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Mayor Jane Egly: Soft Touch with Sass

Jane Egly

Her agenda focuses on inadequate infrastructure

The last thing the town’s new mayor, Jane Egly, wants to do is to offend anyone.  The soon-to-retire law professor leads with a soft and even-handed style but can be pointedly peppered, smart and refreshingly sassy.

An environmentalist and former board member of Laguna Greenbelt, she says the most pressing issue facing Laguna Beach is repairing the sewer pipeline in South Laguna. A $50-million South Coast Water District project expected to start in the fall and take at least six years to complete, the pipeline runs under two miles of beach bluffs and moves a ton of raw sewage daily.

A 1940’s beach cottage located on South Coast Water District property, which some residents wanted restored, was delaying the project until the City Council voted in October to raze “the shack,” as Egly described it, and let tunnel digging begin.

“I came to the table with ‘Let’s just go,’ we need to fix this problem,” she said.

Egly said she would have been more inclined to keep the cottage as project headquarters and restroom instead of porta-potties and steel storage containers but didn’t like that the financial onus was put on the water district and, ultimately, its customers.

“It would have easily taken $200,000 to $300,000 to save it,” she wagered, saying that the antiquated building materials were environmentally unsound, the plumbing corroded, the floor missing and the ceiling too ventilated.

Her appraisal was that the cottage wasn’t enough of a gem for a private party to step up with the money and time to save it.  “My tilt now is if someone comes forward and says, ‘We want this property and this building and we want to work at saving it,’ I’d be 100 percent behind that,” she stated.

The sewer project will repair and widen the existing tunnel and replace a pipeline buried in the coastal blufftop from Three Arch Bay to Aliso State Beach.  The gravity-flow pipeline carries sewage to the Coastal Treatment Plant in Aliso Canyon.

“If that isn’t repaired and fixed and easily accessible,” Egly said, “imagine the environmental catastrophe.  To me, it was a balance of interest, money, time and community.”

Married to now-retired Judge Paul Egly, one of the original activists pivotal in keeping Laguna Canyon as wilderness, Egly describes herself as “a very liberal Democrat.”  With 26 years as a practicing attorney, she played a pivotal role in the state mandating legal representation for children in custody cases. She has spent the last 12 years teaching law at the University of La Verne in eastern Los Angeles County.  Elected to the City Council in 2004, she sees herself as the reluctant swing-vote amid two decidedly conservative members and two more liberally inclined.  “I didn’t raise my hand to be that,” she averred.  Up for re-election this coming year, Egly said she’ll start raising funds soon.

“I was the oldest girl in a family of six children,” she said, “and I was always volunteered to do the dishes.  So I’m really reluctant to volunteer somebody else to do a job I want done.”

A project she has volunteered for is making Laguna streets cross-user friendly.

“If I were Queen for the Day,” Egly imagined, “I’d wave a magic wand and every street would have a pedestrian pathway.”  She moved to Laguna 28 years ago when she was 41 and regularly walked Hillcrest Avenue in North Laguna where there were and still are no sidewalks.

“It bothered me that it was hard to walk on the streets without pedestrian paths or sidewalks,” she said.  “There was too much traffic and they went too fast.”

Since sharrows, share-the-road arrows indicating bicyclists’ right-of-way, were painted on the two one-way thoroughfares in north Laguna, walking there has been more enticing, she said.

“I think they’ve slowed down the traffic, though that is not a scientific decision,” she said.  “I have noticed.”

As for her direction for the city in the coming year, she likes where things are headed.

“My agenda is soft,” said Egly, who served her first one-year term as mayor four years ago, a position that rotates among council members each year.  “I like a lot of what we’re doing now.  I want to make sure we stay within our budget. We’ve seen what happens in other communities when they don’t.”

Part of keeping the budget solvent is approving new businesses that might not have been seen on Laguna streets 10 years ago, such as a smattering of vintage clothing shops and sidewalk displays.  Garish? Perhaps, she said. “But a little tackiness is attractive as long as it doesn’t become all that. I think what Laguna’s been known for is eclectic.  We’ve had some very nice high-scale restaurants come to town, too.”

Egly compares managing a city to juggling a household.  “A city is like a giant house,” she said.   “Everybody who owns a home knows that they may be planning to put in new carpeting but, in the meantime, the toilet stops up and they have to have a new sewer line.”

Keeping on top of the city’s infrastructure is key, she said, particularly with 600 new homes planned in Irvine near the terminus of Laguna Canyon Road, whose occupants no doubt will make Laguna Beach their playground. That poses a problem, Egly said.

“We’re trying to talk the Irvine Company into bus service into Laguna Beach so we don’t have 9,000 more cars,” she said, crediting council member Elizabeth Pearson for spearheading the idea.  “We knew it was going to happen.  Now what do we do with all those houses coming in?”

How much more congestion can Laguna handle, particularly in summer, where the quandary arises between too many visitors and more city revenue, she said. “All the studies show that the people who buy and spend in the town are the ones who spend a couple of nights here,” Egly said.  “The day-trippers don’t.”

Nevertheless, the California Coastal Commission mandates free public access to beaches.  “At the same time,” she continues, “how do we manage, on our small budget, five million, six million visitors a year?”  Besides environmental concerns, she said, the town needs to make sure it maintains its infrastructure and has enough police, firefighters and lifeguards to handle the summer crush.

She mused: “I’m wondering if we can put a sign out on Laguna Canyon Road that says, ‘Full’?”

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