Letter: 1890 S. Coast Highway Mixed Use Project


The conversion of the existing Sweetwater Hand Car Wash seems bogged down overview equity and neighborhood compatibility issues. One notable feature downplayed by some as a minor nuisance is a poorly understood logistical nightmare involving binding remediation of the former retail gas station’s contaminated soil.

Re-development of these retail gas outlets (RGOs) is a lot more complicated and hence a lot more expensive than locals are aware of today. In Laguna, we’ve had several of these sites converted, but many long sat inactive. Some still sit dormant due to the cleanup parameters mandated by both California and U.S. EPA. In most cases, the fuel was stored underground in what were long ago considered adequate containment devices that eventually failed.

One at the north end of town, on the ocean side, at the corner of North Coast Highway and Cliff Drive across from the Shell station sat idle for what, 15 years? The one at 980 N. Coast Highway (Pinecrest and NCH), inland side, is still undeveloped.

Anyone remember the time that the former Texaco station on South Coast Highway, opposite Laguna Auto Service on the ocean side at Agate Street closed overnight 30 years ago, facility abandoned, then a chain link fence went up? Regulators shut them down because their underground tanks were antiques, leaked into the soil and petrochemical “leachate” was literally dripping out of the beach bluff below. Soon the station itself was razed to the ground and that site sat idle for many years.

The Montage employee parking lot just south of Ruby’s Diner on the inland side was never excavated, ground there never broken due to its former incarnation as a Union 76 RGO. Similar reasons: whomever breaks ground must remediate to both state and federal toxic rule removal standards.

Often, this cannot be done in place with common cleansing chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, instead the developer must excavate deeply and widely to remove contiguous toxic substance-laden soil, especially where subterranean support elements for multi-story structures are planned. Finding a hazardous waste disposal site that will take the “spoils” and also paying for special vehicular cartage (trucks and mileage) jacks up the pre-installation sticker price.

As an environmental analyst, specializing in water quality, perhaps both our planning commissioners and city staff, plus concerned locals should educate themselves about RGO remediation compliance dynamics? It’s neither easy or cheap folks.

Roger Bütow, Laguna Beach

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  1. Do facilities with subterranean Diesel tanks face the same regulatory constraints as RGOs? Facilities such as S. Laguna and TOW Fire Stations, City maintenance yards. What if these tanks are found to leak prior to any remediation interests?


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