By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
A proposal for footpaths connecting streets in the Temple Hills neighborhood of Laguna Beach prompted a discussion about historical integrity, safety and privacy at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Three options for better pedestrian access within the neighborhood were presented to the council, including a path through Laguna Beach County Water District property, an existing path connecting Temple Hills Drive and Park Avenue and a public easement that could provide connections between Temple Hills Drive, Buena Vista Way and Canyon View Drive.
The council ultimately voted to continue to explore the existing path and seek the opinion of residents adjacent to the easement.
Some property owners who would be impacted by a trail on a five-foot easement adjacent to their homes voiced their opposition to the council.
“It seems like every five to 10 years I am back here fighting this issue,” said Catherine Hall, who lives on Canyon View Drive. “I have been there for 23 years and when I bought my home there were utility lines in that path. I helped pay for those utility lines to go away, and now you are telling me you want to put a pathway?”
Hall was one of many Temple Hills-area property owners opposed to more trails in the neighborhood, citing privacy and safety concerns that a trail located so close to their homes could create.
“If I knew something like this was going to happen I never would have bought here,” said resident Mark Scher, who lives on the end of Buena Vista Way. “It is really disappointing that this is something that could be thrust upon the neighborhood when a lot of the neighbors don’t want it.“
Homes in Temple Hills were first built in the 1920s. The subdivider didn’t complete the footpaths, intended to connect a park planned for the northeast corner of Thalia Street and Temple Hills Drive. At issue today are the five-foot wide easements adjacent to about a dozen properties, and whether their intended use was as a footpath or for utilities.
Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Boyd, who lives in the Temple Hills neighborhood, recused himself from the vote and instead addressed the remaining councilmembers as a citizen. He reminded the council that in 2011 the city attorney provided a legal opinion that the city does not own or control the easement pathways and is not responsible or liable for their use.
“These homes with the easements would be subject to invasion of privacy, security concerns, liability and decreasing their property value and noise,” Boyd told the council. “It’s time to abandon these efforts by just a few people who don’t even live in the easement area but keep bringing them up.”
Proponents of increased trail access did not back down. Ron Chilcote, coordinator of the Temple Hills Community Association, says his group would like the city to build a pathway using the narrow five-foot strips of land that exist between homes for better everyday travel and as a possible emergency exit. Chilcote also says the pathways have a historical significance in Laguna Beach that should be preserved.
“I think they were created in the spirit of pathways in Los Angeles, Sausalito, other towns along the coast that are on hills and have need to move through those hills,” he said.
Others in favor of pathway development told the council that trails promote walking in the hilltop neighborhood. Mayor Toni Iseman said access to pathways could help residents in an evacuation emergency, such as a fire or a downed power pole.
“Public safety is our primary concern and everything else is second,” said Mayor Toni Iseman.
Other residents say more paths would also provide neighborhood students with shorter paths to school.
“If you block off those pathways for the kids that live deep down in those streets, they have to walk all the way down Temple Hills and it’s not safe,” said resident Fran Chilcote.
Councilmember Steve Dicterow said pedestrian access is important, but so are the issues of today’s society, including the safety of places once hidden and off the beaten path that are now very visible because of social media.
“The 600-pound gorilla in the room that nobody has mentioned, the world has changed since 1927, and my concern is that when you put pathways in a neighborhood with the context this neighborhood has, it becomes a magnet of some sort, and unfortunately there are bad players out there. We have to look at what the real world is like now,” Dicterow said.
The council subcommittee recommended a potential pedestrian access through water district owned property. General Manager Renae Hinchey told the council access would depend on unimpeded access for emergency equipment, security and liability issues. “We want to be cooperative on this,” she told the council.
Council members voted to canvass property owners adjacent to the easements on whether they would support pedestrian trail development if the city could indeed cover their liability. If residents objected, council members agreed to abandon the issue.
They also voted unanimously against developing a path through the water district property, and instead approved exploration of the existing trail on an easement connecting Temple Hills Drive to Park Avenue as the most viable option for pathway development.
“Pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, they don’t just happen,” said David Raber, who lives on Canyon View Drive. “It is something you have to specifically do. It’s a half-mile walk to get to the house below you. Nothing like that exists in other parts of the city.”
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