Opinion: Musings on the Coast


Laguna’s Great Fire Part 2

I recently wrote a column about Laguna’s Great Fire of 1993, which destroyed more than 400 homes. I wrote that the destruction was amplified because the firemen ran out of firewater; they ran out because a planned three-million-gallon firewater reservoir, which had been approved by the City Council, instead was sent back to the Planning Commission and delayed until after the fire occurred. The tank was planned to be underground and unseen in a new park at the Top of the World (TOW), called Alta Laguna Park. Finally, I stated that according to Water District official Louis Zitnik, the delay was generated by Village Laguna (VL) and led by Ann Christoph.

Boy oh boy, after this column ran, did VL acolytes cry out. You would have thought the world ended.

Christoph even emailed Indy Editor, Daniel Langhorne, noting she could not have been involved because during her tenure on the City Council (late 1991—95) she was under contract to design the Alta Laguna Park and recused herself many times in 1992 when related Council votes were taken. There is one problem with her argument: the delaying action occurred in 1990, prior to her term on the City Council.

Let me quote minutes to the City Council meeting on Sept. 18, 1990:

“At its meeting of July 24, 1990, the City Council approved a Waterworks Agreement with the Laguna Beach Water District for Alta Laguna Park… the City will dedicate a 2.93 acre site to the Water District for an underground [three million-gallon fire] reservoir…” Further, “The review process for these facilities will require that the Water District comply with CEQA.”

All this means the Alta Laguna fire-water reservoir was approved subject to the usual measures, and that the new tank … “will provide a highly reliable source of water for the TOW neighborhood, which is currently served by a single pipeline” according to the July 24, 1990 city council minutes.

According to Zitnik, “Unfortunately, ‘no growth’ advocates were able to convince the 1990 City Council… to rescind approval of this reservoir.”

On Dec. 31, 1991, The Los Angeles Times reported that to counter the recension, the Water District scheduled a public information meeting, and Zitnik said “the district has been unable to get city permission to even test the soil at the proposed site” and “The 600,000-gallon [existing] tank…is half-drained by 9 each morning.” He added “a larger reservoir with a capacity of up to 3 million gallons is needed.”

Finally, according to Water District general manager Joe Soella… “about 1,500 homes in the Top of the World and Temple Hills neighborhoods would be at risk.” The need was so pressing, he said, “the [water] district board has gone on record that they have the intention of condemning the site if necessary.”

There you have it: the Water District stated 1,500 homes were at risk and if necessary, they would condemn the site to make way for the fire reservoir to save the city from its own no-growth advocates, meaning Village Laguna and according to Zitnik, led by Christoph.

This is unmistakable and unambiguous. It is not my opinion. It is the opinion of those in charge.

By the way, how did Christoph obtain the City contract to design the Alta Laguna Park? Was she so powerful any design competition was irrelevant? Was there one? I looked at city records and could not find out. Does anyone know?

And one more time, why won’t Village Laguna debate this or any other subject? What are they afraid of? The Truth?

Michael is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer emeritus of Laguna Forward PAC.

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  1. Respectfully Mr. Ray. While you entertain us with what I will call an obsession with Village Laguna and several of its long-time board members, may I suggest that instead of begging for an adversarial public debate that no-one else cares about but you, that you ask to attend one of their meetings to present and discuss your specific issues? Or, maybe seek some assistance dealing with the obvious resentment of them?

    I’m not a VL member but at this point, it appears to me that you seem to want to continue demonizing and destroying this historical Laguna group to gain support for your developers/investors Liberate Laguna Forward PAC agenda. For me, four years of this featured VL vitriol is enough. Can you please move on to something relevant? I’d be happy to hear your views on other topics important to our city or just plain fun and pleasant observations. Thank you.

