Planners Tackle Surf and Turf

Steve Owen in his Laguna Canyon shop, SUP to You, which he co-owns with Ryan Okon. They testified at Wednesday’s hearing over SUP regulation.
Steve Owen in his Laguna Canyon shop, SUP to You, which he co-owns with Ryan Okon. They testified at Wednesday’s hearing over SUP regulation.

Commercial stand-up paddle board instructors may be subject to some rules restricting how they operate in Laguna Beach as a result of a draft ordinance considered by the Planning Commission on Wednesday.

The regulations will require City Council approval at a future date.

The panel found much less favor with the concept review of a proposed 90,000 square foot storage facility at Big Bend, which was unanimously opposed by 25 people who testified.

Prompted by concerns raised by local stand-up paddle operators, the City Council a year ago agreed to develop an ordinance covering safety, insurance and liability regulations for companies providing instruction for the fast-growing sport.

Five local companies that provide rentals and instruction shared input with the Planning Commission prior to the hearing.

The ordinance, as proposed, would require operators to obtain a permit with an annual fee, employ trained instructors with knowledge of CPR, meet with marine safety staff annually, carry liability insurance, maintain a student to instructor ratio of four to one and have no more than 10 people in the water at a time, according to Kristin Buhagiar, the city’s recreation supervisor.

After hearing testimony from the public as well as operators, the commission rejected a recommendation of marine safety Chief Kevin Snow and city staff to restrict paddle-board instruction to between 7 and 10 a.m. in the summer, intended to keep groups of paddlers out of the water during peak hours.

Justifying his call for regulation last year, Billy Fried, owner of the kayak and paddleboard vendor La Vida Laguna, cited safety concerns caused by some irresponsible operators, especially in Diver’s Cove, north of Heisler Park.

Several people described problems in Diver’s Cove, one of the few access points in town that is both a short walk from the street and where the shore break is buffered, allowing an easy entry for beginning paddlers. The resulting popularity means the cove can be crowded with inexperienced paddlers and a hazard to children because of its relatively narrow strip of sand and access way.

Virtually all operators agreed with CA Surf N Paddle’s Rod Greenup, who said that limiting hours of commercial instruction would increase the safety problems as unsupervised, inexperienced paddlers would be hitting the beaches at all other hours.

Dave Vanderveen suggested that an informal code among SUP operators, much like the black ball system among surfers, would be preferable to yet another city ordinance.

Steve Owen, co-owner of SUP to You, agreed with the idea of self-regulation.

“I think we’re going in a good direction,” said Tommy Donnelly of SUP Company. Though he largely agreed with Vanderveen, he said that given the exponential growth of the sport, “there does need to be a permit handed out or it’s going to be really, really unsafe.”

The commissioners suggested that staff research certification specific to SUP operators before submitting a draft ordinance to the City Council in the near future.

Separately, people who were recently divided over Louis Longi’s artists work/live project in Laguna Canyon, found themselves on the same side of the fence in opposition to another canyon proposal, a three-story, 630-unit, 97,025 square-foot storage facility at 2851 Laguna Canyon Road, commonly known as Big Bend.

Sparked by the incongruity of the parcel’s approved industrial zone use in the bucolic atmosphere adjacent to a satellite facility of the Laguna College of Art & Design, residents and commission members alike called for the need to develop an overarching development guideline for the entire canyon.

The facility’s mammoth footprint drew the most venom Wednesday, with many calling it a dangerous development precedent, while others raised questions about its potential environmental impact, traffic safety and neighborhood suitability.

In the aftermath of a student fatality this week, concerns raised by Pat O’Brien, LCAD’s board chair, about the project’s potential for increasing traffic where students walk hit home.

College president Jonathan Burke cited the canyon’s inspirational quality as a basis for locating the visual arts classes there in the first place. Such a massive structure next door would “diminish the quality of student life” there, he said.

The commissioners all agreed that the proposed structure was too massive for the location.

Planning Commission chair Rob Zur Schmiede urged the owner’s developer, Doug Simpson of Resco Development, to recognize that project would “require a tremendous amount of due diligence.”

Saying he would discuss their reservations with the property owner, Simpson pointed out, “if this were zoned for open space, we wouldn’t be here.” And he elicited a smattering of unlikely applause from a crowd that opposed his project when he added that better guidelines for development in the canyon would be helpful to the whole community.

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