While much remains unchanged in Laguna Beach, memorable stories filled the year just concluded. Here’s a rundown.
Gelson’s Buys a Foothold
After a swift roll out early in the year and an even swifter bankruptcy by fall, the Haggen grocery chain started selling stores, including a deal with Gelson’s for eight locations. Gelson’s expects to open in Laguna Beach by April.
The Ranch at Laguna Beach Takes Shape
After receiving the go-ahead early in the year from the Coastal Commission for the remodel of the Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course, owner Mark Christy began the full transformation of the hotel and golf course property known as The Ranch into a 97-room boutique hotel. Appeals and lawsuits by local resident Mark Fudge slowed the makeover, now due to be completed early in the year.
Laguna’s Land Preserves Expand
In a $2.2 million deal, Laguna Beach residents benefitted from a 151-acre purchase of undeveloped land by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) in April. The land will remain open space and abuts city-owned Moulton Meadows Park. The transaction was OCTA’s first coastal purchase.
Activists Claim Security Lapses at San Onofre
Local activists led by Rita Conn of the civic organization Let Laguna Vote focused attention in October on lax security protocols at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which closed in 2012 but still holds 1,600 metric tons of nuclear waste. The future of continued storage at the facility remains unclear.
Court Ruling Affirms Local Gay Couples
With the U.S. Supreme Court declaring the legality of same-sex marriage in June, LGBT individuals living in Laguna Beach celebrated the historic constitutional ruling. For former Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Gentry, the county’s first openly gay elected official in 1982, the ruling was the culmination of a decades long-effort to bring equality to all LGBT individuals.
Mayor Calls for City-Wide Undergrounding of Utilities
After a brush fire triggered by a fallen power line in July fanned fears and threatened significant damage, then Mayor Bob Whalen emphatically called for Southern California Edison to “underground” all utilities citywide to avoid risk to the public. Discussions began in the fall.
ACLU Files a Second Lawsuit Over Homelessness
Six years after a first suit against the city, the ACLU in August filed a second suit on behalf of five disabled homeless people, claiming their constitutional rights had been violated. The city, which had settled in the earlier litigation, this time denied the allegations, seeking relief from the charges. The U.S. District Court this year will consider whether to grant class action status to a wider homeless population.
Water Conservation Takes Center Stage
In June, California water districts were ordered to get serious about cutting consumption. Both South Coast Water District and Laguna Beach County Water District hit a 24 percent overall reduction compared to 2013 in the first few months. The latest results through October, LBCWD still remains slightly short of the mandated 24 percent cut in consumption, while SCWD customers cumulatively consumed 30.4 percent less water in the same period.
Locking Out Airbnb
Faced with vocal complaints about tenants of unpermitted short-term rentals, the City Council passed a moratorium on issuing new permits in May and extended it in August and expects to enact new restrictions on Airbnb-style lodging this year.
Historic Theater Goes Dark
The town’s only movie theater closed in September after an 80-year run due to a lease dispute between the owner of the historic building and the theater operator. Four murals painted for the theater by Edgar Payne, one of the town’s best-known plein air artists, and hidden for years beneath sound-baffling curtains were spirited away by the owner for restoration.