The 54 homeowners whose plans to build a pool or spa in Laguna Beach were put on hold by a 45-day moratorium can breath a sigh of relief.
After hearing public testimony Tuesday, the City Council unanimously repealed the unpopular measure imposed last month. At the same time, to curb water consumption, city officials mandated the use of covers for all swimming pools and spas when not in use. They also prohibited the use of continuous autofill devices and the approval of any new decorative water features or ponds that don’t recirculate water.
Some residents called the moratorium a “rash” and “emotional” decision. But Council member Kelly Boyd made it clear that “the moratorium was set so we could get more information” before making any changes to the city code. Such changes were discussed as part of water conservation measures to comply with the state mandate to reduce use by 25 percent. They did get plenty of information, said Boyd, which was why he was ready to rescind the moratorium.
Council member Rob Zur Schmiede described the moratorium as a time out to examine their options.
The Council’s action reflected information gathered by staff as well as that supplied by residents and pool industry lobbyists.
In all, 14 people spoke against prohibiting the construction of new pools, including John Norwood, president of the California Pool & Spa Association, based in Sacramento. Pool builders support mandating pool covers to reduce water evaporation, he said, but oppose banning new pools since there are better ways to conserve water that don’t cost jobs or put people out of business.
Properly designed and maintained pools don’t waste water, said landscape designer and Laguna Nursery owner Ruben Flores. The issue is in enforcing proper maintenance, not in taking away residents’ rights to have a pool, he said.
A properly covered pool and the use of leak detection devices will use less water than a drought tolerant landscape, agreed pool builder Cecil Fraser. He supported a ban of continuous autofill devices that often keep owners in ignorance of leaks.
A staff reported echoed their statements. For instance, a 12- by 30-foot pool, if covered 70 percent of the time, would use 4,400 gallons of water a year, in refilling due to evaporation, says the report. By comparison, a lawn of similar area would require 17,100 gallons of water a year and a drought tolerant landscape 7,600 gallons a year, the report said.
“We are all about solutions,” said Alan Smith, whose pool plastering business in Orange supports 110 employees. In an effort to maintain the industry they want to work with the city, suggesting the best pool covers and proposing options such as reverse osmosis mobile trailers to refresh water in commercial pools, rather than draining and refilling them periodically. “There are answers if you invite us in for the conversation,” he said.
For her part, Jeannie Gambino said she had just bought a house in Laguna and started on plans to build a pool because swimming greatly helps her 12-year-old daughter, who has developmental issues. As a single working mother with two kids, going to public pools would be difficult. “Having a pool in the back yard is very important to us,” she said.
“I’m a pool person,” agreed Kerry Cassill. She had just bought her “forever house” in Laguna and would like to eventually put in a pool, she said, suggesting other ways to conserve water, such as gray water for landscaping and fewer toilet flushes.
Even so, Rosemary Boyd read a letter from Village Laguna president Johanna Felder stating their position that all pools and spas should be prohibited in face of the drought. Alan Boinus likewise expressed concerns about the drought and of “a serious problem” in complying with state-mandated cutbacks in water use.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said that in agreeing to repeal the moratorium on pools he looked at how much prohibiting pools would actually aid in water conservation. In weighing the harm caused by allowing pools and the harm caused by banning them, he found the latter to be greater.
Council member Toni Iseman agreed to lift the moratorium on pool building, despite voicing concerns over the size of larger pools, but insisted on banning the continuous autofill devices. She also pushed for the water district to install smart meters and for the Design Review Board to make zero scape recommendations when reviewing landscaping plans. “We are doing a lot, but we are not doing everything we could,” she said.