2002 City Council turned down over $9 million from OC & abandoned a viable project to improve downtown channel

The project may have prevented last week’s flood downtown

Last week’s flooding in the downtown area was remarkably similar to the flooding of Jan 10, 1995. Storm runoff during an El Niño event poured over the channel opening on Beach Street between Broadway and Ocean Ave and created a 1-2 foot high stream of rushing water on downtown streets.

The problem with the Laguna Canyon Channel is simple. It’s like trying to put 10 pounds of something into a five pound bag – when you do that – something has to give.

The capacity of the channel above downtown is 2200 cubic feet per second (cps) and at Beach Street the capacity is 800 cps. That’s a reversal of the accepted design for a flood channel where the downhill portion will have a capacity larger than the upstream. Sort of like putting five pounds in a ten pound bag.

Laguna Flood Photo

Photo by Jim Rue

Laguna Canyon Channel at Beach Street on Dec 22

The US Army Corps of Engineers and the County of Orange had been studying possible improvements for the Laguna Canyon Channel for nearly a decade in 1995. That flood event, which was also a featured report on all national news network shows showing swift water rescue boats puttering down Ocean Ave, pushed the button to get the channel fixed.

In 2001, the County presented the City of Laguna Beach with a viable project where the Corps of Engineers would be the lead agency. The project had a price tag of $10.8 million and the City’s portion was $1.8 million, which then City Manager Ken Frank told the Council was available.  After several hearings by the City Council in 2001 and early 2002, a final Council meeting was held in June of 2002.

Until that meeting, the project appeared to have enough Council votes to move it forward. But when the votes were counted, the Council voted 4-1 to abandon the project.

Cheryl Kinsman was the one vote. “I think it can be said that it was a decision by the majority – a bad decision.

“I remember clearly thinking to myself ‘how could we be letting this happen? We’re giving away nine million dollars,’” Kinsman said this week.

She said the opposition that swayed the Council that June came from some downtown businesses concerned about loss revenues from a 9-month construction project on Broadway and environmentalists. The latter expressed concerns over what would be done with any contaminated soil that might be left over from abandoned gas stations that had once been where Main Beach is today. Steve May, then the city engineer, said the County project would have an element to handle that. The County would have limited the City’s exposure to costs for contaminated soil removal to no more than 25% of the total.

“Roger von Butow and Surfrider Foundation said they would come back to us and have a better way to make improvements and the funding to pay for it. Back then Roger came before the Council time and again and every time I asked him if he had the project and money with him. He never did…” she said.

The four Councilmembers who voted to abandon were Wayne Baglin, Steve Dicterow, Paul Freeman and Toni Iseman, who is a current Councilmember.

Iseman did not return a call Thursday.

At the time, Iseman said she was opposed in part because the planned improvements wouldn’t handle a 100-year flood. The term has to do with “storm frequency recurrence levels” not a term of time per se.

In a report to the City by consulting firm The Keith Companies in Sept of 1996 concerning the 1995 flood event, it was stated that the storm frequency recurrence level then was “…a 10 to 15 year storm level.” The planned 2002 improvements by the County would have amply contained that level.

Councilmember Elizabeth Pearson was elected and Baglin was defeated in 2004. Pearson said she and Kinsman approached the County after she was elected to see if the funding were still available. “It felt as if they were laughing at us for asking. The money had long before been allocated to another project in some other city,” said Pearson.

Kinsman summed up her feelings saying, “So we end up with an 80-year-old flood control channel.”

The channel was built in 1929.

Updates from the Laguna Beach City Manager’s office

Released: Dec 30, 2010

City Storm Response Costs – A preliminary tally thus far is that the City has incurred about $400,000 in costs for contractors to clean up mud and debris and spent another $50,000 in overtime for City employees.  Additional contractual services will be necessary to continue cleanup efforts but at a much lower magnitude.  These figures do not include the cost to repair any City facilities or infrastructure.

