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City staff shares analysis of all South Laguna properties considered for future fire station, Council considers electric vehicle fleet

By SARA HALL

City Council has another packed agenda today (June 29), including hearing a report on all the South Laguna properties analyzed for a potential future fire station, possibly directing staff to evaluate the feasibility of an electric vehicle fleet, and items related to sewer rates, a Caltrans sidewalk project, and several interesting consent calendar items.

The most discussed item will likely be during regular business when council will hear a report summarizing staff’s South Laguna property analysis to replace fire station #4.

Just last week, on June 15, council decided to move forward with acquiring the property at 31727 Coast Hwy, most recently home to the Ti Amo by il Barone restaurant. The city has offered $2.7 million and is in escrow. Last week’s action approved an agreement with Rincon Consultants Inc. in the amount of $89,199 to provide consulting services for the preparation of an initial study. The report should be ready by late summer.

Considering the building size potential, property location, availability, and the lot’s commercial zoning, “the preliminary analysis indicates that the Ti Amo property is the most suitable location for a fire station,” the staff report reads.

A 14,000-square-foot, two-story fire station with underground parking could be developed on the site, according to an architectural firm specializing in developing fire stations that the city retained. It would also have room for an amenity like a public restroom.

The preliminary concept does not identify apparatus ingress and egress from Sea Cliff Drive, rather the initial plan involves apparatus entering and exiting from Coast Highway.

City staff Ti Amo property

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city has entered into escrow to acquire the property at 31727 Coast Hwy, most recently occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone

The current 4,000-square-foot South Laguna fire station #4 was built in the 1940s at 31646 2nd Ave. It has been determined to be “structurally vulnerable, outdated, and it is in need of replacement,” according to the staff report. Staff has been surveying properties since 2019 to find a suitable replacement.

Search criteria included: Lot size of approximately 10,000 square feet or larger, with a building envelope of 5,000 square feet; location does not cause significant alternation to current response time or first-in district; and Coast Highway frontage with side street access off the highway.

City officials evaluated 14 properties to date, including the vacant lots at 31822 and 31832 Coast Hwy.

In a separate vote during the June 15 discussion, council unanimously agreed to direct staff to investigate the potential viability (but not via eminent domain) of the site located on the corner 5th Avenue and Coast Highway.

Several residents mentioned the benefits of the 5th Avenue property and encouraged the council to follow up on it as a possibility.

In the report for today’s (June 29) meeting, staff noted that the properties are undeveloped and would not alter response times. 

After the architectural firm specializing in developing fire stations created a conceptual site plan, it was determined that the location would meet the size requirements if the city could acquire the three contiguous parcels adjacent to 5th Avenue. 

Building a fire station on two of the lots would not be feasible because the width of the two properties would not provide sufficient space for apparatus ingress and egress, according to the staff report. Due to height constraints, the station would likely be limited to a single-story facility. Considering the width of just the two lots and the height limitations, the space would yield too small of a building envelope to meet the requirements of the fire department.

“The property owner has recently indicated that he may be willing to sell two undeveloped lots,” the staff report reads. “The city has made multiple unsuccessful offers for the three undeveloped lots.”

Staff notes in the report that the two-lot option is not recommended as it would not be a viable replacement.

City staff 5th Ave

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City staff considered the viability of a site at 5th Avenue and Coast Highway for a possible future fire station

Other properties evaluated: Fred Lang Park, at Wesley Drive and Coast Highway; 31092 Coast Hwy, the Frontier telecommunication building; 31582 Coast Hwy, at Eagle Rock Way, the Coldwell Banker building; 31610 Coast Hwy, the South Laguna Community Garden property; 31652 2nd Ave, a commercial property; 31678 Coast Hwy, the post office building; 31762 Coast Hwy, South Orange County Wastewater Authority site; 31796 Coast Hwy, on the other corner of 5th Avenue and Coast Highway, currently occupied by Laguna Beach Dental Group; and 32406 and 32402 Coast Hwy, an undeveloped lot and a commercial property currently occupied by a cosmetic surgery practice.

Staff also considered 31526 & 31532 Coast Hwy, a pair of parcels at Catalina Avenue. 

The city attempted to acquire the properties and went as far as entering into escrow with an offer of $1.7 million. The decision to withdraw was due to a complication with ownership that prevented the person who signed the escrow documents to convey a free and clear title. 

Although that wasn’t the only issue, according to Mayor Bob Whalen. The owner also wanted a higher amount and was no longer willing to sell at that price, Whalen explained last week during the council meeting.

Rebuilding at the current location was also analyzed, but because the facility’s design is grandfathered in, any new construction could be up to a 55 percent reduction in the building envelope in order to comply with current zoning codes. They also analyzed the current location plus the adjacent property at 31644 2nd Ave, but it didn’t meet any of LBFD’s requirements.

Council won’t vote on anything on today (June 29) regarding the report.

