-key way, “part of being German,” she says, “as long as my brain works.” It seems clear that Cayucos will have the good fortune to benefit from Laurie’s long experience, unwavering commitment and sharp mind for a long time to come.