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Laguna Beach

Monitoring our ocean with a positive outcome

(Sent to the Laguna Beach City Council)

Hello Councilmembers,

I have been doing ocean monitoring and restoration in Laguna Beach for 19 years. Having worked on kelp forest restoration and abalone restoration in Laguna, I was filled with anxiety as the oil spill approached our reefs earlier this month. 

I have begun to assess the reefs for evidence of damage from the spill. My team and I did six dives from CdM to Emerald Bay yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 20) and we plan on diving Crescent to Dana Point next Wednesday, Oct. 27.

So far, we have not seen any evidence of oil on the reefs. We know what “normal” looks like since we dive every week along the coast collecting data. We went out to look for “abnormal.” We saw no evidence, on the macro scale, of any oil on the surfaces of animals, algae, or reefs; there were no dead animals on the bottom; and the animals we did encounter were acting “normally” and responsive. 

I thought you might be relieved to have this information. I was going to share it during public comment next week at your meeting. 

Have a great day!


Capt. Nancy L. Caruso

Marine Biologist/Founder

Get Inspired

PMMC remains busy following spill, but news is optimistic

(The letter below was an oil spill update distributed last week by Pacific Marine Mammal Center CEO Peter Chang.)

As we come to a close of another busy week, I wanted to share with you all that Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) continues to prioritize, monitor, and actively support in the recovery and clean-up efforts of the October 2 Huntington Beach crude oil spill. As some of you may have seen reported, it appears that the oil spill could be smaller than what was originally projected. This is GREAT news, but nonetheless, the impacts will continue to be felt over the next several weeks, months, and even years.

PMMC’s team of “activated” personnel by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) continue to be very involved with the official wildlife recovery process and response teams. Our staff has been canvasing the beaches throughout the week, including over the weekends. At this point, although we continue to plan for the worst, it’s been mostly birds that have been recovered and rescued. There have only been three mammals picked up as of the end of yesterday, October 14.

Only one of the mammals was alive, which was a Northern Right Whale Dolphin that PMMC responded to on the evening of October 13 under the direction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and OWCN. Upon arrival, the hard decision for humane euthanasia was decided that was best for the animal. The cause of death has yet to be determined, and it’s still unknown if the animal was impacted by the oil spill. A necropsy was performed yesterday by PMMC’s Dr. Alissa Deming and Dr. Kaylee Brown, along with our incredible necropsy team. Findings still to come.

In the meantime, we continue to be very busy. 

–In this past week, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla reached out. They are the designated primary site to handle the necropsy and analysis of all dead dolphins, whales and turtles related to the oil spill, but they’ve been experiencing a shortfall of resources due to continued COVID restrictions, which are much stricter at the Federal level. Fortunately, we were able to respond pretty quickly, and specifically…As of next week, PMMC will be adding an additional paid veterinarian to the team that will be based at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. She will be leading the development and implementation of all required oil response protocols with regard to dead cetacean and turtles. In addition, she will also be the primary scientist performing the necropsies there. 

–We continue to actively support our other sister agencies in a number of ways. Since the start of the crisis, we’ve been providing shipments of supplies to the Huntington Beach Wetlands and Wildlife Center. We now also have designated PMMC volunteers on-site at their location daily to handle phone calls and other support, as they are the primary triage center for the impacted birds.

More updates to share in the coming weeks, and above all, thank you for your ongoing support. 

Peter Chang, Chief Executive Officer

Pacific Marine Mammal Center

“Laguna Residents First Initiative is an answer looking for a problem that doesn’t exist”

It is trick or treat time in our fair hamlet and from what I continue to read in our local papers, it seems that more tricks are being played than treats. The re-hash of elections past. The non-fact-based missives purported as absolutes is getting childish at best. 

I do believe that some of our neighbors, friends and fellow residents truly believe that there are not enough firewalls in place in city hall that oversee what can or cannot be developed in our commercial and residential zones to the point where they feel their “Beautiful Laguna overlay zoning district” is the only solution to keeping Laguna Beach safe and sound from evil developers waiting in the wings to intensify all land uses in more than 50 percent of town. 

Let’s talk about development for a minute. We all love our theater. Thank you, Mr. Aufdenkamp! We love the Hotel Laguna. Thanks Mr. Underwood! We love the Coast Inn. Thank you, Mr. Smith! We love the Coast Liquor store. Thank you for your design, Mr. Abel. We also love the Heisler building, The White House and Pyne Castle! Guess what my friends, they were ALL developers and/or designers of these great landmark buildings that we all cherish. 

