By Mayor Bob Whalen
I am pleased to report that the City is continuing to implement a number of the fire mitigation and emergency preparedness recommendations in the 2019 Wildfire Mitigation and Safety Report. These projects will reduce the current level of high fire risk and exposure to wildfires in Laguna Beach and improve evacuation routes in the event of an emergency. Recently, the City Council took another step toward completing the priorities identified in the report with the award of a contract for the Bluebird Canyon Drive Evacuation Route Widening project.
Bluebird Canyon Drive is a key evacuation route in the City. In 2019, when we put the report together, we relied on a team from the police department and fire department to identify places in town where an evacuation would be impaired or slowed in the event of an emergency. Bluebird Canyon Drive was identified as number one on the list for opportunities to improve access and evacuation times.
The improvements identified were undergrounding utilities along Bluebird between Cress Street and Rancho Laguna Road and widening the roadway along the horseshoe area between Rancho Laguna Road and Oriole Drive.
The project will widen the roadway by eight feet, establishing a 32-foot-wide paved area that could accommodate three lanes in an emergency. During regular times, the road will have two 12-foot lanes and an 8-foot shoulder. The shoulder will be hatched and marked “No Parking.” This will provide a safe pedestrian passage on the westbound side of the road. Improving pedestrian safety is another priority for the Council. Construction is expected to begin in March and be completed this fall, with utility undergrounding to follow.
Another project identified in the report to improve evacuation routes was undergrounding utility poles along Park Avenue between St. Ann’s Drive and Wendt Terrace. The Park Avenue design is being developed by affected utility companies and is scheduled to be completed this summer. I am pleased that the Bluebird and Park Avenue projects have been fully funded by the Council and will benefit residents soon.
We are also excited to be partnering with the water district on a third project identified in the report to add additional helipad water tanks on our hillsides to allow helicopters to rapidly refill during wildfire events
Finally, a new fire department community risk assessment and standards of cover study is underway and will focus on the risks and hazards specific to Laguna Beach, so we may better assess the fire department’s capability to respond. This will help complete a comprehensive assessment of the fire services being provided to the community and identify areas for improvement in service levels.
We believe that these projects and assessments will benefit our residents and visitors by improving evacuation routes and our response capabilities in the event of a wildfire. I commend my fellow Councilmembers for continuing to fund the safety recommendations in the report. We are resolved to push forward to implement additional recommendations to further public safety throughout the City.
Bob Whalen – Mayor of Laguna Beach