Ordinance and resuscitation possible for nearly dead cottages
The new sewer pump station at the soon-to-be remodeled Main Beach lifeguard headquarters will cost nearly twice as much as anticipated and force the postponement of other sewer projects, the City Council learned Tuesday. The subterranean design edges closer to $4 million as opposed to the earlier estimate of $2.2 million, which was based on reconstruction costs of other sewer pump stations in town. “The benefit of this design is that we have better control of the odors,” Wade Brown, project manager, explained. “We’ll hardly ever have to open up this pit and let the odors out and the sewage just stays put and is never exposed to the public.” The new design is unique in the city because it incorporates a “wet well” and a “dry well,” said Brown. The wet well is a 9,000-gallon tank that holds sewage and odors. The dry well is a 25-foot pit in the ground that houses pumps, valves and other related equipment. Brown said the sewer pump station will also be less of an eyesore at the summer’s most bikini- and board-shorts-dotted beach in town. “The only thing the public will see is our employees going through the hatch and down the stairway,” said Brown. “We won’t be doing anything out in the public eye.” Another reason for the bump in price is the depth of the station, 25 feet underground and 15 feet below sea level. The new dry well will be prefabricated, which increased its price from $650,000 to $1 million. The wet well will be made of polyethylene plastic instead of concrete to reduce the effects of corrosive sewer gases, which increased costs by $300,000. “If absolutely everything goes wrong at the same time, as it’s been known to happen,” Brown said, “we have a by-pass wet well so we can immediately install emergency pumps and start keeping the sewage flowing.” “Shoring,” which refers to waterproof walls surrounding the station, and rerouting a jumble of sewer pipes under Coast Highway into a more intelligible configuration also added to the final price by $600,000. Brown said his staff saved the city $600,000 by moving the pump station closer to the lifeguard headquarters so the structures share one shoring wall as well as by purchasing the dry and wet wells directly from the manufacturer and combining Coast Highway sewer lines rather than drilling and installing new conduits. To cover the costs, the city will use $450,000 from its capital improvement fund, $1 million from the remaining balance on nearly completed projects, including about $400,000 from the sewer fund. Three sewer projects scheduled for fiscal year 2011-12 totaling $250,000 will be pushed back to 2013-14. Constructing the Main Beach sewer pump station, which will pump raw sewage uphill to the South Orange County Wastewater Authority station by City Hall and eventually to the SOCWA treatment center at Aliso Creek, will begin after the summer season on Sept. 20 and is scheduled to be finished by next May. After nearly 10 years of planning, remodeling of the Main Beach headquarters would then get underway, with completion projected for summer 2013. Lights out on ‘light-trespassing’ ordinance The council all but canned an extensive first-time ordinance to prevent “glare trespassing,” primarily from security lights shining into neighbors’ homes. Because the draft ordinance was “complaint driven” and defined glare as “the squinting of eyes,” the council thought it would be best to take a long second look. The proposed law made “light trespass that results in glare beyond the property line” illegal and required bright outdoor lighting to be hooded, shielded and aimed downward. “Some of these lines in here I really find quite humorous,” commented councilman Kelly Boyd, referring to the proposed law. “I guess you guys most have worked some late nights.” Boyd recommended voluntary compliance first instead of waiting for a complaint and then citing the offender. “That’s big brother going into your neighborhood and then writing you a citation. That isn’t Laguna.” The council asked Councilwoman Jane Egly to work with the subcommittee on refining the regulations and return with a report at its July 12 meeting. “I don’t see why there’s any reason for people to have search lights reflecting on the beach,” Egly commented. The subcommittee, comprised of city staff and two members each from the planning commission, design review board and the environmental committee, spent nearly eight months drafting the ordinance. “A lot of us aren’t happy with this ordinance but it’s a good first step,” said John Stevens from the city’s environmental committee. “The key to this will be educational rather than lead with a stick and come with an ordinance where people are going to feel like they’re being controlled. There’s a lot of situations this is going to fix where it’s really bad between neighbors.” Crime studies, commented Walker Reed, member of Laguna Ocean Foundation and amateur astronomer supporting dark night skies, conclude that nighttime lighting assists criminals. “If somebody traipses around in the dark with a flashlight, it’s easier to pick him up,” Reed noted. “It used to be the power companies wanted all the lights on so they could make money. That was the ‘50s mantra, light your whole community up as brightly as possible.” Ed Almanza, also representing LOF, requested that the council consider the adverse effects of beach floodlights on animals in their natural habitat. He said a shorebird survey conducted in Laguna Beach over the last five years shows “nada, nil, no birds at all. There’s this habitat that’s normally used by birds and now it’s being used by people.” Almanza added that even though the proposed ordinance is complaint-driven, “we’re not going to see lobsters squinting and going down to City Hall and filing a complaint.” Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson suggested that the city become the example before “dictating wattage or lumens to homeowners.” City planner Monica Tuchscher said low wattage solar fixtures would not be subject to the restrictions in the proposed ordinance. “I would say right now the biggest violator in town is the city of Laguna Beach,” said Mayor Toni Iseman, “and the street lights we have on Coast Highway and once you notice it, you’ll just be appalled.” The ordinance’s intent was to curb over-lit homes in order to improve good-neighbor behavior and the ability to enjoy dark, starry night skies. Resuscitation possible for nearly dead cottages Two of three historic cottages uprooted from downtown and banished for the last four years to an open lot in Laguna Canyon may see a new life yet. Michael Blakemore, architect for a developer who attempted and then abandoned renovating the bungalows, told the council another client has expressed interest. Scott Tinney, who owns 15 acres in Bluebird Canyon, is interested in taking the cottages, said Blakemore. “They’re building a wonderful family compound centered around an organic farm,” he explained. Though councilman Boyd intended to seek support for the demolition of the cottages, he conceded to a postponement but the council put a five-week drop-dead time-frame on the new project. “Unless someone comes with a specific plan and offer at that time, the cottages are gone,” stated councilwoman Egly. Boyd said he was “shocked” an architect would recommend saving the cottages. Blakemore later said he has inspected the structures and feels the buildings are worth renovating. The architect asked for a 90-day due-diligence period to determine the feasibility of moving the cottages from Laguna Canyon to Tinney’s hillside in Bluebird Canyon. “He does have space for them and we think it could work,” Blakemore said. Tex Haines, owner of Victoria Skimboards, adjacent to the lot where the cottages are now stored, sees them as a daily eyesore. “You begin to notice that the siding is paper thin, the roof is completely engulfed with roots from ivy. I’ve been told the floor’s been taken out,” Haines told the council. “You can imagine the state of the two-by-fours in the walls. They’re old. They’re really, really old. “I’m just really tired of looking at them,” he continued. “It’s personal with me. I’m just surprised how much time and money and effort have been spent trying to save some buildings which are so economically beyond the pale.” The fate of the cottages will be determined by the City Council at its June 7 meeting.