From Fire Pits to Lifeguard Pride Tower: Residents Share Concerns

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By Tasmin McGill, Guest Contributor

The future West St. Beach rainbow-themed lifeguard tower was discussed at Laguna Beach City Council’s most recent regular meeting. Clara Beard/LB Indy

Fire pit removal and a rainbow-themed lifeguard tower celebrating Pride were discussed during the Laguna Beach City Council meeting on May 16. Residents gathered in person and via Zoom to express concerns and share thoughts on the next steps for the South Laguna beaches. 

Following the city’s acquisition of Laguna’s southern beaches from the county in March, residents and community members proposed various ideas for how to move forward. 

Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow and Assistant City Manager Gavin Curran presented recommended actions addressing community concerns, including natural beach hazards, trash, litter and the minimal restrooms available. With the summer months right around the corner, the crowds will follow. Residents expressed concerns about issues regarding the increase in beachgoers. 

One issue was the reinstitution of the fire pits at Aliso Beach. During the transition of South Laguna beaches to the city, the last fire pit was removed, leaving Laguna with the choice of either purchasing wood or propane fire pits. 

“The recommended action is to consider purchasing portable propane fire pits and develop an application to rent portable fire pits at Aliso Beach,” Curran said. “Permanent fire pits at lease will provide some issues due to the location within the very high fire safety zone.”

Resident Billy Fried said he hoped to see the return of the fire pits to restore a sense of community to Laguna Beach. 

“I hope you will restore the wood-burning fire pits,” Fried said during public comment. “When you guys took control of our southern beaches from the county, we all expected you would preserve our freedoms, not take them away. The fire is what unites people.”

Although intended as a symbol of unity, the Pride lifeguard tower also raised concern for residents who live near West St. Beach. Citing the 2021 arson attack on Long Beach’s Pride lifeguard tower, Laguna residents show hesitancy with its proximity to their homes. 

The threat of vandalism, arson and hate crimes has seemingly increased due to residents reporting after-hour gatherings that turn rowdy and lack of police presence.  

“We are all for diversity, and I feel like we’re getting this tower set up to fail. We’re putting it in a location where it’s easy to access with kids and people that might want to cause hate crimes, but it’s not as easy to get police and fire (to the tower),” resident Donna Roth said. “I know it has been assessed that (emergency responders) can get down there, but not quickly.”

On the other hand, resident Carol Urie-Chickering is concerned not only about the $10,000 purchase of the lifeguard tower but also about it being transformed into a tribute for a single group within the community.

“I believe this is not a good precedent for us to set. But if this is possible, I would like to declare my pledge of $10,000 for the next lifeguard stand on our beach, and I am requesting that it is a tribute to women. I’d like it emblazoned with a 10-foot image of a uterus. I really feel like we have set up an opportunity here for all sorts of insignias and symbols that we do not want,” Urie-Chickering said during public comment. “The city is creating, it seems to me, and rewarding divisiveness. No one group should be able to buy a piece of community property and further dictate the message and its placement. Please rethink the symbolism if this tower is placed on this beach.”

Snow attempted to quell concerns about emergency response times with the assurance that the access road to the lifeguard tower is paved and has enough surface area for fire engines in case of an emergency. He also mentioned the odds of the Pride tower catching fire are low.

“I’ve looked at the incident that occurred in Long Beach, but the ignition temperature for fiberglass is about 400 degrees. It will burn. It’s the epoxy that’s placed in the fiberglass that will ignite. It would take a significant amount of heat to get it ignited,” Snow said. 

Cameras will be placed in the area as a precaution, and Snow also hopes that with the watchful eyes of the community, a fire will be reported immediately and emergency teams can respond and extinguish it quickly. 

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