City Works to Avoid Debris Slide on Hilltop Property

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

The Laguna Beach City Council approved Tuesday a $951,000 regrading of soil on a city-owned hilltop property that city officials say will prevent a potential debris slide during heavy rains into the Boys & Girls Club and Sawdust Festival grounds.

A 2016 photo shows Randy Song, along with his father and sons, at their envisioned homesite overlooking Laguna Canyon, which was purchased by the city in 2017 for open space. The city moved forward this week with regrading the property. Photo by Jody Tiongco.
A 2016 photo shows Randy Song, along with his father and sons, at their envisioned homesite overlooking Laguna Canyon, which was purchased by the city in 2017 for open space. The city moved forward this week with regrading the property. Photo by Jody Tiongco.

In August 2017, the city purchased the 1.9-acre parcel at 1199 Lewellyn Drive, which hosted a single-family home until the property burned in the 1982 Laguna Beach Fire. The city plans to plant native plants on the property after regrading it in a way that will allow water to run off in a safer manner.

“We have a relatively narrow window in which to commence and complete the grading before likely rain events that could, in fact, cause the transmission of this uncompacted [soil] downslope,” said Bob Burnham, community recovery coordinator for Laguna Beach.

The Lewellyn Drive property has been plagued by legal troubles for years.

Randy Song, of La Mirada, purchased the property in 2010 for $685,000 with a plan to build a new home. At the time, however, the city said Song needed to rebuild an existing road to make it accessible to fire trucks.

The new road’s price tag was estimated at $2 million and Song instead decided to sue the city for $6 million in October 2015. That case was eventually settled when Laguna Beach and Song reached a deal for the city to purchase the land.

An adjacent property owner who spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting said she was supportive of the city’s plan to regrade the Lewellyn property but was still concerned the city hasn’t addressed how water runs off of Skyline Drive. She added that the road appears to have drains that don’t go anywhere, so water instead shoots down the canyon.

Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig said the neighbor’s concerns about Skyline Drive fell out of the scope of the Lewellyn Drive project.

“I understand the concern, but really what we’re doing doesn’t exacerbate the condition at all at Skyline but certainly improves the condition of the existing property,” Pietig said.

After having a geotechnical firm investigate the extent of uncompacted soil on the site, the regrading portion of the project is expected to take nine to 10 weeks—about twice as long as the city’s engineers initially expected. In light of this change, city staffers brought their proposal to regrade the Lewellyn Drive property to the City Council on Tuesday so construction would not be delayed or complicated by winter rains.

Once the property is returned to its natural state, the city will closely monitor the site for at least two years.

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