Would any of these buildings be allowed to be built today here in Laguna? Would they pass muster under the new overlay zone? Would those visionaries of these landmark buildings be vilified as “evil developers” by those residents who want nothing more than to turn back the clock to some idealized time in our history? What would Laguna Beach be without these magnificent buildings?

There is an old saying, “People don’t decide issues. They vote for the people who decide issues.” Don’t like city council. Run for council. Don’t like the planning commission? Don’t appoint them. Same with Design Review board, etc. 

Let’s talk about fiscal impact of special elections. In the past five years there were roughly 18 projects and currently a dozen pending projects that would have to go before the entire community for an up or down vote. That is 30 projects! A rough estimate of the costs for these special elections in noticing, staff time and voter pamphlets could be up to $60,000 each election, equating to $1,800,000! 

Who pays? Residents? Shop owners? Building owners? “Evil developers?”

No one in their right mind looking at this additional financial burden to do anything in the city where it is already excessively hard to open a store, new business or remodel/build anything would ever think of bringing viable creative projects to town. New business/development need not apply, says Laguna Residents First! 

We have plenty of firewalls to non-creative, over-development. City council, planning commission, design review board, the building department, the fire department and our coastal commission. Laguna Residents First Initiative is an answer looking for a problem that doesn’t exist. Nobody on city council or any of the appointed oversite committees wants to aspire to be Huntington Beach or Dana Point. That is pure fantasy and fear mongering and is immature nonsense at best! Creative visionary solutions should be the goal. Not pointless initiatives proposed by the “Lingering Resentment Factory”.


Jorg Dubin, 45-year resident

Planning Commissioner

Laguna Beach

There are options to the Ti Amo site for a fire station

At the August 24th City Council meeting, Mayor Whalen stated that although the city is buying the Ti Amo property, it might not be used as a fire station. He implied that the city would be continuing to look at several other options.

As we noted at the hearing, there are many reasons why the South Laguna Civic Association and virtually all of the 50-plus participants in its August 11th Zoom Community Input meeting recommended against the Ti Amo site:

–Access is difficult and less safe since there is no side street to allow entrance to and exit from the busy Coast Highway.

–It would put the busy use directly adjacent to residences on three sides.

–It would create negative impacts on views of neighbors and the character of the village commercial area.

–It may require removal and/or serious reduction of the landscaped median which welcomes people coming from the south to Laguna Beach and serves as a centerpiece of the neighborhood.

–It may violate zoning restrictions on height and setbacks.

–The proposed secondary access to the rear of the building takes away an existing neighborhood access route and may violate prescriptive rights of use.

So, we are relieved to learn that the city says it is continuing to explore several alternative locations for a fire station and other options for use of the Ti Amo site.

At this point there are at least four viable alternative sites that could accommodate a fire station or be used to address the other important community needs listed by the city as possibilities for Ti Amo.

1. The three-lot site fronting Coast Highway at 5th Ave. is for sale. It is vacant, has desirable side street access to Coast Highway. At 11,332 sq. ft. it is larger than the Ti Amo site, could offer on-grade parking for firefighters’ vehicles avoiding the need to construct an expensive basement under 50,000-pound fire engines and has minimal view impacts on neighbors.

2. An approximate 3,000 sq. ft. dental building occupies a 17,552 sq. ft. site at 5th Avenue and Coast Highway and while not on the market for sale, the closed session agenda for the Sept. 21, 2021 City Council meeting indicate(ed) there may be discussions between the city and the owner. It shares the advantages of the three-lot site described above (#1) but is a larger site.

3. 31652 Second Avenue is for sale. The city liked the property well enough that it unsuccessfully attempted to purchase it previously. It is located directly across Virginia Way from the existing fire station and offers the opportunity for a village-oriented creative solution to the fire station dilemma. If used as a fire station, it should face the least neighbor opposition since it is virtually adjacent to the existing fire station and, with the three city-owned sites adjacent to the fire station there would be 14,289 sq. ft. of city-owned property in that location. 

4. The Catalina site – which was attractive enough to the city to have previously been under contract to be purchased by the city – is now once again available for purchase. Though it is less acceptable as a location for a fire station, it could provide a perfect adjunct to the Village Green Park, providing a much-appreciated amenity for the neighborhood.

