By Meghann M. Cuniff, Special to the Independent
A split City Council on Tuesday authorized an environmental study on demolishing the city’s old sewage digester, though the future of the building is not yet final.
Built in 1932 and operated until the 1950s, the building has long been a source of debate in Laguna Beach. It was placed on the city’s historic registry in 1989, and the Council last year voted to seek grants or other external money to rehabilitate. The city’s lobbyists at Townsend Associates didn’t find any funding, and Public Works Director Shohreh Dupuis presented to the Council on Tuesday three options for the building’s future: renovation, demolition or small repairs. The building has asbestos that will need to be abated no matter what, Dupuis said.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman wanted to renovate it into a restroom, restaurant or visitor’s center. “I’m hoping we can see the history and the value there,” Iseman said.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow wanted to retain the building, but only through small repairs. “I’m not willing to spend money to refurbish it,” he said.
But Mayor Bob Whalen, Councilman Peter Blake and Councilwoman Sue Kempf questioned if building is worth saving.
“The cost of it is going to be so prohibitive, I just can’t see a logical reuse for it,” Whalen said.
Several residents implored the Council to save the building, including Bob Borthwick, who said the building’s “sludge” can be removed for $60,000.
“After that, we have a building that’s sanitary,” Borthwick said. “The one thing that I really hope people can get past is this notion of poop and poo, and how it always brings the chuckles.”
Barbara Metzger, a member of Village Laguna’s Board of Directors, called it an “interesting and striking building.”
“It reflects the resourcefulness of our founding fathers, and their conviction that in Laguna, even the sewage treatment plant had to be attractive,” Metzger said.
However, resident Ganka Brown told the Council she “speaks for many who are not real excited about the poop processing plant being part of our historical cultural.”
The Council’s 3-2 vote authorized an environmental impact report, the removal of sludge from the building, as well as an economic analysis about possibly renting the building for other uses.