Footpaths between houses in the Temple Hills neighborhood, designated more than 80 years ago by an early developer, are now dividing neighbor against neighbor.
Two groups, the Temple Hills Community Assn. and the Temple Hills Neighborhood Assn., are on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to opening these historic pathways. By coincidence, their dispute comes at a time with city officials are feeling pressure from several constituencies to improve pedestrian mobility in town as well as the safety of walkers, runners, cyclists and skateboarders on local streets.
“All we’re asking is to take down the fences and make them passable,” said Caroline Wright, who’s lived in Temple Hills since 1985 and is one of 18 active footpath proponents. “We don’t want them to look obnoxious, we want them to be low-key.”
Last May, THCA asked the City Council to make the historic walkways accessible, allowing residents to walk from the top of the neighborhood at Alta Laguna Boulevard to the bottom of the neighborhood where Temple Hills Drive meets Thalia Street, staying off the narrow and winding roadway that mostly lacks sidewalks.
But the newly formed THNA with 24 homeowners, 11 of whom live adjacent to the easements, wants the walkways left as they have become over time: part of lawns, landscaped side-yard easements and underground utility corridors for the Laguna Beach County Water District. Four of the seven pathways are considered problematic; the other three are open and being used.
When Catherine Hall and Don Wentzel bought their home in 1996 on Canyon View Drive, they didn’t know the footpath existed. “If these pathways would have been built in the 1920s and ‘30s when they were designated, that would have been all right,” said Hall. “But now houses have been built without regard for their existence. When we bought, we didn’t even know it was there.”
Hall’s master bedroom windows overlook the footpath. “Anyone would have designed a different floor plan if they had known it was there,” she said.
When footpaths are put next to houses, she added, homeowners tend to obstruct views and protect property with hedges, making the walkways secluded. “There are transients in Laguna and anyone who thinks they’re not going to find these pathways…,” she alluded. Transient and homeless people using the pathways as temporary sleeping places was listed as a concern at an Oct. 6 meeting over the issue with city staff.
“The city has done nothing on Temple Hills except stall,” said Lou Novak, a proponent of excavating the historic pathways and a THCA member. “Their attitude has been do nothing, do
nothing, just tire them out. It is not only about these specific pathways. It is find a safe pedestrian way off the hill.”
He described the existing sidewalk on lower Temple Hills Drive as “suicidally dangerous.”
Novak proposes that making the historic pathways useable would be a less expensive and cumbersome endeavor than completing the 1.9-mile sidewalk on Temple Hills Drive. “There’s a malignant attitude in the city when it comes to Temple Hills pedestrian access,” he said. “What alternatives has the city come up with?” Novak does not have a footpath through or adjacent to his property.
Novak said his group has approached several council members asking them to mediate between the two homeowners’ associations and the city to come to a cooperative solution.
“There’s no legal action planned,” he said. “We want to avoid that because it’s a waste of money.”
Senior city planner Scott Drapkin said pathway proponents have not pushed for development of the footpaths. “We were asked to give them a heads-up as to what is out there. We don’t have a capital improvement project for it,” he said.
Trails would promote walking in the hilltop neighborhood and provide students with paths to school, says a city summary, but building walkways to city code would be difficult due to slopes and sewer pipes buried in the five-foot easements between homes. “Generally, the residents that live right next door to them oppose them,” Drapkin said.
Richard and Karen Rosenberg’s home abuts a historic easement near Temple Hills Drive. “My wife and I are absolutely opposed to their development for a number of reasons,” said Rosenberg, “including liability issues, loss of privacy, possible vagrancy, light pollution, intrusiveness, loss of property value and potential loss of view, among others.”
If the city were to undertake the projects, codes requiring concrete stairways, railings, retaining walls and lighting would be followed, a long stretch from a dirt trail. Without following the codes, the city would be automatically liable for any accidents. If homeowners shouldered the responsibility of keeping the trails simple, liability would also become an issue.
The City Council’s current budget has allocated $300,000 for public pathways and bicycle lanes as well as other nonmotorized routes in town as part of a Complete Streets initiative.
Homes in Temple Hills were first built in the 1920s. The subdivider didn’t complete the footpaths, intended to connect a park planned for the northeast corner of Thalia Street and Temple Hills Drive. “They went more for the lots,” Drapkin explained.
“That doesn’t mean that the pathways can’t and won’t exist but definitely not as effectively as they would have been with a park,” he added. “We don’t have any direction with these at this point,” conceded Drapkin, “but it doesn’t mean it has to stop here. It means we’ve done some preliminary analysis and we’re trying to figure out the constraints. Let’s see what we can do from here. It’s certainly not over.”
Photo by Ted Reckas
Residents pressing for Temple Hills footpaths are finding resistors such as Doug Cortez, seen above stakes in his yard where an early footpath was planned. Proponents have asked him to suggest an alternative to one that bisects his property.