Mary Ann Loehr owns a home built in 1945 on Queda Way without a garage or driveway. She parks on the street, which is 17 feet wide.
Neighbor and cancer survivor Cynthia Hudson thinks no plumber will agree to a service call to her Queda Way home if supplies had to be left behind in a truck parked on Coast Highway.
And when Dave Solo’s wife fell and broke her leg recently, he said emergency vehicles, typically 10 feet wide, rolled up with ease to his home on San Clemente Street, which tapers to 13 feet at its terminus.
They are among the residents in 108 homes on 14 mostly dead-end streets that splay off of Alta Vista Way confronting a potential street-parking ban as a way to improve access for emergency vehicles. The pilot plan would last a year.
The proposal comes as city officials in Laguna Beach seemingly every day wrestle with land-use constraints, from stream setbacks to substandard roads without sidewalks to ones built decades before present day fire-code requirements that establish 20-foot minimum street widths. Constraints often conflict with the access needs of fire fighters as well as some residents, who in this instance feel singled out unfairly for restrictions.
“Is there a less invasive way that won’t take our parking away?” Solo asked Monday, Sept. 12, at a city emergency preparedness committee meeting attended by about 25 of his neighbors. Many of them offered alternative suggestions to a ban.
They included temporary parking passes for service workers, landscape trimming at bottlenecks, stepped up enforcement, street widening and smaller fire engines. City staff will work to integrate the ideas into a revised proposal that will be presented again to the community and also building contractors, committee chair Matt Lawson said. “We recognize parking is a fraught topic,” he said afterwards. “It’s something we want to work through in every reasonable way we can.”
The committee received its mandate from the City Council in February to evaluate private and public streets and “improve” roads deemed access deficient with no-parking fire lanes, according to language in the safety element of the city’s general plan. The document was updated in June 1995, two years after one of the nation’s worst fire disasters when 441 homes burned in Laguna Beach.
While the safety element identifies Bluebird Canyon, Canyon Acres and Diamond Crestview as the town’s most restricted areas, fire personnel identified the so-called alphabet streets that spill off Alta Vista as the most difficult presently, Lawson said.
He and council member Rob Zur Schmiede rode along on an out-of-service engine last October, squeezing through car-choked streets in Arch Beach Heights, Bluebird Canyon and off of Alta Vista Way. “I was amazed at the captain’s ability to navigate around here,” said Lawson, noting that conditions no doubt have changed in the 20 years since the safety element was adopted.
Solo and others present at the meeting asked the committee, which included fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse and city emergency coordinator Jordan Villwock, to produce statistics demonstrating that the area’s narrow streets actually impeded emergency vehicles.
“We don’t have data; we’ve been lucky,” said LaTendresse, who leads a four-station department staffed by 12 firefighters on a routine shift.
He explained that deploying smaller engines is an impractical solution; the stations lack the space for multiple vehicles and in a major incident, Laguna must draw on assistance from other departments in “flat” cities with fewer equipment restraints.
“Making us a pilot is unfair when other neighborhoods are in the same position,” said Diane Silber, who described doing her part to broaden access on her section of Nido Way by cutting vegetation and moving a mailbox. “The city has allowed streets to be built this way. Now, they’re taking away property rights,” she said prior to the meeting. “Once they enact it, it’s very hard to undo. If they did it citywide, there would be a huge outcry,” she said.
Tony Fisch, of San Clemente Street, afterwards said, the “committee is selling fear, uncertainty and doubt to manipulate homeowners to let them proceed with an ill-planned solution.” He added, “do not punish a few for the impossibility of providing what we will never have, bigger, safer streets.”
Roger Owens of Kilo Way was the only resident present to publicly support the measure. Another 24 households expressed support by email, said Villwock, who also reported receiving 19 emails in opposition.
Despite the backlash by residents, committee member Robert Elster said they recognize the intent of the measure to improve public safety. “Their concern is primarily about how it affects you on an everyday basis,” he said.
Photo courtesy of city committee report
A fire engine maneuvers through a narrow street where parking is allowed on either side.narroe