Despite the lack of support from Laguna Beach’s City Council, an Emerald Bay homeowners’ group will continue to pursue installing a traffic signal at the main entrance to the neighboring but unincorporated north Laguna gated community.
And, it will do so despite a lack of support from some Emerald Bay residents.
Proponents of the signal cited safety and accident prevention as their main concern. Opponents, many of whom live in Emerald Bay, said a signal there is more of a convenience for residents than a safety issue, and prohibiting left turns out of the community’s main gate would be a better way to prevent accidents.
John Marconi, president of the Emerald Bay Service District Board, said this week the board will continue to pursue permits for the signal while addressing arguments raised by council members in a meeting last month. When and if installation permits are granted by the California Coastal Commission and state transportation officials, the Emerald Bay homeowners’ groups are prepared to purchase the signal and pay for its installation if necessary.
“Many of the residents of Emerald Bay have teenage kids and none of them allow their kids to go out that front gate; it’s too dangerous out there,” said homeowners’ group board member Phil deCarion, whose teenage twins started driving two years ago. DeCarion said Emerald Bay has conducted three traffic studies regarding the safety issue and the installation of the signal.
Harry Woloson, coordinator for the Emerald Bay signal project, said the proposed signal would be similar to the “half-light” signal at Monarch Bay Plaza that provides a merging lane onto southbound Coast Highway. “I’m sure we’d all agree that, though we may not like lights, they do a job and they do a good job,” he said.
Council members declined to support the measure, and council member Kelly Boyd suggested the city may have jurisdiction in the matter under its local coastal plan. “I do believe we have the right to appeal this to the Coastal Commission,” he said.
Boyd argued against the light on several points, including the existence of four other exits in the gated community, which provides its own volunteer fire department and uses county sheriff services. Other council members agreed with Boyd that there are not enough accidents to warrant a signal, that the light may cause rear-end accidents and that it will add to traffic congestion.
Boyd said he drove the length of Coast Highway and concluded Emerald Bay’s signal would be the “only one that’s not visible until you come upon it.” He acknowledged that Fifth District Supervisor Pat Bates, who represents Laguna Beach, supports the Emerald Bay traffic signal.
The council argued that construction vehicles cuing in the early morning at Emerald Bay’s main gate could be lessened by providing more space on private property rather than by using Coast Highway to alleviate congestion.
“The most dangerous thing that Emerald Bay does is not allow the workers in in the morning,” said Council member Jane Egly, who lives in North Laguna. “They line up on our streets and impede traffic in our area. I am surprised that you would come and ask us when you haven’t cleaned up the problem of the workers that line up on the streets.”
Council member Elizabeth Pearson said she supports the decision of the elected board members of Emerald Bay. “Why would board members be elected to the board that took this position if it wasn’t a majority position?” she asked.
Mayor Toni Iseman pointed out that Emerald Bay was constructed to avoid crossing Coast Highway by building tunnels underneath the highway to allow direct merging into north- and southbound traffic. She agreed with Boyd that prohibiting left-hand turns from the main gate would prevent cross-traffic merges. “We have a dangerous situation here and it should be no left turns out of that area because there are so many other ways of leaving,” she said.
Signal dissidents say it would impede traffic and that there were too few accidents to merit a signal.
“Whatever other things are brought up to try to get a designer signal installed at Emerald Bay, it’s going to create more problems,” said Patty Collisson, a Laguna Beach resident, who has studied the issue for more than two years. “People think traffic signals solve a lot of problems but it turns out that traffic signals make more problems than they solve, especially in this case.”
Mark Lewis, a 26-year Laguna resident and city engineer in Fountain Valley, said there have been four accidents at the intersection since 2004. He suggested lengthening the southbound acceleration lane as a better safety measure.