Speaker’s Corner: A Natural Beauty

By Michael Beanan


3 Beanan headshotLong before Laguna Beach became a tourist mecca it was an art colony.  From around the world, artists were drawn to the natural beauty of virgin hillsides, pristine beaches and a dramatic ocean.

Beauty often is in the eye of the beholder, and many of us still see the incredible beauty that drew early artists to Laguna in the natural, steep hillsides and canyons surrounding our city. Unfortunately, wildfires in the news and a natural fear of fire can cause us to carelessly strip critical globally endangered Southern Maritime Chaparral unique to Laguna Beach and turn hillside wildlife habitat into highly combustible dry grass wastelands.

Water stops fire. To protect the natural beauty of Laguna Beach, responsible citizens must become better educated about the long-term damage of goat grazing and the wisdom of a comprehensive irrigated fuel modification zone program in protecting our community. On-site recycled water would prevent fires from spreading and be crucial for fire suppression while saving millions in damaged homes, injuries, broken lives and loss of critical habitat.

Native plants adapted to a semi-arid coastal environment are also essential for stormwater erosion protection and to stabilize our hillsides to prevent surficial slope failures like the Bluebird Canyon landslide a few years ago. A healthy natural watershed will protect tidepools from being covered by soil runoff and pollutants.

The city’s online fire guidelines recognize the value of native plants and trees by recommending an irrigated fuel modification zone. A comprehensive fuel modification zone program implementing the fire department guidelines would better protect Laguna from future fire events, stabilize steep hills and canyons and safely maintain the incredible natural beauty distinguishing Laguna Beach from other seaside communities.

As an example of smart use of resources, the fire buffer zone along Crown Valley Parkway provides a good demonstration of abundant vegetation kept well hydrated by a recycled water system. There is no fear of fire along Crown Valley Parkway, Alicia Parkway or any of the hundreds of miles of “greenbelt” arterial roads scattered throughout South Orange County. However, by comparison, Laguna Beach still has no recycled water system for irrigation and fire suppression.

As photo evidence of the 1993 Laguna wildfire and similar events reveal, native vegetation and trees often survive the most intense wildfires while entire neighborhoods burn to the ground.

An abundant water resource is already available to us. The Laguna Beach Coastal Treatment Plant disposes over 10 million gallons of treated sewage water each day to the Aliso Creek Ocean Outfall pipe 1.2 miles offshore. Re-purposing this wastewater as a high-purity recycled water product for routine greenbelt irrigation and wildland fire protection is feasible now with emerging sewage bio-methane powered fuel cell production of electricity.

Each of us contributes to the problem of sewage and fire safety.  And we each have an opportunity to be part of the solution. Consider the alternatives and educate the community to appreciate and protect the natural beauty of Laguna Beach.


California native Mike Beanan is a 30-year resident, an artist, activist, educator, builder and waterman. He serves as vice president of the South Laguna Civic Association.

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  1. Roger E. Butow

    Mr. Beanan has been pitching this Pollyanna concept for several years. Unfortunately, it’s magical thinking.
    I encourage residents to:
    (1) Check with the South OC Wastewater Authority (SOCWA) engineers, the JPA that manages the facility in Aliso Creek Canyon as I did a long time ago. It would cost double-digit millions of $$$ to upgrade the plant, to make it a tertiary or Advanced Waste Treatment plant that could clean the sewage down to pollutant levels acceptable to both Cal & USEPA standards for mass broadcasting. Keep in mind that not just organics are being routed there. Stormdrain diversions that are transported there, which this city and others are enamored of, send at least 1 million gallons per day of so-called low flow nuisance water (urban runoff) that contain highly carcinogenic substances. Substances that are extremely difficult (read expensive) to reduce let alone remove. Plus all of those wonderful chemicals and pharmaceuticals you pour down your drains at home. So the Operating & Maintenance costs (especially energy demands) for a full AWT plant are astronomical. Talk about carbon footprint.

    (2) Then check with both our Engineering and Water Quality Departments: Since we don’t have ANY landscape/irrigation (purple pipe) lines, we’d have to tear up our streets to install parallel plumbing lines, probably try to locate them next to our potable (drinking) water lines. Our streets and sidewalks would ALL have to be ripped up, every neighborhood affected. Then repaved, so consider the incredible city-wide disruption. I’ve already asked for an estimate of those costs from these 2 departments: Both just laughed me off of the phone after saying that would cost triple-digit millions in $$$ budgeting.
    Mr. Beanan wrote recently that bonds or grants would underwrite such a massive public works project. Who in their right mind believes that in this day and economic climate that it would stand a chance of funding?

    In engineering, they always ask: “Is it achievable and realistic” before throwing planning money at it. Is it economically feasible? The answer to both questions, in this case, is “NO.” The hundreds of millions needed just isn’t there, never will be.

  2. Mike Beanan

    Photo Caption Correction:

    “Laguna Beach homes burn while irrigated trees remain.”

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