  2. Debate, why?
    Now that the Council majority has created competition, LB voters will be faced with the binary choice that’s being tauntingly offered here.
    The debate will take place in the public domain or square as proposed.
    I’m sure as we get closer to November, both sides will telegraph distress and angst, “Fear & Loathing In Las Gunas,” a lot we’ll read will exhibit overt desperation.
    Think single person, closing time at a bar. Large ads in both online and hard copy, SM, blah blah blah.
    Dampened fingers to the air, LBCC candidates will try to position themselves in the direction of what they sense is the public will (wind) for more votes. If elected, you’ll only need an egg timer to see how quickly they renege, walk things back.
    They seduce, promise fine dining and we end up with junk food take-out.
    MR meanwhile, KNOWS that he won’t be taken up on such an offer, so it rings hollow, it’s histrionics and drama queen stuff, kinda high school actually. Feels like “I triple dog dare you” schtick.
    Speaking of which, I excelled in speech and argumentation classes (no surprise there, huh?), and I’d have no problem being the discussion/debate moderator.
    As I’ve repeatedly written, I’m not in either camp, am one of the undecideds.
    Then again, due to the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric, perhaps a MMA referee is intuited?
    Gotcha there too, at one time I held a black belt in karate-do Shotokan and a brown in judo, I still workout…..although bluntly, breaking up skirmishes between a lot of old folks on BP/heart medication I might need EMT techs in the venue.
    Hosted in City Hall, it could be broadcast live on COX, and if dominated by unruly attendees, the LBPD is right behind the wall! Re-run it on Saturday at Comedy Central, maybe as a tongue-in-cheek episode of American Horror Stories?
    KX FM could broadcast the spectacle live too, with pre-skirmish, weigh-in interview stuff. Stare offs, trash talking, the whole enchilada.
    Let the world watch, carve out a dead TV night for sitcoms, we could all use a few chuckles these days.
    Let both the City and LRF literature be read aloud to kick it off—–then try to wake the audience up?
    Maybe a prelim, lightweight undercard bout?
    Michael Ray vs. Jorg Dubin.
    JD derides those who he alleges are constantly rehashing, looking in their rear view mirrors, dredging up history and MR can’t stop doing just that, in a humanly contrived continuous loop, revolving topic door mode.
    Arthritis meds will be allowed in case making a fist isn’t physically possible guys.
    Jeez, I think the dueling PACs could charge admission, use pay-per-view, split the purse?
    This has legs, and my contribution?
    I’ll waive my usual enviro-arbitration professional fees and vow to do my earnest best not to laugh.
    C’mon, put up your metaphorical dukes folks, hit Laguna with your best shot, fire away—–whattaya afraid of if your such tough cookies?

  3. Respectfully, speak for yourself, Ms Abraham. Whether or not Village Laguna is Michael Ray’s Moby Dick, I would love to see a public debate on the LRF initiative. Thank you.

  4. Roger B. Hilarious! Many thanks for the laughs. I can’t resist sharing this with the local and other politically savvy folks I know who are following the laguna-pac-politics and players. Do you think this pac-n-phony show would outdo the last prime time attention “Laguna Beach” show brought us? Will we make big $$$$$ so our city council majority and city manager can spend more to attract more tourist and investors/developers?

    Respectfully Mr. Quilter:
    Mr. Ray doesn’t mention a debate on the LRF Initiative here – he’s focused only on dredging up past (1990!) non-relevant issues to demean the VL PAC and certain members over his own issues. IMO – he needs to move on or the Indy should cut him loose. In fact, as one of the founders of PAC Liberate Laguna (forward) whose whole 2018 spiel was against locals living in the past and refusing to move on. Funny.

    RE:LRF Initiative: To my knowledge, LRF Founders are holding regular public outreach meetings and providing information and answers to LB voters inquiries and questions through their website, social media resources and personal contacts. All this with minimal private funds. I’d say they are doing a great job. IMO – If anyone is not communicating properly with the public it’s our council and city manager. Question – has a public meeting or open workshop on the City’s opposition initiative (we paid STU M. for and have no idea what we got) and/or new city ordinance been held? Why aren’t you asking for a public debate on them? Shouldn’t these be the city driven changes LB taxpayers need to fully understand?

    Thanks for listening.

  5. Let me repeat: let’s debate. This is not a taunt. Let one advocate or two from each side appear on the local radio and include ALL ISSUES facing the City, including the VL supported LRF Initiative, the promenade, outdoor dinning, homelessness, the DRB and whatever else comes up.

    Put your money where your mouth is.

  6. Laguna Beach remains the only South County city without recycled water for wildfire prevention & suppression. Instead, we pay to discharge our 2 million gallons of secondary sewage just 1.5 miles offshore.

    With utility under-grounding underway in many neighborhoods, now is the perfect time to install recycled water as an independent source of emergency water so the Fire Department has full access to potable water when the next wildfire arrives. Even our past Fire Chief agrees an independent source of recycled water would be useful during a wildfire event.

    The ocean determines the climate, so why are we polluting it with our wastewater?
    If you care about Laguna’s wildfire protection and a healthy ocean, ask City Council candidates for a plan to add recycled water. Toilet to tap proposals only replace existing potable water without adding the necessary pipes for wildfire protection.

    Designs for recycled water have been proposed so it’s now up to you.


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