We urge you to think of your acquisitions in a comprehensive context relating to the whole South Laguna village area. Now is the time to make use of the potential offered by the several vacant properties to fulfill a wide range of community and general public needs. We invite the city to work with SLCA and the community to minimize impacts and provide long-needed benefits.

Greg O’Loughlin, President

South Laguna Civic Association

Time for retirement and pension funds to divest of fossil fuel investments

It is time to help move our world away from pollution and climate change. One practical solution is divestment from big oil and big plastic. 

SB-185 (2015) and SB-964 (2018) require public retirement systems to divest from thermal coal companies and climate-related financial risk. The City of Berkeley divested from publicly traded fossil fuel companies and banks that finance pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure.  

I propose that California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) – the largest pension fund in the country which has $30 billion invested in fossil fuels (do you know the fossil fuel industry has been aggressively expanding in plastics?) sell those assets post haste.

All public entities, like city pension funds, should do the same.

Assemblymember Petrie-Norris and Senator Min, we’re counting on you to introduce a divestment bill. We cannot afford another oil spill, not financially, not emotionally. 

Jonathan Lukoff

Laguna Beach

Sounds like council violated Brown Act?

“City Council convened last week on Tuesday, Sept. 28, for a special closed session that resulted in a 3-2 vote (Toni Iseman and George Weiss dissenting) directing the City Attorney to draft a letter to the District Attorney. The letter would be in response to the D.A. noting “evidence of substantial Brown Act violations” with the council during a June closed session regarding Hotel Laguna.”

So, it sounds like the city council violated the Brown in order to have the City Attorney draft a letter in defense or their previous violation of the Brown Act? Or am I mistaken? (

Jason White

Laguna Beach

PMMC thanks friends for reaching out during this time of trials

Since late Saturday evening, the team at Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) has embraced this incredibly undesirable role put in front of them. In spite of that, it’s been such a pleasure watching their resiliency and passion shine as even now they continue to navigate so many unknowns of this multi-Fed/State agency effort on one of the largest oil spills in recent California history.

Yet, they have not been alone…

Almost as soon as the team was activated to prepare for the inevitable need to care for impacted marine mammals, the phone has been off the hook…but for all the right reasons. Hundreds have reached out, short of being asked, to inquire how they can help in some form or fashion. And for that, on behalf of the organization, I’m forever thankful. Thankful for your gracious monetary donations. Thankful for your in-kind support of much-needed supplies. Thankful for your offers to volunteer. Thankful for all of the fundraisers and material drives that you’ve set up. Thankful for your storytelling about our efforts to the greater community. 

Thankful for you AGAIN putting PMMC on your shoulders in getting through a historically difficult time. 

Peter Chang

Chief Executive Officer

Pacific Marine Mammal Center

Why are the beaches closed?

If we all as citizens pitch in to clean up oil and tar should they appear on the sands of our seashore, does it make any sense to close the beaches? It wonders me.

Bill Anderson, M.D.
Laguna Beach

Ballot initiative encompasses too much

There is a lot to digest within the Laguna Residents First (LRF) purposed ballot initiative and its impacts are still unclear. I have researched this initiative, others like it and have sought advice from professionals to understand it further. It’s very complex in nature and I still have questions, as I’m sure others in the community do.

As proposed, the Initiative’s “Beautiful Laguna” Overlay Zone could impact more than 7,000 parcels along Coast Highway and the Canyon Road (50 percent+). This sparks the questions – Does this zone encompass infrastructure projects, parking structures, city buildings, fire stations, schools, condo buildings, apartment buildings, affordable housing projects and commercial buildings? What specifically is enhancing Laguna Beach’s beautification or is it simply tightening the reigns on any development? How many projects would have been affected in this scope over the last few years? 5, 10 or 20+ projects? 

“Building height” has been used as a major point of discussion within the initiative. I and most residents can agree that the 36’ mark and other code heights have been a staple of the building code that has helped keep Laguna’s character and charm. In my dealings with the height code, I found our municipal code to have some elements of code collision that do need additional clarity. The proposed initiative does attempt to offer clearer definitions to the finished floor, natural grade and finished roof height as starting points for the 36’. However, it doesn’t address many code sections, and, unfortunately, the proposed initiative would not create a situation to assure a rational 36’ height restriction. 