City staff vehicles

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will discuss possibly directing staff to evaluate the feasibility of a fleet of electric vehicles

Also during today’s (June 29) regular business, council will consider directing the city manager to assess the city’s current vehicle fleet and infrastructure and determine the cost and feasibility of replacing certain vehicles with electric vehicles. 

Councilmember George Weiss submitted the item for discussion about studying the possible replacement of all owned or leased vehicles in the city’s municipal fleet with electric vehicles. 

The city has already made efforts to utilize more fuel-efficient vehicles in its fleet, according to the staff report. 

While some departments currently operate hybrid vehicles, the city could explore expanding its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the report explains. 

“Transportation is the single most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in Laguna Beach and a major source of other air pollutants,” the staff report reads.

Electric vehicles reduce emissions by up to 100 percent compared to gas and diesel-powered cars, they also require less maintenance, improve air quality, contribute fewer ocean contaminants from vehicle oil and radiator leakage, and provide quieter streets and neighborhoods. Electricity is also less expensive as energy prices are more stable over time, staff explain in the report.

“Laguna Beach could lead the way and provide an example for residents in other cities in Orange County,” the staff report reads. “Adopting electric vehicles into Laguna Beach’s municipal fleet is one of the most innovative ways a city can show its leadership and commitment to clean transportation, sustainability, and support its climate action plan.”

This council agenda item comes on the heels of the Environmental Sustainability Committee reviewing and discussing the Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report earlier this week. 

Last Monday (June 21), city environmental specialist Mike Phillips presented the report to the ESC, sharing major areas in the community where greenhouse gas emissions are most often found. The intent of the report is to provide city decision-makers and the community at-large with the necessary information to inform policy decisions and to provide a baseline against which future emission reduction progress can be measured. 

Vehicles were the primary source of emissions, with more than 56.41 percent of total emissions in the city coming from the transportation sector.

Breaking the data down of city/municipal operations, about 35 percent of emissions came from the city’s transit fleet (city owned and/or operated transit fleet, including trolleys), 29 percent from buildings and facilities, and 16 percent from the vehicle fleet (may include personally owned vehicles of city employees).

Introducing electric vehicles into the city’s fleet would require a comprehensive analysis of the corporation yard facility and its fleet maintenance responsibilities. Staff would need to determine the feasibility and cost of adding multiple charging stations and upgrading the electric transformers and panels to provide additional electricity to the site. 

A consulting service would be required to assist staff with the assessment. 

Also on today’s (June 29) agenda is a resolution to amend municipal sewer rates. 

On February 16, council approved a proposed 30-year Financial and Capital Improvement Plan for the wastewater system, contingent upon adoption of sewer user charge increases of 6 percent over the next five years. The increase will fund the proposed sewer system capital improvement program, which includes collection system and lift stations, transmission system, and treatment plant capital improvements.

If approved, the fee for residential sewer service will increase an average of $4.31 per month, ranging from $3.82 per month in the first year to $4.83 per month in the fifth year for single-family homes.

The Caltrans Coast Highway sidewalk improvements project update and cooperative agreement are also on the council’s agenda today (June 29).

If approved, council will: Authorize the city manager to execute a cooperative agreement with Caltrans for aesthetic upgrades to pedestrian facilities on Coast Highway in the amount of $250,000; direct staff to proceed with designing and soliciting bids for decorative handrailing and median landscaping for the south segment; and direct staff to either proceed with implementing the recommended sidewalk gap closures and high-visibility crossing; or return remaining project budget of $5.3 million to the Capital Improvement Fund for future capital improvements.

The project to upgrade the sidewalks between Moss Street and 5th Avenue is meant to meet current accessibility guidelines. Proposed improvements also include roadway resurfacing and adding new sidewalks to create a continuous accessible pedestrian path along at least one side of the street throughout the entire project limits.

Earlier in the meeting, during the consent calendar, council will consider: Rejecting all bids received for the 2021 Citywide Guardrail Improvements, and directing staff to evaluate alternative materials and re-advertise the project for public bids; extending the local emergency declaration related to COVID-19; accepting a donation of two artist-designed benches proposed for the ocean side of Las Brisas, on the pathway linking Heisler Park to Main Beach; a phased reopening plan for recreational facilities and programs; and leasing 35 parking spaces from the Fritz Duda Company at 232 Ocean Ave., for a three-month initial term at a cost not-to-exceed $34,000.

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

The public has the option to attend council meetings in person, with a capacity of up to 80 people in the City Council Chambers. Face coverings will be required at the meetings if members of the public cannot provide proof of vaccination. City Council meetings will also continue to be offered in a hydrid format with an option to attend meetings and participate online via Zoom.

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 97248169921#. 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: www.lagunabeachcity.net/comment. Email your comments to the City Clerk no later than 3 p.m. on June 28 (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 June 29 (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. on June 29, council members may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting.

 

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