Cars and Containers Removed – The final containers were removed from the private creek in the Sun Valley neighborhood by the owner of the containers.  The creek is now clear of railroad containers and cars.

Friday Meeting for Victims – There will be a meeting on Friday for victims of the rainstorms at 1 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

Promotion in Finance-Administrative Services Department – The Finance Division is pleased to announce that Kelli Van Eyke has been promoted to full-time Office Specialist Cashier.  Kelli has been with the Finance Department as a part-time Office Specialist for the past three years.  Her previous duties included assisting in payroll, accounts payable and cashier back-up.  Her experience and enthusiasm will serve the Counter well.  She started as Cashier on Dec 27.

First Friday’s Flicks at the Forum – The Arts Commission will be screening the documentary film “The Radiant Child – Jean-Michel Basquiat” on Friday, Jan 7, 2011 at 7 p.m. at the Forum Theatre on the Festival of Arts grounds. The screening is free and will be followed by a post film discussion. This program has been funded by the lodging establishments and City of Laguna Beach.

Artist Open Studios – On Saturday, Jan 8, 2011 artists will be opening their studios from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This self-guided tour is free and is a rare opportunity to peer into the creative spaces of 24 of Laguna’s top artists. It’s also a great chance to buy local art, right from the source. This program is funded by the lodging establishments and City of Laguna Beach.

Lifeguard Headquarters and Main Beach Restrooms – On Jan 12, 2011, the Coastal Commission will consider an amendment to the City’s Local Coastal Program, which would allow this project to proceed as approved by the City Council.  This project combines the current restrooms at North Main Beach and a Lifeguard Headquarters facility into one building.  These modifications would allow the beach and bluff near the existing restrooms to be restored to a natural condition while providing modern facilities for lifeguards.  The Coastal Commission meeting will be held in Long Beach.

Right Place at the Right Time – On Wednesday evening, Sergeant Eric Lee was positioning his police vehicle at Broadway and Coast Hwy at the Village Mart, to watch for the suspect vehicle used in an armed robbery of the Jack-in-the-Box.  The same suspect suddenly walked out the front door of the store with the clerk behind him yelling, “He has a gun.”  Sgt. Lee quickly took the suspect into custody clearing over 30 similar robberies in the county!

City Manager issues advisory for damaged properties

Advisory regarding repair of flood damaged properties

The recent rainstorm has caused damage to many homes and businesses in the City.  In order to assist property owners in the repair of their properties, the building division is advising the following:

Water damaged drywall or other wall covering, flooring, and insulation should be removed to reduce the risk of mold formation.  The exposed framing and concrete slab should be dried prior to installing new wall or floor covering.  A building permit and inspections are required to install new wall covering.

Electrical wiring that is below the “water line” of the flooding or mudflow should be replaced.

Use a licensed electrical contractor to make any repairs to electrical systems.

Water damage to electrical wiring cannot be seen by the naked eye and may result in injury or fire if not replaced.

An electrical service or sub-panel, including circuit breakers, below the “water line” of the flooding or mudflow must also be replaced unless certification acceptable to the Building Official for the existing service or sub-panel is provided.

An electrical permit is required for repairs to electrical systems.

Heaters below the “water line” of the flooding or mudflow should be repaired or replaced.  All ducts below the “water line” must be replaced.  Ducts that have been subjected to flooding are a source of mold.  A permit is required for repair or replacement of heating equipment and for the replacement of ducts.

After damaged interior wall covering is removed and after obtaining the required permits, it is permissible to install new electrical wiring while the framing is drying.  After the framing is dry, a rough electrical inspection can be requested.  Once the rough electrical is approved, interior wall covering may be installed and inspected.

Please direct any questions regarding this matter to Senior Building Inspector/Plan Checker Douglas Miller at 497- 0715.

