“Life improves slowly and goes wrong fast, and only catastrophe is clearly visible.” Edward Teller
As if the Laguna’s leaders don’t have enough to worry about, with tree rancor sapping community cohesion, and a plebiscite over a parking structure looming, now there’s a warning about a hypothetical tidal wave flooding our town.
In a recent Los Angeles Times article, public and private experts are cautioning about the dangers of an Alaskan earthquake setting off a tsunami that could slam into Laguna Beach inside of five hours.
There’s no need yet to upgrade your golf cart for off-roading on hills, as the threat pivots on the occurrence of a 9.1 Richter scale earthquake–not an everyday event. However, it isn’t so long ago (2010 and 1998) we witnessed our downtown deluged by canyon floodwaters, only this time water would come from the opposite direction. The map showing where flooding might occur shows only three breaches of Coast Highway–at El Moro, Main and Aliso beaches. Still, many of Laguna’s finest homes in Emerald Bay and other lower lying points are potentially in harm’s way.
If we’re lucky, any tidal wave reaching our shores will be like the ankle snappers that whimpered ashore here in March 2011, when the fear was Fukushima’s quake had powered swells to hit us hard. Laguna Beach local Derek Gray’s video of those waves’ arrivals at Aliso Beach had more “Dislikes” than “Likes” on YouTube, concluding the dreaded wave disappointed.
However, there is no time like the present to plan. After all, the city’s leaders seem ready to spend on major capital projects, from a village entrance to undergrounding utilities, so why not spend on a solution for our tsunami? A man made, offshore sea wall is out of the question; the Coastal Commission would need more time than tectonic plates take to shift to render an approval. Instead, it’s better to think of how to save lives rather than stopping the wall of water. The good news is the city has already set up early warning systems, but where to evacuate if Alaska’s whopper were headed our way?
Establishing escape routes and places to stage emergency treatment by first responders is critical. If we need to quickly clear downtown and Main Beach, sending people out the canyon won’t work, as traffic will resemble the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Where is there large open land or parking on higher ground, minutes from downtown? Any serious search leads you to the school district parking lot and LBHS football field, just up Park Avenue. Yet, neither could accommodate a massive evacuation on a sunny summer day. (Remember scenes of beachgoers fleeing a tsunami in Phuket, Thailand, on Dec. 26, 2004?).
Is there a silver lining to this theoretical tidal wave? Why are we not considering a parking structure on the LBUSD surface lot? It could be partially subterranean, since there is plenty of slope, keeping its scale manageable. It could be decked on top with a 50-meter pool, solving the pool lobby making waves for a state-of-the-art swim facility. By demolishing our aging pool, we then make room for a larger and modern tennis facility, recently funded after much debate in city and school board chambers.
Parking around the high school has been a perennial problem, with no solution in sight. This LBUSD structure would relieve lots of parking pressure on local homeowners, while providing a place to move lots of people in an emergency. An alternative answer is to build a parking structure underneath the football field. The slope there is ample for at least four levels.
Catastrophes, even hypothetical ones, can speed the mind to lots of possibilities, some even involving parking in Laguna Beach.
Paul Meyer is a 17-year Laguna resident, husband, father and volunteer. His day job is helping people lease or buy office and industrial properties.