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Laguna Beach

 Volume 12, Issue 55  |  July 10, 2020

30th anniversary of “Walk to Save the Canyon” to protest development on Laguna Canyon Rd 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

At 9 a.m. on Nov 11, 1989, thousands of demonstrators, many holding placards denouncing the Irvine Company, marched up Laguna Canyon Road to protest plans for the Laguna Laurel project, a development of more than 3,000 homes and a golf course in Laguna Canyon.

The proposed project site was just outside the Laguna Beach city limits near the Laguna Greenbelt, a portion of rural landscape separating the city from the rest of the county. The Laguna Laurel project called for 3,200 Mediterranean-style houses, apartments, and condominiums on 2,150 acres in Laguna Canyon two miles from the San Diego Freeway (I-405). 

Organizers of the procession said the estimated turnout of 7,000 to 8,000 people sent a message to Bren and the County Board of Supervisors that the massive Laguna Laurel project would not be tolerated in the middle of a huge greenbelt dedicated as open space. 

30th anniversary Sycamore trail

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Sycamore trail in Laguna Wilderness Park

The “Walk to Save the Canyon” was sponsored by the city of Laguna Beach, the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, Laguna Greenbelt Inc., Village Laguna, and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. 

As reported to the LA Times at the time of the walk in 1989, Harry Huggins, executive director of the demonstration, said, “This is common ground for everyone. Business owners and people of every type have joined together – it’s the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” 

Demonstrators left the Festival of the Arts grounds and walked almost four miles along windy Laguna Canyon Road. The walk ended in Sycamore Hills, a small recess where “The Tell” was located near the Laguna Laurel site. (The word tell is an archeological term for an artifact that indicates what came before.) 

30th anniversary Calif buckwheat

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Buckwheat in Laguna Canyon

The Laguna Canyon Project (1980-2010), a long-term environmental art project, used a variety of tactics and techniques to focus attention on Laguna Canyon Road. The project, created by photographic artists Jerry Burchfield and Mark Chamberlain, was a response to explosive growth in south Orange County and especially to the threats of development. What began as a 10-year project lasted for three decades.

In 1989, in celebration of the Orange County Centennial and the Sesquicentennial of the discovery of photography, Chamberlain and Burchfield erected a giant photographic mural in a critical location of the Canyon – the 636-foot-long mural, entitled The Tell.

As this public installation was located across the road from the proposed massive housing development, it became the focal point and catalyst for massive public demonstrations, protesting that project. 

Largely as a consequence of months of community involvement in the building of the mural, and the “Walk to Save the Canyon,” the Irvine Company negotiated with the cities of Irvine and Laguna Beach to release that land for public acquisition. In 1990, Laguna residents voted overwhelmingly to tax themselves to purchase the land to keep it as open space.


Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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