Updates from the Laguna Beach City Manager’s office

Released: Dec 23, 2010

The members of the City Council and City staff would like to thank everyone for heeding our warnings to stay out of the downtown yesterday.  Because of your cooperation, we were able to get it cleaned up and open for business.

Storm Recovery Update (12/23/10 at 1 p.m.):

• Coast Highway and the downtown are completely open.  Come shop in Laguna Beach and visit the restaurants!

• Laguna Canyon Road should reopen tonight or early tomorrow morning.  Caltrans is working to clear the roadway.

• Portions of the boardwalk at Main Beach will be closed until repairs can be made.  This may take several weeks.

• Cleanup work will continue today and tomorrow.

• 46 businesses and over 20 homes have damage.

• As of this morning, residents are being allowed back into to Hidden Valley.  No other evacuations are underway.

• The Red Cross has opened an emergency shelter at the high school, which will remain open tonight.

• Homeless persons will be staying overnight at the shelter at the high school again tonight and will not be utilizing the Alternative Sleeping Location until Friday night.  This is due to the ongoing work to reopen Laguna Canyon Road.

• Today, two cars and four railroad containers are being removed from east end of the private portion of Laguna Canyon Creek.

• There were sewage spills from a couple of city lift stations and the Coastal Treatment Plant.  Most other cities or special districts also had sewage spills.  As a result, the County Health Department closed beaches from roughly Crystal Cove to 12 miles to the south.

Proclamation of Local Emergency and Special City Council meeting - Early Wednesday morning I signed a proclamation declaring a local emergency (copy attached).  Per the Municipal Code, the City Council must ratify the proclamation within seven days.  Mayor Iseman has called a special meeting of the City Council for 9 a.m. on Friday morning to consider ratification of the proclamation.  The meeting will be held in the City Council chambers.

Disaster communications - During the disaster, the City used several forms of communication to try and keep the residents and businesses informed.  The Alert OC system was used to provide automated calling information to residents in the morning and the evening; emails were used to provide Traffic Alerts; the Traffic Hotline phone number of 949-497-0747 had a recorded message; and media releases were used to try and keep the media informed.  Citizens can sign up for these services as follows:

• The Alert OC system calls people at their homes or businesses based on the phone numbers they have listed in the phone system.  However, citizens can sign up to also receive phone calls on their cell phones by going to: http://www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/police/resources/alertoc.asp

• Citizens can also sign up to receive email Traffic Alerts by visiting the City of Laguna Beach website at: www.lagunabeachcity.net/services/trafficalerts.asp

Special Building Division Hours – City Hall is closed tomorrow but the building division will be open with limited staff from 8:00 a.m. to noon to assist property owners damaged by the floods.

Debris Removal - Individuals can drop off storm related dirt and debris at large Waste Management bins located in the parking lots at Albertsons and Pavilions for the next week. The City’s Peppertree parking lot and the City’s parking lot adjacent to Hennessey’s will have bins available through the weekend.  Residents and Contractors can also bring storm related mud and soil to the Act V parking lot for the next week.

Mutual Aide from Fire Agencies During the flooding incident, the City received assistance from the following fire departments: Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Orange, Orange County Fire Authority and Santa Ana.  We appreciate and are grateful for their assistance.

Coastal Commission Update - At the request of Coastal Commission staff, the City is withdrawing most of an application for an amendment to its certified Local Coastal Program (LCP).  This particular application included ordinance amendments regarding a change to grading/construction material hauling hours, modification of the thresholds for development requiring design review, modification to design review noticing requirements, exemption of elevator shafts from floor area calculation, regulations regarding development on nonconforming lots and additions to legal nonconforming structures without a variance, and an update to the floodplain ordinance.  Revisions to the medical marijuana ordinance that were part of the ordinance amendments will continue to the Coastal Commission for consideration in January.  The reason for the withdrawal is that it will take the Coastal staff additional time beyond the Coastal Commission’s legal limit of 15 months to take an action on a LCP amendment application for a thorough review.  The City is working with Coastal staff and resubmit a new application in the future.

