By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
A majority of the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday opposed replacing grass at Main Beach with drought-tolerant landscaping or sand as part of the city’s plan to renovate a park that was last renovated in the 1970s.
The two-year budget approved by the City Council includes $600,000 for design- and construction-related services related to the Main Beach renovation.
“Over at the playground there are lots of people from Laguna, including me and others that I’ve seen down there, that use it with their grandkids and kids,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “We shouldn’t design this Main Beach Park around 20 or 30 homeless.”
Laguna Beach annually spends about $20,000 on the two million gallons of water needed to maintain Main Beach’s turf, said Shoreh Dupuis, assistant city manager and director of public works. The City Council appeared open to exploring grass that requires less water, subterranean irrigation, and planting succulents and cacti in certain areas.
“We do need to work on reducing the water,” Councilmember Sue Kempf said. “I think we should be setting a good example. We shouldn’t make people do that and not do it ourselves.”
Councilmember Peter Blake argued the city is wasting water on grass that is mostly used by homeless people to sleep on and harass residents at a time when the state recommends water conservation.
“I’m sorry but I just think Main Beach is pathetic,” he said. “It doesn’t do anything for me whatsoever. Main Beach has become a place for tourists to come, for vagrants to hang out, for people to come exercise their extremist political views.”
Blake doubled-down saying he hasn’t seen any of the audience members at Tuesday’s council meeting enjoying Main Beach.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said he’s less concerned about whether or not a Main Beach visitor is homeless and more about ending behavior that scares other visitors away.
“To be in that spot, the most visible spot, the window to the sea and having people hogging it and bullying others is not acceptable to me,” he said. “Consistent with whatever landscaping we have, our rules have to change and they have to change in a way the police find they can administer.”
Besides the landscaping, the City Council is considering new sidewalks that will link the boardwalk to the soon-to-be relocated crosswalk at Ocean Avenue and South Coast Highway.
Council members also gave feedback on replacing light poles, benches, trash cans, and replacing the cracked faux cobblestones. Councilmember Toni Iseman said she would like to see the same type of material incorporated into new benches and the boardwalk.
Landscape architect Bob Borthwick said it was unnecessary for the city to spend up to $100,000 to redesign a park that has served residents and visitors well for decades.
“I think to spend $100,000 to redo the whole park is an expenditure that’s unnecessary,” Borthwick said. “I would spend the money on cobblestones.”
In a rare public comment, reporter Barbara Diamond urged the City Council to preserve memorial plaques purchased by residents to honor their deceased family members. Whalen agreed that city staffers should exercise extra care to keep the plaques.
Hasty Honarkar, vice president of Laguna Creative Ventures and daughter of Laguna Beach Company founder Mo Honarkar, said there should be a way to leave some of the grass but also include some new colorful, creative drought-tolerant landscaping.
“Ultimately, I think it’s about compromise,” she said. “Fifty years is a long time to look the same and we need to be smart about what we’re doing in our public spaces.”
City staffers expect to submit the proposed changes to the Planning Commission for public input and they will subsequently return to the City Council for final approval. Dates for those hearings haven’t been scheduled yet.