If this Initiative passes it will have a similar effect to Dana Point’s Measure H leaving language left up to staff and lawyers to interpret. Which is why, the typical process for amendments would include staff analysis and property owners and community comments. As proposed, the Initiative only takes the sole perspective of the leaders of the Political Action Committee – Laguna Residents First, excluding all others from the process of helping craft a workable document. 

I find this proposal to be too impactful, casting a net that is too large and with too many unintended consequences. The Initiative includes language and definitions for “Major Remodel,” “Cumulative Effect” and “Average Daily Trips” which contrast and complicate the development standards and needs further professional evaluation. The definitions stated within the Initiative were clearly copied from our neighboring cities such as Dana Point (Measure H) and Costa Mesa (Measure Y). Those measures have acted as a moratorium, stopping potential projects from being proposed and forcing many sites to be left empty and unchanged. 

In conclusion, I am still looking for more reasonable information on the impacts of this Initiative, which is why I will be tuning into the October 5th City Council Meeting (Agenda Item 16) to hear more of the city’s analysis of this Initiative.

Louis Weil

Laguna Beach

Concerns about Ordinance for Defensible Space…remember, green doesn’t burn

(Letter addressed to Laguna Beach Mayor and City Council)

I’m writing you today to ask that you not vote in the adoption of the Ordinance for Defensible Space to the City’s Fire Codes on October 5, 2021. 

I wasn’t able to call in during the last council meeting to ask if a consideration for properties that live on hillsides and steep slopes has been considered? I’ve been in Laguna Beach for 61 years and for years we’ve planted our slopes and steep hillsides with trees, shrubs, and ground covers to keep the topsoil and hillsides from sliding into the yards of our neighbors or into the streets where it will end up in the ocean. The roots of trees are needed to hold deep down under the hillside, shrubs roots are needed to hold topsoil and stop run off, the groundcovers hold the topsoil and stop ponding rains from washing off the mulches and topsoil.   

In 2008 when our property required the undergrounding to be installed it required us to sleeve up the steep hillside. We had to remove and thin the plant material for the crews to be able to work on the steep terrain, and during the 2010 rains a majority of our hillside slid down to the street below, only the area that the undergrounding was installed in stayed due to our crews compacting the soil correctly. The hillside slid due to the fact we removed a lot of the foliage that was protecting it. 

I will warn you if it was the city that required us to remove that foliage we would have sued, and if you force us to remove the important trees, shrubs or groundcover off my hillside and we have a slope failure we won’t hesitate to bring a lawsuit against the city, so please take another look at this ordinance.     

I was here in 1993 and I agree with our fire department that they need to have a defensible way to address fires and as a landscape contractor I feel that all trees and shrubs should be kept clear of debris and dead material not only for fire prevention but for the tree and shrubs health.   

I have also been here when it has flooded many times in Laguna and all of us homeowners who live on slopes and steep hillsides are so grateful for our trees and shrubs during these storms. 

I am sure that during the fire in 1993 even if every house on Mystic Hills had a defensible space as described in this ordinance they still would have burned. I saw that 40-foot wall of fire going up the hill behind City Hall and there is no way anything was going to stop it with the winds blowing as hard as they were. 

When they started the evacuation for Bluebird Canyon, I was hosing down my mother’s home (and) I saw red hot ashes the size of my foot (woman’s size 7) falling onto the wooden deck, trees and shrubs and the ashes went out when they landed on the green trees, even a pine tree, but when the ashes landed on the shade umbrella it burnt holes in it. 

One of my friends is a fireman and during that fire he was sent from his firehouse in San Juan Capistrano to the Malibu Fire and when Laguna became out of control they were sent here and all they could do was line up all the firetrucks along Top of The World Drive to try to stop it. He said most of the guys were speechless and had tears in their eyes as they watched Mystic Hills burn because even with a defensible yard these firefighters couldn’t get close enough to stop that monster fire. 

Please do not vote for this on October 5th but go over this ordinance and consider how this will impact the slopes and steep hillsides and that it isn’t the green foliage that burns but patio furniture, umbrellas, and woodpiles. I feel this is a drastic measure and will have effects on our health as a community because the trees are needed for shade, shrubs and flowers are needed for our mental health; we need beauty all around us to stay calm, it has been proven that landscaping along roadways can calm and slow traffic. 

So, let’s really look at this ordinance and remember green doesn’t burn. Thank you for considering another look at this,

Liza Interlandi Stewart

Laguna Beach

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