Visitors Overwhelm South Laguna Beaches

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A beach scene once considered a nearly private Shangri-La by South Laguna residents is turning into what locals and city officials are calling a tourist tsunami.

And it’s not just the usual summer crowd, they agree; it’s a frenzy that’s been building for at least three years.

Susan Brown lives above Table Rock Beach, a rocky cove accessed by a cement and wooden staircase of 125 steps. “I see them morning, noon and night. There are kids down there 24/7, 365 days a year, all night long,” said Brown, who described the situation as “hideously out of control.”

Brown called police dispatch on Sunday, June 26, the same day a 46-acre fire ignited in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, demanding the city’s law enforcement resources. She said a large crowd was gathering at the top of the steps. The dispatcher asked her if she observed anyone with a knife. If so, they could send an officer immediately, the dispatcher told her. “I’m not going to check to see if they’ve got a knife,” Brown said.

At a town-hall meeting led by police Chief Laura Farinella last Wednesday, July 13, police, marine safety, public works and Orange County parks and lifeguard representatives reassured two dozen residents that they are aware of the exponential popularity of south Laguna beaches and stepping up their game. After the hour presentation, residents were asked to voice their concerns.

Jaywalking, speeding, drunkenness, drugs, smoking marijuana and tobacco, all-night partying, tell-tale refuse and what they view as inadequate policing are driving some residents to the brink of considering vigilantism, saying they have to police their own property. The free trolley bringing riders from Dana Point isn’t helping either, they added.

“I’m willing to sign up,” said Pat Menne, who lives near the Thousand Steps Beach access and proposed a “vigilante” effort of residents to assist police. Menne and her husband Bryan said in a later interview that they’ve found people in their bushes and ushered them away.

“I’ve scooped the dumps of human poop out of our landscape,” said Menne. “We in the neighborhood need to take back our neighborhood.” Manning a check-point for alcohol at the top of the Thousand Steps stairs would be a desirable starting point, she said.

Police close and lock the gate at the top of the beach stairs at 10 p.m., but it’s opened by people still on the beach when friends call or text them from the top, said Farinella.

“If it weren’t for alcohol, 80 percent of my job would be gone,” police Sergeant Eric Lee, who supervises the south Laguna patrols, told the group. “Has it gotten worse? Big head nod.” Disturbance calls, emergency calls and parking tickets have all escalated, he said.

A recent example of the sort of risk-taking behavior taking place at Table Rock Beach. Photo by John Thomas.
A recent example of the sort of risk-taking behavior — unauthorized and on private property — taking place at Table Rock Beach. Photo by John Thomas.

Most of the citations written by Orange County Parks, which has jurisdiction over South Laguna beaches, are for alcohol, said park ranger Kory McCain.

“In 2013, we wrote 64 citations, mostly for alcohol, glass on the beach, dogs on the beach. In 2015, we wrote 196 citations, a 206 percent increase,” McCain said. The county hired another ranger and three maintenance workers this year. “We’re trying to crack down on some of the things that are going on at the beach,” he said.

“Clearly you’re understaffed,” said Sally Coffey, who’s lived in south Laguna for 25 years. “In just the past three years, I feel like I’m in a different place. The noise is unbelievable.” Coffey said she’s seen cars spinning donuts in the middle of Coast Highway, almost hitting people in the crosswalk near Coyote Grill. “I’ve personally called in four accidents,” she said.

Police are going to “hit it hard,” making their presence known at south Laguna Beaches,1 cliff 2 DSC_3991 (2) similar to tactics taken to curtail crowds at the Aliso Beach drum circle two years ago when social media called Laguna Beach “the Nazi cops,” Lee told the group.

“Slowly but surely we’re seeing some positive effects,” he said.

While the MTV show “Laguna Beach, the Real Orange County,” in 2004, introduced the town to an international audience, the pervasiveness of the internet and social media sites that followed have led more visitors to Laguna, said Farinella.

So has new housing in nearby Irvine, Lake Forest, Tustin and San Clemente, she said. High inland temperatures are also bringing crowds to the coves. An endless summer of warm weather over the past two years has kicked Laguna’s influx of day-trippers and vacationers to 6 million a year, she said.

Don and Lona Engwerson say the 230-step-stairway leading to Thousand Steps Beach1 cliff 3 DSC_3993 (2) that runs alongside their home is becoming a nonstop escalator carrying a continual load of out-of-towners.

