Village Matters: Who Started This Anyway?


It’s complicated, but South Laguna has lost its power to vote on the running of the water district that the community established in the 1930s.

Way back in 1910 when the Egan family homesteaded 40 acres where West Street and Paso del Sur is now, they managed to get water from a spring back up in one of the canyons. It was only enough for household use. They dry-farmed beans on the slopes below.

In the 1920s Coast Royal and Three Arches (South Laguna Village) tracts were built around the Egan’s land. Those were the days before the county required utilities or even paved streets when subdividing.

Each tract had its own separate reservoirs. Skidmores piped water from Laguna Canyon to fill the Coast Royal reservoir. The Three Arches developer, Lewis Lasley, converted one of the springs near the ocean to fill theirs.  The large and prominent white tank with “WATER! WATER!” written on it in big black letters, seemed to have been sized for the sign rather than for the amount of water that was available to fill it.

Lots were sold and houses were built. To get water piped to their lots property owners had to buy stock in Lasley’s Mutual Water Company. The reality of the precarious water situation became apparent, especially on weekends when part-time residents wanted to take baths, drink, and cook all at the same time. Pioneer resident Nellie Strong Capron writes that sometimes a representative from the water company “used to call at the houses and advise filling the bathtub if one had an inclination for afternoon tea or morning coffee in mind.” Soon the “WATER!” tank would be empty!

In 1930 discontented lot owners organized to find a solution to the water problem, forming the South Coast Improvement Association. They worked to create a public water system and in 1932 formed the South Coast County Water District serving the communities of Three Arch Bay, Three Arches, and Coast Royal/Aliso Vista.  Goff Island (north of Aliso and south of the old city limits near Nyes Place) was added to the district in 1934.  This defined the limits of what was to be known as South Laguna.

George Grant of Three Arch Bay was appointed manager in 1934, and Elmer Crawford of Coast Royal was president. The existing reservoirs, piping and stock in the private water company were deeded over to the district. Mrs. Egan donated the land for the reservoir at the top of West Street where the water district headquarters was later built.

For decades following South Laguna residents were elected to the board to manage the South Coast Water District.  Over the years a sound water system was installed and service from the Metropolitan Water District was arranged.  In the 1960s the Laguna Niguel development was begun on what had been part of the Moulton Ranch, and that area south of Three Arch Bay was annexed to South Coast Water District.

In 1987 South Laguna was annexed to the City of Laguna Beach, and in 1989 the southerly part of the district (the coastal part of Laguna Niguel) was incorporated into the city of Dana Point.  Thus began a series of events that has led to South Laguna losing any control over the district founded by its residents.

In 1999 in response to directives from Sacramento to consolidate local agencies, the city of Laguna Beach took over the Laguna Beach County Water District.  The city council became the water board for all of the city including South Laguna. They contracted with South Coast Water District to provide service in South Laguna, and South Coast water board members from South Laguna, Cal Nelson and Eric Jessen, lost their positions on the South Coast board.

Instead they were appointed to the South Laguna Water and Sewer Advisory Committee.  They continued to be paid their board member stipends, but any new appointees to the committee are not paid.  Paid or not, members on the committee have no power, no vote, and merely record information and communicate between local residents and the council on water and sewer issues.

The board of directors elected by residents of Dana Point makes all the decisions.  There are many important issues coming up that affect South Laguna differently than the district as a whole. These include the construction and funding of the sewer tunnel, estimated cost $50 million, and the district’s role in improving the water quality of Aliso Creek. Our council should not have to go to district board meetings with hat in hand (as four councilmembers did recently) to ask the district to go forward with South Laguna projects.

It’s politics. The votes go where the interests of the board members’ constituents are, and those constituents are in Dana Point, not South Laguna.

At their June 19 meeting council members will make appointments to the South Laguna Water and Sewer Advisory Committee.  We can admire these stalwart volunteers for the committee, but shouldn’t something be done to re-enfranchise South Laguna voters?


A former Laguna Beach mayor, Ann Christoph works as a landscape architect.

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