Riddle Field - Baseball Infield Replacement Project - This past week Laguna Beach Little League teamed up with the head groundskeeper of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to restore and renovate Riddle Field for Spring 2011 use.  Along with removing and replacing the existing infield grass, new infield playing surface mix was added, irrigation heads were adjusted, and the pitcher’s mound was rebuilt.  Waste Management provided the hauling of waste materials.

Promotion in Water Quality Department – The Water Quality Department is very glad to welcome their newest member, Ashley Collins, as the new Administrative Assistant.  As the Senior Office Specialist for the Personnel Division, Ashley worked with several City departments.  Her experience and enthusiasm will serve the Water Quality Department well.  She will start in her new role in mid-January.

Day Without A Bag - In spite of inclement weather conditions, local volunteers handed out over 1,700 free, recycled, reusable grocery bags on last Saturday’s Day Without A Bag event organized by the City. The City thanks those local volunteers and stores that assisted with making the effort a success. A limited number of free bags are still available to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis in the Public Works/Water Quality Department, located on the second floor of City Hall at 505 Forest Avenue. There is a limit of one-bag-per-household.

Updates from the Laguna Beach City Manager’s office

Released: Dec 10, 2010

“Postcards from Laguna” – This week the temporary murals “Postcards from Laguna” were installed at the Bus Depot between Ocean Ave and Broadway on the wall of the Sleepy Hollow Medical Center. The murals were created by Bob Bonn, Patrick Moran, Tom Swimm and Mike Tauber. The installation was funded by the lodging establishments and City of Laguna Beach.

DR Application by the City of Laguna Woods – On Dec 16, the Design Review Board will consider an application by the City of Laguna Woods to construct a 0’-8’ high retaining wall along El Toro Road, near Aliso Creek Road.  The wall is proposed in conjunction with a road widening project being constructed by that agency.  Staff anticipates that property owners in the nearby California Cove neighborhood may appear to testify regarding their desire for a traffic signal on El Toro Road to facilitate vehicular movement in and out of their neighborhood.  A traffic signal is not part of the approved scope of work at this time.

Fire Station No. 2 Rehabilitation Project – The rehabilitation of Fire Station No. 2, located at the corner of Agate Street and Glenneyre Street, is proceeding on schedule and is 50% completed.  There are two different contractors working on the site and they have completed the replacement of roughly 90% of the old shingle siding with new insulation and fiber-cement plank siding.  Progress continues on the replacement of the exterior soffits beneath the roof overhangs and the renovation of the various sheds on the site.  The roofing contractor has installed new insulation and completed the roof sheeting and coating on the apparatus bay and communications building.  The project is scheduled to be complete by mid January.

New ordinance: No BBQ ban but Tiki Torches are out

The Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to support the Fire Dept in its effort to regulate things that can get out of hand and cause a fire. The vote will incorporate the 2010 California Fire Code as amended into the city building and fire code ordinances.

Here’s the way it shakes out:

Permanent BBQ’s to be gas only and require a 10’ separation from combustible materials;

Outdoor permanent fireplaces to be gas only and require a 10’ separation from combustible materials;

Outdoor portable fireplaces, gas only, require 10’ separation from combustible materials;

Portable fire pit or fire bowls, as of June 1, 2011, prohibited in residential, permitted in commercial;

Portable BBQ no restriction, city-wide;

Tiki type torch and other decorative flame prohibited in residential and commercial;

Permanent fire pit, gas only, 10’ separation from combustible material required in low fuel modification zone and 20’ separation required in a high fuel modification zone.

An exit Q & A with City Manager Ken Frank

Retiring City Manager Ken Frank sat with reporters Monday afternoon at City Hall reflecting on his 31 years in that position as he answered questions.

Today will be his final day on the job. John Pietig will take over on Monday, Dec 13.

