Laguna Beach takes on graffitied Thousand Steps sea cave after OC Parks denies ownership

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Lifeguards search the southern cave on Thousand Steps Beach for a missing man as waves intensified in February 2015. Photo by Andrea Adelson.

Laguna Beach officials said Wednesday that a graffitied Thousand Steps Beach sea cave is located on private property and are working with the property owners to remove the paint.

Photos of the usually whimsical beachscape were posted to social media platforms, earning outrage from many Laguna Beach residents exasperated by a segment of visitors who vandalize natural spaces.

“We are working with the property owners on cleaning up the graffiti and expect to have the situation resolved soon,” Laguna Beach Community Development Director Marc Wiener wrote in an email.

OC Parks owns and operates South Laguna’s coastline. But after learning of the graffiti, county officials looked into the sea cave and determined it is not county property, OC Parks spokesperson Marisa O’Neil wrote in an email.

“Special precautions need to be taken to remove the graffiti to prevent any degradation of the material it’s on,” Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow said.

OC Parks increased park ranger patrols at the Top of the World trailhead to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park after the popular nature viewing spot endured a rash of graffiti in September 2020.

Laguna Beach code enforcement has opened a case to oversee the graffiti removal, Lt. Jim Cota, a spokesperson for the Laguna Beach Police Department.

There are at least three concerns with city crews simply sandblasting the paint away without an inquiry. First, private property owners are usually saddled with removing graffiti from their land. Second, public agencies are generally prohibited by federal and state law from discharging any material directly into the ocean. Lastly, city officials are generally cautious about impacting the geological conditions of a cliffside supporting multi-million homes uphill.

Even if a particular beach isn’t within his agency’s jurisdiction, Snow said his team is happy to partner and be a part of the solution,

After lifeguards observed a steady stream of visitors in recent days, Snow said “we’re seeing good compliance on city beaches.”

Jinger Wallace, a co-founder of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, was disappointed to see the tragic disregard of coastal bluffs and caves that belong to all Californians.

“We hope it can be safely removed without long-term damage and the perpetrators caught,” she wrote in an email. “We all need to speak up to stop these vandals from marring this magical place.”

Wallace also lauded Snow and his lifeguards’ partnership with the Laguna Bluebelt, adding that they’re key to protecting Laguna’s Marine Protected Areas.

Laguna Beach police encourage residents are encouraged to report graffiti on public property to the non-emergency line at 949-497-0701.

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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