Laguna Beach reviewing $1 million plan to fix illegal parking, graffiti removal, trash pick-up and more

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Cars line Alta Laguna Boulevard at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. Courtesy of Gene Felder

The Laguna Beach City Council will consider a plan Tuesday to annually invest $1 million from new public parking revenue to blunt the impacts of visitors using beaches, parks, and trails.

Among the hot issues slated for funding are community policing, trash pick-up, graffiti removal, parking enforcement, water bottle refilling stations, and marine safety services, City Manager John Pietig said Tuesday during a Zoom meeting hosted by the Laguna Canyon Conservancy.

“With COVID-19 people are really gathering more and using the county trails for hiking and biking because that’s a safe place where they can be with family and friends,” Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said.

Driftwood, and Top of the World, and Victoria Beach are among the neighborhoods that could see benefits if the City Council approves appropriating money from the parking and Measure LL sales tax funds.

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf brought this proposal to the City Council during its Jan. 30 planning retreat. It’s made possible by a $1 increase per hour for city lots and meters. An additional $1.2 million in additional revenue is expected per year from the new parking fees, which are largely paid by visitors.

In addition to these services, the neighborhood and environmental protection plan proposes a ban on single-use plastic straws and food containers at city-owned beaches, parks, and trails, Dupuis said. City leaders hope this legislation will trim the amount of trash left in open spaces and flows downstream to the ocean.

Councilmembers will also consider a ban on feeding birds in city parks, Dupuis said.

The City Council will also mull additional funding for Laguna Beach Marine Safety to augment Orange County Lifeguards’ presence in South Laguna. This proposal arrives in the wake of public uproar about graffiti on a sea cave near Thousand Steps Beach. Last year, searches for two missing swimmers, who were later found dead at Table Rock Beach, required dozens of lifeguards as well as helicopter crews from the U.S. Coast Guard and Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Gene Felder, president of the Top of the World Neighborhood Association, said the plan for stepped-up neighborhood services is the product of many discussions with Mayor Bob Whalen and city staffers.

“We pay plenty in taxes and we deserve police and fire services,” he said. “We hope there is going to be funding for increased police presence, trash pick-up, quick graffiti removal, and parking enforcement.”

One area Laguna Beach police have already made progress on is deploying officers on ATVs to patrol a city-owned portion of Aliso and Wood Canyon Wilderness Parks, Felder said. Officers recently contacted dozens of visitors, including some who were illegally smoking in the park designated as a very high fire hazard area.

City leaders still need to do more to improve trailhead cameras, which are apparently unable to clearly surveil vehicles license plates at night., Felder said.

Last year, daytrippers seeking an Instagram-worthy photo at the so-called Pirate Tower overwhelmed the residential streets adjacent to Victoria Beach, Michael Roy, a neighborhood spokesperson.

“We have an international landmark and we have essentially been dealing with very little services on South Laguna beaches and last summer we were just overrun and our neighborhoods were taken over by tourists,” Roy said.

City council and staffers have done an “excellent job” rising to the challenge now that they’re aware of residents’ frustration about jammed traffic, overflowing trash cans, and public urination.

“We have to focus on neighborhoods first,” Roy said. “That’s just public service.”

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