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Three Amigos of Aliso Creek

By Tom Osborne
By Tom Osborne

No, this is not a tale about three South Laguna gunslingers dueling at high noon with a sheriff’s posse from “big town,” some four miles north of here. Instead, armed with nothing more than our thoughts and dedication to protecting our local ocean, Mike Beanan, Jinger Wallace, and I traveled together to the California Coastal Commission meeting in Newport Beach on the morning of June 11. We thought that keeping the Commissioners and the agency’s Long Beach office staff informed of happenings along Laguna’s shore would be a good idea, especially since that office has been helping us with habitat maps of Aliso Creek and its once existing estuary.

The Commission meeting that morning was attended by roughly 100 people, with more arriving shortly after the start time of 9 am. In public comments, the “Three Amigos” testified on various matters relating to South Laguna’s coastal waters.

Jinger Wallace, a retired high school history teacher and ocean steward representing the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, a civic organization she co-founded, described the enthusiasm in Laguna for our Marine Protected Areas.

Moreover, she mentioned the ongoing work of the Bluebelt to educate the public regarding the new regulations intended to restore California’s marine life. She noted that improving water quality in our MPAs is an important goal of the Bluebelt. Jinger asked the Coastal Commissioners to help eliminate the illegal discharges at Aliso Beach that are a result of surfers who daily dig out the berm to create a standing wave. Fun as it may be, it is a public safety issue and pollutes our coastal zone where families and children swim and recreate.

Next, I went to the rostrum and gave the Commissioners a heads-up on efforts of the Laguna Beach Recreation Committee to explore the possibility of siting a skateboard park on the grassy area located on the inland side of Aliso Creek Park, between the watercourse and the parking lot. This patch of land, abutting the creek, belongs to the County of Orange. A number of Lagunans, I said, favored a restoration of the estuary that existed in the grassy area in the early 1970s. In that regard, I mentioned the $300,000 grant that the Coastal Commission’s sister agency, the California Coastal Conservancy, had recently bestowed on the Laguna Ocean Foundation to conduct a feasibility study on restoring the Aliso Creek Estuary. If the city of Laguna Beach, nonetheless, approves a skateboard park at the site in question, I told the Commissioners, I would join others in appealing such a decision to them. Finally, I noted that the Coastal Act aims at preserving estuarial habitat where possible, especially when such preservation has positive impacts on ocean water quality.

Water advocate Mike Beanan rounded out our joint presentations by detailing the negative impact on ocean ecology due to the daily emptying of some 1 to 5 million gallons of polluted, inland urban runoff into the ocean. Until recent decades, healthy tidewater goby inhabited the estuary at the site in question. This important “indicator” species cannot survive in the degraded creek flow today. Further, he related the contaminated runoff to algae blooms and acidification, both of which harm our coastal receiving waters. The breaching of the berm by local young people who ride the toxic mix on floatation devices only aggravates an already serious problem, Beanan told Commissioners. He added that such breaching, which he monitors and documents regularly, constitutes a violation of provisions within the Coastal Act.

With our mission accomplished for the time being, at least, the Three Amigos rode south to our homes near the South Laguna badlands. Count on it: we will return.

Tom Osborne, a former recipient of the city’s Environmental Award, is writing a book on Peter Douglas’s tenure as executive director of the California Coastal Commission. The work is under contract with the University of California Press.




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