“It’s extremely noisy and extremely loud at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning,” said Don Engwerson. “It’s very disturbing night after night.”

The “uptick” in beach-goers is occurring in the off-season, said OC Lifeguard Chief Jason Young, who supervises guards from Aliso Beach to San Clemente. “It used to be a spring break of one or two weeks, but it’s basically from February to the end of summer now,” he said. More lifeguards have been hired and are in the towers as early as February and March, he said.

South Laguna resident Andrea Stockert suggested organizing a committee to “stop this madness,” starting with sending emails to Orange County supervisors. A letter from the city asking the county to ban smoking on all county beaches to Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett will start things rolling, said Jim Beres, supervisor of civilian services for the police department.

Although appreciative of policing efforts, residents say police enforcement isn’t keeping up with the crowds. A first for the city, two full-time, all-year-round beach patrol officers, who can write certain citations but are not sworn officers, were recently hired. The police department will also hire two more sworn officers to its staff of 49, said Farinella.

“We’re all scrambling to regroup,” Farinella said of cities along the coast. “You might not think two means a lot, but it’s huge.”

Staffing needs to grow at a comparative rate to handle the crowds, she agreed. “I think we’re in that growth now, but sometimes it takes traction, it takes time to realize that this isn’t just one summer that’s hot. It takes that type of repetition season over season to see that this isn’t going away.”

Farinella said she’ll come back to the group with more ways the city can get ahead of the problem next year. “The genie is not going to get back into the bottle,” said Coffey.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. From what I have heard, there should be no issues with the additional cost of hiring more law enforcement and related staffing with the millions being made from residents renting homes on Airbnb and of course local taxes from the insane influx of visitors. I feel for the residents of this town. Enough is enough.

  2. Almost every night Dallas Raines, Jonny Mountain and Jackie Johnson stand up reporting LB weather to all of LA, the OC & the I.E. with beautiful shots of idyllic sunsets and waves behind them. They continually refer to LB most nights like it’s the greatest paradise on earth. They need to go back to using Malibu instead.

  3. Blame the OC Register and its inept “writers” for articles exposing the beautiful, hidden beaches of South Laguna. Table Rock, Victoria, 1000 Steps, Camel Point, Aliso…All of them are being infiltrated by inlanders and 909’ers with no respect for the ocean or neighbors. Us familiar with these beaches plan ahead of time for spending the day there and that includes taking care of your personal duties at home or at nearby eateries, not in the bushes!

    Blame Greedy, Arrogant Donald Bren for building and building and building despite the fact that he’s one of the wealthiest men in the USA. Just wait until all of his new Middle Eastern and Chinese homeowners find out about our beaches!

  4. Life is so hard living in a paradise that other folks want to experience too. This loud and obnoxious behavior should be criminalized. How dare these folks from the 909 come to our beaches. There uncool behavior is disrespectful, and i for one have had enough…. Ban everyone and everything now!

  5. Ah Laguna! Paradise was supposed to be such a different experience! Paradise is a place of people who do not poop so such dilemmas as human excrement are unheard of, where magically space expands the minute someone sits on the beach closer than 5 feet to anyone else, where one is transported telepathically to the location of one’s choosing. That that isn’t so is a source of constant emotional frenzy among these disappointed unfortunates in So Laguna. I’ve lived in Oregon for almost a year now and for some reason happened upon the LB Indy and after just 10 minutes of reading have begun going back in time to that same state of frenzy and madness! Must stop reading! What IS IT about Laguna that makes people get so crazy! Haunted perhaps by the spirit of Timothy Leary who himself was so disappointed in this ‘paradise that he left crazy vibes behind to forever plague those who live in Laguna. Oh I am so happy now!

  6. Might I remind all of you that you’re talking about the same city that got 1,000 hits of LSD airdropped into a crowd in the 60s. You pretentious boring ass stuck up people are first generation Laguna and you’re pretending like you’ve been here for 200 years. It used to be a haven for art and adventure, all of you are too busy complaining to simply see the opposite side of the coin. Long time residents of Laguna have always fought tourists issues but the pros faarr out weigh the cons. Move to a gated community??? Or anywhere else. In any case you ninnys surely aren’t helping anything and seem a little bored and sad to be honest. Bless all of you losers? Eternal love and light.

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