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Council plans budget workshop, regular agenda includes Coastal Fire investigation NDA, Bluebird FMZ, wastewater projects 

By SARA HALL

Following a budget workshop, next week’s City Council meeting agenda includes several interesting items. 

On the consent calendar for the Tuesday (May 24) meeting, council will consider: A non-disclosure agreement between several agencies related to investigating the Laguna Niguel Coastal Fire; items related to the Bluebird Canyon Fuel Modification Zone and wastewater system improvements. Another wastewater project, the North Coast Interceptor Project, is on the agenda during regular business. 

The meeting will start at 3 p.m. with a budget workshop, at which time the council will hear the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022-23, consider a fee schedule update for the community development, water quality, public works and fire departments and review the community development staffing proposal.

According to the staff report, the budget is balanced and city revenues continue to improve, exceeding pre-COVID levels. 

The budget includes the city’s new ambulance program, new community development staff positions, technology projects, renovations for city playgrounds and beach access and funding to continue the Main Beach Management Plan.

The “wish list” includes a request from the Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee to expand the outdoor warning system.

On the consent calendar, the council will consider entering a non-disclosure agreement related to investigating the Laguna Niguel Coastal Fire between the city of Laguna Beach, Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Orange County Fire Authority and the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety.

“As part of the multi-jurisdiction investigation into the fire, the city has been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement,” the staff report reads. “The NDA is intended to allow for the confidential sharing of information between the multiple parties related to the investigation of the cause of the fire and quicker resolution of findings.”

If approved, the council will authorize the city manager to execute the NDA and receive confidential information, along with the LB Fire Department chief. 

The Coastal Fire started on May 11, burned 200 acres, destroyed 20 homes and damaged 11 more.

The item comes after a group of Laguna Niguel residents filed a lawsuit against Southern California Edison, claiming the Coastal Fire was sparked by the company’s faulty equipment. SCE officials have noted that there was “circuit activity” near the area when the blaze started. 

council plans budget hand crew

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A team of experienced hand crews also works in fuel modification zones to clear brush by hand 

Also on the consent calendar, council will consider several items related to the Bluebird Canyon Fuel Modification Zone project.

The item includes: A service provider agreement with Nature’s Image for fuel modification hand crew services in the amount not-to-exceed $3.2 million for a three-year term; authorize the city manager to approve project-related expenses for unforeseen circumstances for an amount not-to-exceed $488,000; appropriate approximately $1.46 million for phase II of the Bluebird Canyon FMZ, with an increase in grant revenue of $1.094 million and authorize the use of $365,000 from the Wildfire Mitigation fund balance to meet the local 25% project matching requirement for phase II of the project.

Historically, the city has retained Nature’s Image to provide hand crew vegetation management services, according to the staff report. After conducting an informal bid process and receiving five responses, city staff interviewed the top candidates and determined that Nature’s Image was the most qualified related to experience in fuel modification, environmental permit conditioned programs and had technical experience with hand crews. 

The city has received several state and federal grants to offset program costs for several city FMZs.

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Also on Tuesday, council will consider approving a low-interest loan totaling up to $7.5 million from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (IBank) for wastewater system improvements.

On December 14, council approved a resolution authorizing applying for the loan, which was subsequently approved by the IBank board on March 23. 

The project follows a wastewater systems council workshop held on February 16, 2021, when several critical capital improvements to the system were identified and approved. At that time, council approved borrowing $16 million over the next two years, broken into two phases to fund the projects. 

The $7.5 million loan will be used to complete six wastewater infrastructure projects, the costliest being the Anita Street lift station reconstruction for $2.5 million. The other five projects are: Pipeline rehabilitation for zone five; siphon inspection; force main inspection; South Orange County Wastewater Coastal Treatment Plant and Project Committee 15 projects and South Coast Water District lift station number two/NCI intertie project.

A related project, and the only item on the agenda during regular business, is the North Coast Interceptor Project alternative six. Approval of the item would incorporate the recommended projects into the Wastewater Finance Plan based on the results of the NCI Condition Assessment Project results.

According to the staff report, the NCI is a 4.5-mile transmission system that carries two million gallons per day of wastewater from Laguna Beach and Emerald Bay service areas to the SOCWA Coastal Treatment Plant in Aliso Canyon. The system was installed in 1987 with a 50-year design service life and is comprised of a single pipeline with pressurized sections and two lift stations. There have been four significant sewer spills from NCI since it was placed into service. 

The council item also includes a resolution authorizing the city to submit an application to IBank for financing a capital improvement project, declaration of official intent to reimburse certain expenditures from the proceeds of an obligation and approving certain other connected matters for a low-interest loan totaling up to $8.5 million.

The item also includes appropriating $300,000 from an available wastewater fund balance for the design and entitlement for the NCI replacement project.

An update to the NCI Reliability Report included two additional project alternatives (on top of the five previously identified in the original report). Alternative six was the highest-ranked project with the primary benefit being that it includes several locations where horizontal directional drilling construction methods will be utilized to help reduce construction impacts in crucial areas, like downtown.

Last on Tuesday’s agenda is a request from Councilmember George Weiss to adopt a climate change resolution.

The budget workshop agenda is available online here and the council agenda is available online here. The budget workshop starts at 3 p.m., closed session starts at 5 p.m., and the regular meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. 

Members of the public may speak in person in council chambers. A face covering is highly recommended while in the chambers.

To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call 669.900.9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 91641723096#. If you have issues getting into the Zoom meeting or raising your virtual hand to comment, you may text the city clerk at 310.722.5051.

The meeting can be watched live on Cox channel 852 or on the city’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.net/agendas

Comments may be submitted on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda in writing via mail to the City Clerk at 505 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, CA, 92651, by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by using this interactive form. Email your comments to the city clerk no later than 3 p.m. on May 23 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order for your comments to be submitted to the members of the City Council the day prior the meeting, which provides them sufficient time to review the comments. 

You may continue to provide written comments up to 12 p.m. on May 24 (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. on May 24, councilmembers may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting. 

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.