Forecast: More Flooding for Downtown

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Outlook: is there a high likelihood Laguna Beach’s downtown floods again if we have a “godzilla” storm event this winter? Perhaps, just perhaps, flooding even worse than the 1997 flooding.

Background:  a lack of the city’s attention to a remedy identified 10 years ago by a blue ribbon committee headed by (then) Mayor Wayne Baglin.  The mayor’s committee had several civil engineers including Ray Lewis and Gary Ascot (both deceased), and me (still kicking) plus other outstanding community leaders that were originally tasked to look at major sewer issues. The committee staff liaison was the newly hired John Pietig.

However (and this is where the story gets interesting and sad at the same time), Mayor Baglin was concerned about a proposed major storm drain project that would have intercepted the existing open channel in the Forest/Laguna Canyon parking lot and routed it through one large “box conduit” down the middle of Broadway to the ocean.

The conduit was one of three proposed barrels proposed to increase future channel capacity from inland flows. Gary, Ray, and I evaluated the capacity of the proposed single box vs. the existing underground pipe from Beach Street to the ocean.  With the exception of a bottleneck under Coast Highway, there was little, if any, increase in channel capacity with the proposed project.

From the committee’s viewpoint, tearing up the entire length of Broadway between Forest and Coast Highway for a year didn’t make any sense from traffic disruption and public safety.  The committee recommended that the proposed $10 million project be cancelled and the existing underground bottleneck at Coast Highway be fixed for less money.  The Council wisely voted to cancel the $10 million project and (as I recall) make the new storm drains under Coast highway a priority.

Alas, the city has done nothing over the past 10 years to alleviate this simple hydraulic problem! We still have a bottleneck under Coast Highway and the downtown will flood again at Beach when the undersized Coast Highway pipes back up.

Like the 1997 flooding, this will affect the police, our firemen, local commerce, cause public property destruction, and create a traffic headache.   Regretfully, it’s too late now for a fix this storm season.

Victor Opincar, Laguna Beach

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