Letter: Save The Canyon – 1989 Walk in the Canyon

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November 2021 is the 32nd anniversary of the Walk in the Canyon. During the spring of 1989, Mark Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield gathered support including from the City of Laguna Beach to have a collaborative art project constructed at Sycamore Flats (now the Jim Dilley Preserve) along Laguna Canyon Road.

On Nov. 11, 1989, the “Walk in the Canyon” started at Irvine Bowl Park and ended at “The Tell” at Sycamore Flats. The Los Angeles Times reported that approximately 7,500 people attended this event where they demonstrated their concerns about development in Laguna Canyon. The cry was “Save the Canyon”.  A direct result was stopping the Irvine Co.’s 3,500 housing unit Laguna Laurel development in Laguna Canyon, the City of Laguna Beach negotiating to purchase the property, and Laguna Beach citizens passing Measure H a $20 million bond measure with a nearly 80% yes vote.

At the time I was vice president of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy who was the key driver sponsoring the “Walk in the Canyon”.  However, it was co-sponsored by the Laguna Greenbelt, Village Laguna, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Laguna Beach.

Luckily, the LCC’s outreach program reached Harry Huggins. He had unbelievable support from his employer Charles Michael Murray.  Harry put together an organizing effort with his committee working day and night for two months putting the spectacular event together. Harry and his committee garnered great publicity for “The Walk” getting Jose Feliciano and Don Henley of the Eagles to do public service announcements that were played on a number of radio stations and shown on cable television.

“The Walk” brought the Irvine Co. to the negotiating table. Paul Freeman was hired as a facilitator and skillfully led the City and the Irvine Co. to an agreement. Taxpayers were able to look at their property tax bills and see the entry originally raised their property tax approximately 6%. This was authorized by the Laguna Beach city voters and raised $20 million to make part of the initial payment via Measure H passed in November 1990. The County of Orange kicked in $10 million. Thereafter the search was on other funding, made a bit easier as we had stepped up making our own sacrifice. The newly-formed Laguna Canyon Foundation organized this effort.

Environmentalists should continue to support the Laguna Canyon Conservancy at lagunacanyonconservancy.org, Laguna Greenbelt at lagunagreenbelt.org, and the Laguna Canyon Foundation at lagunacanyon.org.

Yours truly,

Gene Felder, Laguna Beach

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