Laguna Beach hikes fines for littering, drinking alcohol in public spaces

Laguna beachgoers stroll by a trash bin with the recycling divider left open. File Photo

By Lou Ponsi, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a recommendation by the Police Chief to raise fines for littering and drinking alcohol in public.

The new fines for littering and alcohol consumption, which are now in line with the standard penalty for municipal code violations, are: $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense within a 12-month period and $500 for a third and subsequent offenses within a 12-month period.

“The fines for these particular violations were codified in our municipal code and as the council has established a fine schedule for fines in general … these were somehow left behind and left out,” Police Chief Robert Thompson said. “So what has happened is the fines have not kept pace with the times and they are arguably low for the quality of life violations that they impact.”

For example, the fine for drinking alcohol on a city beach had been $30 but if the alcohol is being consumed from a glass bottle, the fine would be $100 for possession of glass on the beach, the chief said.

“What we are simply looking to do is provide consistency across all the different violations we commonly encounter in public places and to standardize them as per the fine schedule that the council has approved for all other violations but these,” Thompson said.

The Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, a local group that advocates for marine environment sustainability, supported the fine increases.

“A program to ticket for littering with significant fines will send a clear message that Laguna is determined to protect our fragile and heavily impacted natural environment from such illegal behavior,” Laguna Bluebelt co-founder Mike Beanan said.

In other matters, the council voted unanimously to approve a collaboration between the city and Visit Laguna Beach, an association of Laguna Beach hoteliers, to use city resources for promoting initiatives intended to protect Laguna’s natural resources.

Visit Laguna Beach has entered into an agreement with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a nationwide stewardship education program designed to minimize activities that could foster degradation of the environment.

There is no financial cost to the city for participating, Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said.

Instead, the city will promote the program through social media and communication tools.

“First and foremost, we are stewards of this special town,” Councilman George Weiss said. “We love this town. We have to treat it well and if we don’t treat it well, it’s like an animal eating its own tail. It’s not going to last very long. We need to take care of ourselves and make sure we are ahead of it. I support it 1,000 percent.”

One example of a Leave No Trace initiative can be seen in Sonoma County, Dupuis said, where hotel visitors are asked to take a pledge agreeing to “leave no trace” as you visit that county.

The pledge includes agreements to not leaving trash behind, safely using trails, respecting other visitors and bicycle safety.

“That is an example of the programs that could be the result of our education campaign,” Dupuis said.

Residents and city officials have reported a dramatic increase in visitors to the city, stemming in part from Southern Californians engaging in more outdoor activities due to the coronavirus and the popularity of Instagram-worthy open spaces.

In March, the council unanimously approved a $2 million plan aimed at improving the quality of life for residents by lessening the impacts of visitors using trails, parks, beaches, and adjoining neighborhoods.

The Neighborhood and Environmental Protection Plan imposes several measures expected to reduce nuisance activities, eliminate littering and bolster public safety.

“When you look back at what we’ve done over the last several months, this will add to it,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “People are coming to Laguna Beach. They are always going to be coming to Laguna Beach, so having a program like this makes a lot of sense to try to deal with and educate them.”

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