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Laguna Beach

City’s Settlement Agreement takes precious economic resources away from improving the environment

The recent Settlement Agreement for the 2019 Thanksgiving Weekend Raw Sewage Discharge of 1.7 million gallons to Laguna’s Bluebelt and State Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) may preclude the opportunity to modernize the Coastal Treatment Plant per City Resolutions of 2014 or retire the remote facility for a safer, more efficient system.

The City’s Settlement Agreement with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (SDRWQCB) takes funds designed for environmental programs like kelp reforestation or the Aliso Estuary Restoration Project to pay for a sewer pipe intertie necessary to deal with sewer pipes scattered along and sometimes under Aliso Creek. An Army Corp of Engineers project in 2005 estimated the cost to protect sewer pipes along Aliso Creek would be $100 million. The Thanksgiving Raw Sewage Discharges are a wake-up call and a direct result of deferred maintenance and a poorly sited Coastal Treatment Plant located at the bottom of a four-mile-long dry, grassy valley ending in a steep canyon with walls approaching 1,000 feet.

Even the Mayor of Laguna Beach has testified the Coastal Treatment Plant would never be built at its present location since it is located in a remote Extremely High Wildfire Hazard Area mapped by Cal Fire, has difficult accessibility for emergencies, and lacks reliable communication for a quick response to sewer pipes slowly deteriorating from creek erosion, age, and neglect.

The California Water Code defines a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) as “an environmentally beneficial project that a person agrees to undertake…which would not be undertaken in the absence of an enforcement action.”

SEPs can also help to further the Water Boards’ mission “to preserve, enhance, and restore the quality of California’s water resources…for the protection of the environment, public health, and all beneficial uses, and to ensure proper water resource allocation and efficient use, for the benefit of present and future generations.” Part of this mission includes furthering the human right to clean ocean water, ensuring environmental justice, and addressing climate change now.

Environmental Justice considers “the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to…enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” South Laguna citizens are denied voting rights on water and sewer issues while experiencing the full impacts of sewage operations of the City and the entire Aliso Watershed of over 2.5 million residents discharging a daily average of 10 million gallons of secondary sewage just 1.5 miles off of Aliso Beach. South Laguna citizens are directly affected by violations yet are not allowed a role as key stakeholders in confidential City settlement negotiations.

Climate change projects must address building resilience to climate change impacts on ecosystems such as the dwindling areas of nearby kelp forests suffering from sewage impacts and neglect. In today’s world of rapid climate change, kelp forests can play a pivotal role by growing as much as two feet per day to sequester carbon while providing us with clean air, clean sea water, and protection of beaches and bluffs from wave erosion. 

The 2014 City Resolution to modernize the 50-year-old Coastal Treatment Plant to address climate change and ensure environmental justice for 5,000 South Laguna citizens and millions of visitors from regional disadvantaged communities to local beaches requires a way to open up genuine representation of key stakeholders and development of actual ecosystem restoration within the 2019 Thanksgiving Sewage Discharge impact areas off of Bluebird Beach and Aliso Beach.

The City’s Settlement Agreement takes precious economic resources away from improving the environment to pay for necessary repairs that have deteriorated from a poorly designed sewage system suffering decades of corrosion, neglect, and poor maintenance. As always, Laguna citizens are ready and willing to help advance sustainable solutions to ocean pollution.

If we are to do our part, we need to dedicate ourselves to supporting environmental justice and advance genuine ecosystem opportunities through supplemental environmental projects aimed at addressing climate change and promoting healthier coastal waters.

Mike Beanan

South Laguna

Ocean Avenue dining decks and proposed one-way street

I have noticed that new dining decks have been installed on lower Ocean Avenue in front of the new restaurant moving into the former Laguna Federal site, as well as in front of the Marine Room. In addition, the yellow loading zone in front of the Newsstand has been eliminated. The Laguna Federal restaurant site already has a large outdoor seating area on site. Why does it need additional curbside dining? This is not a great way for a new restaurant to introduce itself to local residents.

In addition, I have been told that patrons of the Marine Room, which is a bar, now can order food from the taco restaurant on the corner. Therefore, the Marine Room becomes a “restaurant.” Who is making these decisions? Were non-restaurant businesses in the area consulted about the elimination of parking spaces? Explanations are needed!

These dining decks differ from the ones on Forest Avenue, where there is no vehicle traffic. If lower Ocean Avenue becomes a one-way street, as has been proposed, it has the possibility of becoming something of a speedway to the Coast Highway. With the dining decks on the street, there is the possibility of bad accidents, for which the city could be liable. And, who wants to breathe in vehicle exhaust while eating?

Speaking of making Ocean Avenue a one-way street – another not well-thought-out decision. It will be great for the commuter traffic that comes off the toll road, then down Laguna Canyon Road, and on to a one-way Ocean Avenue to the Coast Highway – a regular speedway. It will be lousy for residents, many of whom, including myself, try to stay off the Coast Highway as much as possible! It will be much less convenient to park downtown, especially on lower Ocean Avenue, if the only way out is the Coast Highway. Light needs to be shed on how important decisions such as this are made, along with more opportunities for public input. And it is not too late!

Anne Frank

Laguna Beach

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