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Still Adrift from Laguna Sands

After being displaced for more than a month, residents of four oceanfront Laguna Beach condominiums, who were evacuated after the building creaked loudly and began separating, still don’t know when they’ll be able to move back home.

“We’re waiting to hear the final decision,” said year-round resident Barbi Walters.  “Everyone’s having to scramble for their own places.”

Temporary steel columns were installed on the beach last month to shore up the front four stacked units that overhang the sand at the 32-unit Laguna Sands complex at the entrance to Bluebird Beach.

“We’re satisfied that there’s not going to be any catastrophic failure now because it’s completely shored up,” said city building official Dennis Bogle.  But it’s not enough to allow occupancy, he said.

Before anyone can return, the old steel columns, rusted and weakened from salty ocean air, need to be removed and replaced and the building restored, which is a major undertaking, said Bogle. “They used steel columns and anchored them down to the existing foundation,” he explained.  “It appears that there was quite a bit of corrosion on the existing steel framing.”

A loud snapping sound was heard by condo owners Mark and Barbara Lemley at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 31, in their first-floor unit. A crack appeared in the ceiling in the same spot in all four units, residents reported.

The remaining concern seems to be rusting rebar buried in the concrete foundation wall. “They’re going to open that up because it looks like the wall is splitting,” Bogle said. Rust, he said, causes swelling that pushes the surface concrete out, causing cracks. “If you look at the end of the wall, it bulges out there,” he added. “When some air and some saltwater gets in there under the rebar, the rust just starts falling out.” Preliminary findings show spalding or seeping from rusting steel rebar that’s close to the surface.

Residents will be able to move back in when work is far enough along that the city determines it’s safe for them to live there, said Bogle.  The heavy construction, he said, has to be done first.

While engineers and geologists are still pinpointing the problem, “…we can’t have people living over the top of it,” said Bogle.  “The permanent fix will be the structure is put back exactly the way it was. It should be seamless and you wouldn’t know the work was completed.  The object is to get it back into the original condition.”  The complex was built in 1962 at the entrance to Bluebird Canyon Beach at 1582 Coast Highway.

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