Opinion: Edison Bulldozed in Open Space Without Necessary Permits

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By Gene Felder 

Many Laguna Beach residents worked very hard for years to preserve open space to add to our quality of life. All Lagunans should know that without proper permits, Southern California Edison (SCE) bulldozed up to 15-foot wide paths through open space, including a portion of OC Parks, and into City-owned open space. This open space is west of Alta Laguna Boulevard and north of Park Avenue, including a portion of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

Many thanks to Top of the World neighbor Janine Robinson and TOWNA board member Carey Strombotne for raising the alarm and providing photos of the unpermitted grading to the City and OC Parks.

Edison has a project to replace wires and five utility poles, and deemed an emergency and a fire hazard.

Information from Laguna Beach Interim City Manager Sean Joyce included:

“On January 11, I learned that SCE had begun unpermitted emergency repair work in the Top of the World. Upon learning of the work, I contacted SCE Saddleback District Manager Robert Maystrovich and asked him to take action to refrain from further work until City staff could learn more about the circumstances. We confirmed, and Mr. Maystrovich acknowledged, that the work was, in fact, being performed without issuance of a City permit—nor that of Coastal Commission staff.”

Of course, we all care about the prompt completion of the SCE project if important for reliable electrical service and fire safety. The Top of the World Neighborhood Association is thankful to Mayor Sue Kempf and the city, particularly City Manager Sean Joyce, for dealing with this situation.

Interim City Manager Sean Joyce emailed us:

“I am pleased to share with you that the efforts and interests of the city and many concerned residents appears to have resulted in a successful outcome. I have been informed a short time ago by SCE Saddleback District Manager Rober Maystrovich that Edison is working diligently on an alternative plan for completing much-needed repairs without requiring additional grading to the farthest pole. This plan would utilize helicopters to avoid any further habitat impact and allow the completion of repairs before the critically important gnatcatcher nesting season and minimize and expedite the scope of SCE’s soil erosion control and natural habitat restoration measures. Importantly, the plan would also allow SCE to re-energize the power lines that serve a large service area, including City Hall and the city’s first responder (Police and Fire) headquarters.”

So stop the bulldozing, use helicopters to replace the wires and five utility poles, and restore the damage done to the open space.

I have questions for the City Council:

1. Did Fire Chief Nico King or the fire department know about the fire risk necessitating the Edison project?

2. Can the City place signage and fencing or otherwise discourage the public from using the Edison graded paths as new trails in the open space?

3. A number of us met with Edison folks on site. Their mitigation person thought restoration, returning the paths to healthy vegetation, would take five to 10 years. None of us are interested in mitigation. We want restoration. How will the city monitor the restoration of the damaged open space?

From this situation, I have a personal opinion: The city is involved in hiring a new city manager. Look what is right before your eyes. Interim city manager Sean Joyce has done an outstanding job, and the city council should consider making him an offer that he can’t refuse to continue working as Laguna Beach City Manager. Sean Joyce has demonstrated how a city manager should perform and has done outstanding work in a short period of time. It has been quite refreshing and remarkable.

Gene is Top of the World Neighborhood Association president and a board member of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy for 35 years, serving as vice president in 1989. Gene also served on the Laguna Beach Historical Society Board of Directors for 13 years, five years as president and is co-author, with Foster J. Eubanks, of the 2013 book “Laguna Beach, Then & Now.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Gene?
    Google® much?
    Have you EVER actually read environmental master documents, the laws and regulations?
    In many studies and reports readily available online if you HAD researched, restorations are quite often practically synonymous, interchangeable with mitigations.
    That’s because under state CEQA or federal NEPA requirements, restorations ARE forms of mitigations for projects undergoing review.
    Sometimes off site restorations are accepted by jurisdictional agencies if onsite or adjacent/contiguous habitat restoration isn’t possible.
    These coastal sage scrub plant communities are slow growing….so unless you know some developer who’s denuding a few acres or so, excavating for a nearby subdivision or monolithic project, good luck with your “plop down,” VOILA! “instant scrub community” mentality.
    You don’t just “add water” as if it’s oatmeal. You’d need mature native plants btw, not starters.
    Once SCE is through, combined with all of the “Lookie-Loo” tramplers, I’m not sure what the eventual destroyed acreage will be.
    And Gene? If you’re an example of VL leadership understanding our environs, then you people need schoolin’, I’m not foolin’.
    Helicopters are dangerous, but hey, so are a lot of your ideas.
    Like making Sean Joyce our CM.
    I served on the Hazardous Waste Sub-committee for the SUPERFUND remediation, rehabilitation and historical restoration of Open Space out at former MCAS El Toro in Irvine.
    He was CM there in 2005 when things starting going south.
    Our subcommittee, led by the Lake Forest Mayor Marcia Rudolph, “discovered” via input from every department, every level of state and federal scrutiny reps on board, that the original earmark of around $600 million was grossly insufficient.
    Our estimates had doubled to $1.3 billion and eventually climbed higher once groundwater/aquifer and soil sampling was performed.
    The Department of Defense & Department of the Navy (The USMC is a branch of the DON) were angry. Where would that budget deficit come from?
    The City of Irvine, who’d we’d all trusted to take the lead, gravitated towards major development corporations, literally sell off the land rights.
    Irvine was a scandalous train wreck. Humungous cost over-runs be damned.
    It may be safe to live in cookie-cutter Irvine, but it became clear that the residents weren’t safe from their own, eventually perceived as corrupt, possible criminal governance.
    As selfish, as dysfunctional a Council or dispositive/decision making body as I’ve ever witnessed. With SJ nodding his head and facilitating what they’d vowed to never do.
    The Open Space suffered, the voters who empowered them suffered, and look at the wasted hundreds of millions of dollars, the marathon coughing up little progress for nearly 20 years.
    All assisted by SJ, an anti-environmental enabler in many people’s opinion.
    Fiscal impropriety and imprudence rife.
    And nearly 20 years after I first set eyes on him, he still has a constant scowl on his face, that has never changed.
    Now if you Gene or your ilk think that he’s a perfect fit, then add a personal lack of professional appraisal to your portfolio.
    What part of “13 years at Irvine” don’t you get?
    If he had reservations about what those Councils were doing, he hid it well.
    OTOH, if you think that he was only a puppet, doing their bidding, then do you see THAT slippery slope why we have a similar, pro-development, pro commerce Council?
    And try Google® and you’ll find all of the criticism, the allegations of malfeasance, misconduct, inappropriate expenditure of public funds, etc., regarding Irvine on his watch if you take a few minutes.
    You’re into history, maybe you should give a little more scrutiny regarding SJ, look under the hood instead of just kicking the tires.
    Last think Laguna needs right now is SJ or his type of management.

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