Frank’s Monday questioners were Claudia Koerner (News Post/OC Register), Rita Robinson (Independent) and StuNewsLaguna. The following is a compilation of some of the questions – Part II

Part I appears below for those who may not have seen same…


Q: What made you be able to last so long on the job?

A: Reasonable and pragmatic Councilmembers. Our Councilmembers are not as interested in seeking higher office as is the case elsewhere. Ours are very interested in what’s best for the City.

Q: How did you go about trying to correct the sewer deficiencies that existed when you arrived on the job?

A: There had been ten years of neglect of the sewer system. The dollars that had been spent by those Councils went toward sewer treatment and nothing on the sewer lines. That caused deterioration. We added a sewer service fee in 1981, which was very small – two or three dollars. Money didn’t come in fast enough and we had more than our fair share of sewer spills. That fee is around $30 now.

Q: How significant, money-wise, has the Montage been for the City

A: It has far exceeded my estimations. It now generates about $4 million annually that goes directly to the City coffers as well as provide a larger percentage of the funding for the Business Improvement District and a large amount for the school district. The income from the Montage has allowed us to improve our public infrastructure. The Montage is our biggest single source for sales tax revenue.

Q: How will the City handle the concerns over the increasing demands placed on city coffers from future pension payouts?

A: It has to start with Councilmembers. The public service unions influence campaigns through direct contributions, endorsements by advertising, working on campaigns and the like. There will have to be a push by elected officials at all levels in the state. I think it’s going to change in Laguna Beach in the next six months if the cities around us make the changes they anticipate. Entry level employees will be where it starts.

Q: How prepared is John Pietig when it comes to replacing you?

A: He’s better prepared than I was when I started. He will have more experience that I had when I began. He has been here for over nine years and he knows the territory and has more experience as an assistant.

Q: What are the most difficult decisions/situations that he will inherit from you?

A: The permanent solutions to the skateboarding and homeless issues. He has been spearheading those efforts, so he’s well prepared.

The community has not been successful in getting a handle on substance abuse in the city. It’s a significant issue – more than people think.

Q: What do you hope to see here over the next 10 or 20 years?

A: We will see the improvements for the animal shelter, Heisler Park, the fire stations and a long-range sewer program. The undergrounding of the utilities in the canyon is beginning now that we have a source for funding most of the costs. The new lifeguard headquarters is essential and we need to have a permanent solution for our homeless issue. They need to have a daytime place for their protection.

Q: How much will you be paid in retirement?

A: I am really not sure. I’ve been trying for three months to get the information from PERS – the actual amount. They are now looking much closer at every retiring employee’s final pay rate – things like when the raises actually occurred and that all requires verification. I do have a firm estimate. It starts with 2.5 per cent for forty years. 31 with Laguna Beach, four in Berkley and five at the League of California Cities. I have no complaints. [That will be 100% of his final salary once the Public Employment Retirement System has its final amount.]

Q: What’s next?

A: I’ve never taken a full two-week vacation in 30 years. We’ll be traveling to visit family and friends all over the country for about six weeks. I’ll stay here for the week after John begins for the retirements of Carol [Bright] and John Gustafson then begin traveling.

He remarked:

I have spent a billion and a half of your money over the past 31 years. I am most happy to have spent $50 million acquiring some 300 acres of open space.

Part I – originally appeared Tuesday, Dec 7

Q: How did Laguna Beach appear to you when you were anticipating starting as the City Manager?

A: I came here from Berkley and saw things here as being similar to some degree. I knew Laguna to be environmentally interested and that was important to me. Both were communities of interested residents.

Q: Have the priorities of the City Council or the town changed since 1979?

A: I don’t think it really has changed that much. There has always been resident participation…

Q: What has been the biggest change over time as you see it?

A: The income level of families is much, much higher. When I arrived the majority of the city’s employees lived in the city. Not now.

Q: How is Laguna unique to you?

