Letter: Fire Station in South Laguna

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One hallmark of good local government is transparency and consideration of thoughtful input from affected citizens. Unfortunately, the decision about where to relocate Lagunas Fire Station 4, which is in South Laguna, reflects little of such transparency or responsiveness.

From the beginning, the South Laguna Civic Association as well as many individuals in South Laguna have objected strongly to both the process of selecting a new site for Fire Station 4 and the decision made by the three-person Council majority to purchase the Ti Amo restaurant site for that purpose.

What was wrong with the process? Many private, closed sessions of Council examined alternative sites with no public input. When more than a dozen sites were presented to the public it became clear that the Council had already decided on the Ti Amo site, although they went through the motions of a short period of public comment. When it became obvious that there were strong and significant objections to the Ti Amo site from the public, the City announced that although the purchase was being completed quickly, there was no certainty that the new fire station would be located there. For some, this appeared to be an attempt to bury the issue, allowing the City to move its plan forward out of public sight.

What is wrong with the site? The Ti Amo site fails on the most important criterion that the city and the fire department initially articulated: there is no side street access. All traffic will be stopped in both directions on Coast Highway whenever a vehicle leaves or backs into the fire station, resulting in serious safety and congestion situations on Coast Highway. Additionally, the site is small and cramped, forcing the design of the station to include major excavation to construct an underground third story for parking and storage below the heavy equipment level. There are major setback, alley access and height issues, as well as impacts on the beautiful planted median. The negative impacts (view, noise, circulation) on nearby residential neighbors will be significant.

Did the city choose Ti Amo because it was the best available site? Absolutely not. We have identified, and the City is aware of, several alternative sites in South Laguna that are far superior on every key criterion. All are larger, have excellent side street access, have less impact on neighbors, do not require three stories including an underground garage, and most do not require the destruction of a revenue-producing business that serves the community. Any of these alternative sites could be purchased by the city.

The siting of Fire Station 4 is one of several key recent or near-future decisions affecting Laguna (parking, development downtown and along Coast Highway, the hillsides, the beaches) that are characterized by several features. Input from affected citizens is discouraged or ignored. Alternatives that better serve the interests of the community are passed over on the vote of a slim majority of Council. City leadership and staff assume that if they move forward quietly, citizens will accept their flawed decisions. Do not accept this. It is not too late for a superior site to be selected instead of the Ti Amo site. Make your voice heard on this and other issues.

Greg OLoughlin,

President, South Laguna Civic Association

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3 COMMENTS

  1. There’s plenty here that doesn’t pass the sniff test.

    Plenty of backroom meetings – closed to the public. Purchased without an appraisal for $2.7M. With a fast-tracked purchase. For a site that doesn’t work. With other sites better suited. All approved by the three pro-business, pro-development City Council members and the like-minded City Manager – after a loud outcry from residents went totally ignored.

    Something smells spectacularly fishy on this deal – far beyond mere incompetence.

  2. Can’t remember when I agreed with SLCA about much, but they’re 100% correct about this fiasco.
    Ti Amo would be the worst choice.
    Won’t the newly enhanced 3rd St. median, plantings, etc. have to be removed for emergency access/egress? And being so close to the signal, won’t that intersection jam up going south so that city vehicles can turn in? And vehicles leaving, they’ll have to turn right, run the gauntlet (cross PCH), double back, bang a u-turn towards town?
    The candidate on the inland side, just 2 blocks south, nearer the hospital, on the corner, if access/egress for vehicles were off PCH for safety’s sake, would work.
    A few blocks south of the 3rd Street signal, install a prominently painted striped zone for the fire/EMT techs, put an overhang with warning lights triggered during emergency responses to alert drivers, warn intersection bodies.
    Far enough away from the 3rd Street signal for an ample traffic circulation buffer, (part of CEQA, IMO it’ll need a MND at minimum).
    That corner lot is small but ample.
    It enhances safety and response, especially residential fires which HAVE occurred. Ask Brad Makowsky (house fire on Eagle Rock–September 2010).
    As LBFD reports reflected, many homes in So Lag are difficult to access by fireman hauling equipment, but a station there is necessary.
    And many homes/buildings being so closely bunched, doesn’t an annex station that can serve So Lag, dispatched promptly make common sense? The closest station is Agate, right?
    Noise? Require sirens to only be activitated once on PCH—and for for criminy’s sake, the hospital was built in 1964-5, wasn’t it? Does anyone resent THEIR sirens? Ask not for whom the bell tolls.
    These people (Firemen, EMTs, etc.) are there like our stellar cops and lifeguards, they serve and protect and their facilities are integral tools in their respective professional pouches.
    I lived in So Lag for 8 of my 50 years here, yes, it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
    I think that proximate, strategically placed PCH corner lot is ideal.

  3. Thank you Greg O’Loughlin for addressing this. Aside from the T Amo restaurant site never working for a fire station site for the reasons you and others have stated and regardless of the Fire Chief, Fire staff and City Manager presentations promoting otherwise, the general public was overwhelmingly opposed to this purchase and proposed use. And Councilmembers received a substantial amount of written and verbal communications and in opposition along with requests to look at other doable options.

    And at the end of the item discussion…Councilmembers Bob Whalen, Sue Kempf and Peter Blake did what they do best. Ignored their constituents and voted against their wishes in favor of city staff. This is happening way too often with this majority trio. Vote for city leadership change in 2022!

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