Speaker’s Corner


Laying Out Ranch Plans

By Mark Christy
By Mark Christy

First and foremost, I’d like to thank the people of Laguna for their overwhelming support of our restoration here at The Ranch at Laguna Beach (Aliso Creek/Ben Browns). Inevitably, while complementing what we’re doing, they offer to help support our efforts and set the record straight on what is (and isn’t) happening with the project.

Perhaps you’ve read that our project was appealed to the Coastal Commission. In finding there may be “substantial issue” the Commission neither upheld nor denied the appeal. But it’s a big project, in a magnificent natural setting and a local citizen has requested that they take a closer look. We did not oppose this review because we know that we’re doing right by this iconic property on every level. They’ll soon recognize what the rest of town already knows. That our sensitive restoration project is literally the best thing that Laguna, and all of her residents, could possibly have hoped for.

For those of you unfamiliar with this 87-acre property, it consists of a rambling hotel campus, a restaurant/lodge building, a tranquil nine-hole golf course and a pro-shop/office building. The course was built in 1950, with the balance of the hotel/lodge area property developed by Ben and Violet (Vi) Brown in the early 1960s. The Brown family ran the enterprise until selling to an affiliate of the Montage in 2004. This affiliate eventually submitted elaborate plans to tear everything down, move thousands of yards of soil, develop a large hotel including dozens of new homes throughout the canyon and construct an 18-hole course by pushing into Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. For many locals including myself, it seemed overly ambitious for this incomparable setting. So I asked them to please call me if/when they ever decided to sell before selling to some generic national chain. Years later, the call came in. Having grown up playing this course with my dad (and now my son), and as one who has nothing but reverence for the setting, I jumped at the opportunity. However our approach to the property would be completely different. We planned on restoring this decades-neglected iconic treasure to its original glory, while incorporating modern functionality required by both the building/safety code and our guests. And that is precisely what we are doing. Nothing more:

We are not building a new resort but rather are simply restoring the original hotel buildings.

While splitting rooms to offer more options to visitors, we’re maintaining the original hotel room footprints, original rooflines while keeping the original perimeter framing of the hotel buildings approximately 98% intact.

The appealed portion of work was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission and takes place entirely within an existing footprint that was 100% developed and virtually completely paved back in the 1960’s.

We’re replacing the hazardous 50-year old wood siding with fire-resistant materials.

We’re installing new fire sprinkler systems for the safety of our guests and neighbors.

We’ve eliminated all of the original wood-shake roofs.

We’re installing insulation and energy efficient windows utilizing the original openings in the hotel buildings.

Even with the modest new buildings proposed the project entails an over 11,000-foot reduction in the building footprints.

We’re eliminating over 7,000 feet of paved surfaces and replacing them with natural materials and filtration drains reducing runoff into the creek.

We’ve sensitively pruned the decades-ignored vegetation, ensuring the preservation of native plants and proper maintenance. All state and federal laws regarding protection of nesting/roosting birds were followed during tree trimming.

After obtaining all required permits and properly giving advance notice to the appropriate agencies (CA Coastal Commission, US Fish & Wildlife, etc.), we used only their permit-approved restoration methodologies to voluntarily eradicate invasive non-native vegetation in the creek bed. All work was conducted under the supervision of our on-site habitat restoration ecologist. No other work in the sensitive creek area has occurred besides this agency-permitted ecosystem improvement.

We’ll celebrate and respect the property’s heritage including the original Thurston home site and restore the long-abandoned moniker and community use of the original Camp Elizabeth Dolph, which had for decades been a dilapidated maintenance dump covered in refuse. I believe that the site should preserve and reflect its wonderful history and engage the community in the parcel’s special setting.

We’re voluntarily converting the hotel landscape irrigation to recycled water using drought tolerant and native plants.

We’ve been proactively working with SCWD and SOCWA for months in an effort to voluntarily convert the golf course to recycled water. These agencies are currently still in the testing stages for the new recycled water facility to ensure proper TDS levels for turf.

We’ve hired a regionally-recognized Eucalyptus expert to ensure that trees on the property, including Camp Elizabeth Dolph, are continually monitored and maintained to ensure long, healthy lives as well as visitor safety.

We’re voluntarily reducing turf coverage by tens of thousands of feet throughout the golf course to minimize water usage.

We welcome the review. This project stands quite tall on its merits and is widely and enthusiastically embraced by virtually everyone who has seen it. But when it’s characterized that we’re potentially harming the environment, or doing major development, its time to set the record straight. For example, a letter in this week’s paper claims “powerful special interests fought (the appellants) appeal.” In reality, no one “fought” the appeal. Rather, these “special interests” were simply going on record as supporting this project and include; Schoolpower, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach Little League, Laguna Ocean Foundation, One World/One Ocean – Greg MacGillivray, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, The Ocean Institute, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, Glennwood House, Wheels 4 Life, Grower’s First, and several environmentally focused former City Council members. We’re humbled that this diverse and unprecedented group has offered to lend their voices to the strong chorus of locals and environmentalists who love what we’re doing.

Our project is an oasis of Laguna soul and represents an aesthetic and environmental windfall that visitors will cherish and locals describe as “an answer to Laguna’s prayers.” We have a decades-overdue, environmentally correct and widely supported project with nothing to hide. As a lifetime resident, I’m confident that generations of Laguna residents will look at this property with the same pride I’m feeling right now.

If you’d like to see for yourself, please contact me: [email protected]. I’ll be more than happy to take you on a personal tour so you can witness the sensitive restoration and minimal scope of work that is actually involved. You’ll see the loving attention that has gone into every detail of this restoration and recognize it as being the ideal outcome for our local treasure. And if you too want to support this worthy project, please stop by and we’ll let you know how you can help.

Mark Christy co-owns The Ranch with other partners.


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  1. Sounds great. The one thing I have always hoped for was an extension of the aliso canyon trail all the way to the beach. Maybe something can be worked out to it happen. Would live to be ale to ride bikes with the family from our in Laguna Niguel to aliso creek beach.

  2. We’re pulling for you Mark and the other investors. Let’s not let a few people stop a project that enriches our city and maintains a wonderful place for all people to enjoy.


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