Laguna Beach OKs $2 million for tourism impact fixes

Graffiti on rock formation at Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park in February. Courtesy of Mike Sweeney.

By Lou Ponsi, Special to the Independent

The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a 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.

The $2 million cost of implementing the plan includes $935,000 for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020-21 and about $1.1 million for Fiscal Year 2021-22.

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf brought this proposal to the City Council during its Jan. 30 planning retreat. The cost will be absorbed by additional revenue created by the $1 per hour increase in parking revenue as well as the Measure LL sales tax fund.

Most of the mitigation measures could be implemented by May, city staffers said.

“This action by the Council will better protect our neighborhoods and preserve the natural beauty of our beaches and open space areas,” Mayor Bob Whalen said in a press release. “Through numerous neighborhood outreach meetings with our residents and neighbors over the last year, we’ve heard that more police protection, parking enforcement and trash pickup are needed to maintain the quality of life that we all expect.”

Highlights of the plan include increased signage discouraging littering and nuisance behavior along with the addition of bottle-filling stations at beaches, parks, and trails.

Laguna Beach will also partner with the Laguna Canyon Foundation to provide part-time staff serving as trail ambassadors on weekends from May 1 to Labor Day, Sept. 6. City officials are also asking OC Parks to provide more park rangers.

Laguna Beach police will add two more officers and form a neighborhood improvement team, tasked with addressing quality of life issues within neighborhoods. City staffers plan to install a gate and two additional cameras will be added in Alta Laguna Park to deter criminal activity, particularly when the park is closed at night.

Additional lifeguards will also be stationed at high-use beaches including Shaw’s Cove, Treasure Island, Crescent Bay Beach and Victoria Beach. In South Laguna, they’ll support the county-contracted agency, OC Lifeguards.

Litter pick-up teams will be deployed in various parts of the city and trash cans will be placed in new locations.

A mitigation plan became necessary because of what city officials say has been 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 the past, visitors mainly swarmed Main Beach, festivals and Downtown Laguna, but are now spilling over into residential neighborhoods, creating quality of life issues.

A team headed by Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, including members of the Public Works, Police, Water Quality and Marine Safety departments visited neighborhoods in recent months and met with residents to address the issues.

“We collected a lot of information,” Dupuis said. “We had a lot of listening sessions and we wanted to make sure we developed a program to address the impacts that the visitors are causing to the neighborhoods next to the beaches, parks and trails.”

Councilmembers also directed staff to craft a variety of code amendments, which would prohibit the use of plastic straws and plastic containers on beaches and trails, feeding wild birds in city parks and use of large shade structures on beaches to preserve sightlines of waves for public safety employees. City staff will return with their proposed legislation later this year.

The council will also consider prohibiting the storage of bicycles at Heisler Park and on Main Beach, expanding the abandonment of personal property in public in public spaces and requiring non-coastal community parks to close at 10 p.m.

“This is putting residents first,” Councilmember Toni Iseman said. “And I think the community is going to recognize the attention to detail that this has  and the recognition of the complaints that they’ve been issuing  over the years.”

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