After Laguna Returned to a Lagoon


Despite a precautionary city flyer distributed to downtown merchants the day before last week’s first heavy winter rainstorm, nearly 60 businesses, heeding the warning or not, incurred damages estimated by city officials at $3.5 million.  Water and mud lines are still visible on some store walls.
The flyer suggested that merchants take safety measures, such as using sandbags to divert water from their entries as well as placing floodgates into existing slots at doorways.
“We left here on Tuesday night without a drop and no umbrellas necessary so I didn’t put them up,” David Dains, pharmacist at Bushard’s Pharmacy, goodheartedly admitted about not installing the store’s floodgate.  “I closed. I’m the culprit.”

Dains said he was unaware of the flyer but responded quickly the next day. “I got here early Wednesday and squeegeed out and shoveled out the mud that came in the door.” The pharmacy stayed open all day as the store’s owners and employees kept flood waters at bay “because people need their scripts,” Dains said.
The official warning vacillated about the possibility of a flood downtown.

“In the past, there have been serious occasions where flood waters escaped Laguna Canyon Channel at Beach Street, causing flooding depths up to two feet along Broadway and Ocean Avenue,” stated the flyer, handed out in the downtown business district by the city’s beach patrol and police volunteers.  “We do not expect this to occur during this current storm, although it is a possibility.”

The next day, the Bank of America on Ocean Avenue, a half-block from gushing water spouting eight to 15 feet into the air at the Beach Street channel, was in the direct line of overflow.  Mud and water reached ankle height, said bank manager Scott McKinney. The bank entrance was cordoned off while carpeting was torn out and four feet of drywall removed.  “We’re open today,” McKinney said on Tuesday.  “It’s not perfect, but we’re helping our customers as best as we can.”

Amid the unmistakable smell of wet wool at Sirous & Sons Rug Gallery, obviously crestfallen owner Saeid Ghasemian helped workers roll up one soggy rug at a time, removing stacks of mud-encrusted fine Persian carpets.  “You might as well bring a shotgun with a bullet,” said Ghasemian.  “I’m devastated.  I’m numb.”

Next-door neighbor Kelly Boyd, owner of the Marine Room and a city council member, was less than sympathetic. “He didn’t put anything in front of his building,” commented Boyd. “The city passed out flyers to every business downtown saying be prepared, there’s going to be a bad storm. Some people didn’t heed the warning, and people who didn’t got hurt.”

Boyd credited city workers with doing a “phenomenal job” cleaning up the aftermath, and scouring clean Forest, Broadway and Ocean avenues for last-minute Christmas shoppers. “All three streets that were closed were open in less than 24 hours,” he said.  “In fact, they had Forest and Broadway open Wednesday night.” Boyd worries about the wet months to come and rain forecast for the following weekend.

With water still dripping out of her clothes racks, Heidi Miller, owner of Tight Assets women’s clothing boutique on Coast Highway, said she lost $90,000-worth of pricey inventory, including beaded and embroidered dresses and tops and cashmere sweaters.
Miller said overflowing floodwaters rushing down the streets collided with high surf, bringing two feet of backwashed slurry through her doors. She said her front-door floodgate was snapped in and bolstered by 30 sandbags, which were washed away.  The backdoor barrier was neglected that night.  “That’s why my whole backroom got flooded,” she said. “I got double-whammied.”
Not only did she get hit from both sides at her dress shop, Miller also owns the World Newsstand on Ocean Avenue, which she “rescued” five years ago as a community service.  It’s “100 percent gone,” she said, and closed indefinitely.  Miller estimated damages at $15,000. “It would cost me $8,000 to $10,000 just to reopen it.”
Miller said she does 20 percent of her annual business in the week preceding and following Christmas. “That crucial time was lost,” she remarked. Lacking insurance, she said, “I feel kind of lost with everything.”
Patrick Wang, manager of Haagen Dazs on Coast Highway for 11 years, concurred with the dismal fiscal forecast.  Preventing muddy-waters from entering his ice cream case was the easy part.  “The flood I can handle; it’s about one day,” he said.  “With the recession, it’s the whole year. That’s the hard part.”
One benefit of the flood, said Bob Lively, manager of the Regency Theater downtown, was bringing in industrial-size dehumidifiers to the movie house known for its vintage, i.e. musty, scent.  “Those things were magical,” said Lively, who spent day and night at the theater for four days and still carried smudges of mud on his shoes and slacks. The theater now smells remarkably as fresh as the sea breeze outside its front doors.
The first 12 rows of both 300-seat theaters were inundated with muck, Lively said. The mud and water were removed with professional extractors and vacuums.  Lively expects new flooring will soon replace the shooting-star-studded red carpet.

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