Locals driving out Laguna Canyon Road may appreciate its natural beauty, yet few probably consider the largely hidden Laguna Canyon Creek since shrubs and man-made obstacles obscure nearly the entire watercourse.
Near Anneliese’s School, for example, beyond a weed-choked berm formed by dirt piles during construction of the 73 toll road, a natural waterway trickles charmingly, a stone’s throw from the unsightly mounds.
“These dirt piles restrict the natural flow of water and pedestrian travel, are unsightly, and should be removed,” said Laguna Beach resident Bob Borthwick in a report to the City Council last week, describing a plan to restore portions of the too-often maligned, eight-mile watercourse.
Borthwick, a veteran landscape architect, has long loved the tiny ocean tributary that meanders from Laguna Lakes, one of the few natural fresh water lagoons in the county. It’s “a thorn in his side to hear people refer to it as a ditch or a channel,” he said.
So, thanks to a small grant and their own labor, he and Laguna Canyon Foundation vice president Lance Vallery have spent the last 18 months studying the creek and identifying 21 areas that need not remain the eyesores they have become.
The City Council last week unanimously jumped on their bandwagon.
“I’m overwhelmed and emotionally moved by the beauty of your vision,” Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow told Borthwick, expressing a sentiment clearly shared by just about everyone present. And he pushed for the city to take the lead to budget, schedule and implement the plan’s recommendations.
Their intent is to plant the seed for some easy fixes along the waterway, Borthwick said as part of a presentation that outlined the creek’s history, present state and potential future.
Not a literal restoration, in that it leaves piped and channelized sections intact, the plan also skirts big picture issues such as utility undergrounding, bike and car circulation and flood control.
Rather, it suggests restoring natural beauty where possible by planting native trees, eliminating invasive species such as arundo, and removing or at least hiding eyesores. Borthwick also envisions creating a safer route for pedestrian travel along the east side of Laguna Canyon Road, beginning with removing the aforementioned dirt piles. Without the dirt mounds abandoned by Caltrans lining the road, “people could walk from Sun Valley to Anneliese’s School,” Borthwick said. “But with this dirt, they can’t.”
The two designers specifically designed the plan to avoid being entwined with other projects that might slow its implementation. And each recommendation can be undertaken as a single project, ready for adoption by willing groups, individual donors or public agencies.
The creek restoration at the dog park in 2006 is a model of collaboration for beautifying a segment, Borthwick noted. It was anchored by a small grant to the city from the Southern California Wetland Recovery Project and funds from local environmental groups, enhanced by a resident’s donation of 30 sycamore trees and completed with manpower from 50 volunteers. The creek went from a barely remarked space under the bridge to an idyllic feature of the site.
While some of the recommendations would require various permits, many are ready for a sympathetic group to take up their cause.
“I finally think we have a Council that would be receptive to what your vision is,” said Council member Toni Iseman.
“I’d like to see us move ahead with this,” confirmed Council member Kelly Boyd, who recalled roaming through the canyon as a kid and grabbing crawdads out of the stream. “I’d like to see that back,” he said.
Mayor Bob Whalen lauded the number of easy and relatively inexpensive fixes outlined in the plan and particularly liked the idea of the pedestrian path. “I think you do have a very supportive Council for this,” he said and suggested the Council seek to fund some projects when the city’s budget is reviewed next month.
Borthwick credits fellow Laguna Greenbelt board member Ron Chilcote with urging him to apply for the $5,000 grant to study the creek that he ultimately received in June 2013 from the Foundation for Sustainability & Innovation. Along the way, Borthwick and Vallery received wisdom and encouragement from Max Borella, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s past executive director, current Executive Director Hallie Jones, Laguna Greenbelt President Elisabeth Brown and other board members and numerous people in the community.
Laguna’s true village entrance remains the canyon and the creek, but the creek has disappeared from view, said Laguna Greenbelt board member Patricia Twitty. Now, “ever since hearing Bob’s presentation, I see things that can be fixed,” she said.
“Every piece of the puzzle helps,” said Borthwick,