A: Open space – creating the Greenbelt. When you drive into town on Coast Highway or the Canyon, you know you’re in Laguna Beach. My goal from the start was to help the Council keep it the way it was.

Q: What’s your process when you know a contentious issue is coming before the Council?

A: When I see a hot issue on the agenda, I spend more time examining and editing the staff reports…I probably spend a much less role in specific things than the public would realize…I don’t have much patience for [staff] meetings.

Q: What would you consider to be your biggest disappointment?

A: The lack of a third story on the Glenneyre parking structure. That would have added 110 parking spaces where we need it the most.

Updates from the Laguna Beach City Manager’s office

Released: Dec 3, 2010

Children’s Holiday Palette Exhibition – At its meeting on Monday, Nov 22, the Arts Commission reviewed 290 entries to the Children’s Holiday Palette Exhibition.  Twelve designs were selected for exhibition by artists:  Emily Becker, Alyssa Bashaw, Lucinda Becker, Kendall Cornell, Ryan Cortellessa, Natalia Hagopian, Jeannette Hunker, Claire Kelly, Brenna Merchant, Jade Misumi, Tatiana Moore, and Cade St. Clair.  The palettes will be on exhibit at City Hall through Jan 3, 2011.

City Hall Exhibition – This week, the Festival of Arts installed an exhibition of paintings from its permanent collection in City Hall.  The exhibit will be on display through March 18, 2011.

Permit Parking in the Diamond Street Area – Councilmembers recently received a letter from a resident on Diamond Street questioning why the temporary parking permit program at the bottom of Diamond Crestview was not still in effect.  When the Council adopted the parking restrictions on December 1, 2005, they were effective for four years until December 1, 2009.  While the City Manager has authority to extend it, given the significant reduction in construction in that neighborhood – as well as the City overall – there is really no justification for extending the parking permit beyond the four year period.

2011 Cultural Arts Funding Application – The City of Laguna Beach is currently accepting applications for Cultural Arts Funding. The application is available on the City’s website and must be submitted by Friday, February 4, 2011. This grant program is made possible from revenues of the Laguna Beach Business Improvement District.

Boardwalk Repaired – One month ago a portion of the Boardwalk was damaged by fire. The lumber needed for repair had to be custom cut and then treated, which took three weeks. The repairs were completed this week.

Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee –This week the Committee received a comprehensive report from the Police Department regarding the proposed skateboard regulations. The Police Chief’s report indicates that some of the Committee’s recommended policies already exist in the Vehicle Code, i.e., skateboarding is a pedestrian activity, skaters under 18 are supposed to wear helmets, etcetera, and that some of the Committee’s recommendations would be in conflict with provisions of the Vehicle Code.  The Committee voted to forward their Draft Proposed Ordinance together with the Police Department report to the City Council. The staff report and recommendations will likely be presented to the City Council in February. The Committee first considered this issue in May 2010 in response to a request from a resident to create regulations restricting skateboarding on streets with a certain grade and to limit allowable speeds.  Public hearings were held on July 22, 2010 and on September 23, 2010 to get input from the community.

Lifeguard Headquarters – The Coastal Commission has tentatively set the dates of January 12-14 to consider amended language to allow the Lifeguard Headquarters project to move forward.  The meeting will be held in Long Beach.  More information will be available when the Coastal Commission finalizes an agenda in early January.

Parking Permits Near Mozambique – The public hearing on this subject has been continued to the City Council meeting of Feb 15.  Additional time is needed to resolve implementation details of the parking permit proposal.


thank you Photo

Staff photos by Maggi Henrikson

Over 350 well-wishers attended a “Thank You Ken” cocktail party and reception hosted by Laguna’s City Councilmembers at [seven-degrees] after work Monday evening. The light-hearted affair included Lagunatics! performing one of their City Manager caricatures in song and genuinely chuckle-emitting comments by Councilmembers.



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