Experts Named to Tame Laguna’s Flooding


With $12 million in damages to 184 homes, businesses and structures in Laguna’s canyons and downtown as a result of the 100-year flood event on Dec. 22, the City Council this past Tuesday selected a flood-prevention task force from a well-credentialed pool of applicants.


Louis Longi surveys the damage on his property after the December 24 flood that inundated much of Laguna Canyon and downtown. Longi, among others, was appointed to the flood-prevention task force. Photo: Ted Reckas.

Before the selection process began, Mayor Toni Iseman requested that a nonresident applicant’s name be pulled from the line-up.  Iseman asked the council to pre-approve Laguna Niguel resident Carl Nelson, retired Orange County flood control chief engineer, as an expert member of the six-month task force.


“There’s one name on this list that may be the most valuable name of all,” Iseman said.  She described Nelson as having “a memory like a trap and remembers all of the steps that were taken historically.”


Nelson, a 50-year veteran of county flood control projects and author of a 1966 flood-control bond issue rejected by Laguna voters, later became manager of the county’s parks department.  Nelson accepted his position as a leading authority for the city’s new flood-mitigation panel.


“I do have a lot of insight as to what has been done, what’s proposed to be done and what hasn’t been done on Laguna canyon flood control,” said Nelson.


The council also announced a public workshop on flood, fire and landslide preparedness, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 9 in the City Council chambers.  The purpose of the disaster workshops are to gather first-hand accounts and provide a public forum for residents to present their concerns.


The seven Laguna residents selected for the task force are:
Bob Borthwick, 35-year resident and landscape architect, environmental planner, board member of Laguna Greenbelt and repairer of the riparian stream by the Dog Park.


Susan Hamil, a 30-year canyon resident, owner of the Canyon Animal Hospital and a director for the Bluebell Foundation for Cats.  Hamil has also been involved in flood planning for the canyon as far back as the development of the 73 Toll Road.


Eric Jesson, a 45-year resident, arranged the Jan. 21 meeting between Iseman, city staff and Nelson.  A retired land negotiator for the county parks department, Jessen has experience working with the Army Corps of Engineers and knows the pipeline infrastructure in the canyon.


Karl Koski, an eight-year resident and retired 25-year city manager, who said he’s experienced in “tackling community issues.”


Bill Lawson, a 39-year resident and a retired civil engineer with 30-year expertise in flood control and writing Federal Emergency Management Agency applications to revise flood insurance rate maps.
Louis Longi, a 10-year resident and sculptor whose canyon studio was flooded on land he is developing as an artists’ live-work project.


Charles Quilter, a 54-year resident who has personal experience in flood damage, rebuilding and mitigation. Quilter also provides technical expertise regarding meteorological phenomena that he said will be important for public safety.
“You’d have to tear the whole town down and start over again to do it right,” said newly appointed member Lawson, who has seen the litany of natural catastrophes the city has endured. He described Nelson as the county’s informal historian of civil engineering.


Missing from the list was geologist Katie Maes, an affected canyon homeowner who was invited to join the task force but missed the application deadline by a day.  Maes said her family had to move temporarily to an apartment in Aliso Viejo while their Laguna Canyon home is restored.  She and her three-year-old son have also been sick.  “I didn’t know I needed to apply,” she said.  “I stupidly missed that one.”  Maes said she will still offer her expertise by attending the task force meetings, which are open to the public.


Verna Rollinger and Kelly Boyd will represent the City Council and Norm Grossman will represent the city’s planning commission.

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