Opinion: Regarding City Land Purchases in South Laguna


By Greg OLoughlin

At the Aug. 24 city council meeting Mayor Bob Whalen stated that although the City is buying the Ti Amo property, it might not be used as a fire station. He implied that the City would be continuing to look at several other options.

As we noted at the hearing, there are many reasons why South Laguna Civic Association and virtually all of the 50-plus participants in its Aug. 11 Zoom community input meeting recommended against the Ti Amo site:

  • Access is difficult and less safe since there is no side street to allow entrance to and exit from the busy Coast Highway.
  • It would put the busy use directly adjacent to residences on three sides.
  • It would create negative impacts on views of neighbors and character of the village commercial area.
  • It may require removal and/or serious reduction of the landscaped median which welcomes people coming from the south to Laguna Beach, and serves as a centerpiece of the neighborhood.
  • It may violate zoning restrictions on height and setbacks. 
  • The proposed secondary access to the rear of the building takes away an existing neighborhood access route and may violate prescriptive rights of use. 

 So, we are relieved to learn that the City says it is continuing to explore several alternative locations for a fire station and other options for use of the Ti Amo site.

At this point there are at least four viable alternative sites that could accommodate a fire station or be used to address the other important community needs listed by the City as possibilities for Ti Amo.

  1. The three-lot site fronting Coast Highway at 5th Avenue is for sale. It is vacant, has desirable side street access to Coast Highway. At 11,332 square feet it is larger than the Ti Amo site, could offer on-grade parking for firefighters’ vehicles avoiding the need to construct an expensive basement under 50,000-pound fire engines and has minimal view impacts on neighbors.
  2. An approximate 3,000 square foot dental building occupies a 17,552 square foot site at 5th Avenue and Coast Highway and while not on the market for sale, the closed session agenda for the Sept. 21, 2021 City Council meeting indicates there may be discussions between the City and the owner. It shares the advantages of the three-lot site described above but is a larger site.
  3. 31652 Second Ave. is for sale. The City liked the property well enough that it unsuccessfully attempted to purchase it previously. It is located directly across Virginia Way from the existing fire station and offers the opportunity for a village-oriented creative solution to the fire station dilemma. If used as a fire station it should face the least neighbor opposition since it is virtually adjacent to the existing fire station and, with the three City owned sites adjacent to the fire station there would be 14,289 square feet of city-owned property in that location. 
  4. The Catalina site – which was attractive enough to the City to have previously been under contract to purchase by the City – is now once again available for purchase.  Though it is less acceptable as a location for a fire station, it could provide a perfect adjunct to the Village Green Park, providing a much-appreciated amenity for the neighborhood. 

We urge you to think of your acquisitions in a comprehensive context relating to the whole South Laguna village area. Now is the time to make use of the potential offered by the several vacant properties to fulfill a wide range of community and general public needs. We invite the City to work with SLCA and the community to minimize impacts and provide long-needed benefits.

Greg is president of the South Laguna Civic Association.

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