By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
As a beach volleyball player at Main Beach every weekend, Blair Applegate appreciates strong water pressure.
“They need to expand the number of showers from three to 10,” Applegate said. “And they have to be high pressure, high volume showers so you can really get the sand, the salt and the seaweed off.”
Applegate was one of a handful of residents at a public workshop held at the site of the south Main Beach restroom on Tuesday, where public works officials outlined the city’s plan for its replacement, now estimated by city planners to cost upwards of $1 million.
“This one is somewhat embarrassing to the city,” City Council member Bob Whalen said during discussion of the restroom renovation at a meeting in April. “The quicker we get rid of it, the better.”
According to a city staff report, the restrooms are 40 years old and in need of replacement. New plans call for demolition of the old facility, replaced by a slightly larger new one located in the same spot near the playground. Currently there are five toilet stalls for women and two for men. The new plans will add three more toilets, with the women’s restroom gaining one toilet and the men’s room gaining two. Two new shower stations will also be added, which are unattached to the building, to lessen congestion.
Applegate sites last weekend’s 63rd annual Laguna Beach Open volleyball tournament as a prime example of why an upgrade is long overdue.
“Twelve-thousand people passing through, and the lines were long,” Applegate said. “Even on a cloudy cool day. The public showers and bathrooms here are not up to par.”
Two large ficus trees border the restroom, and the city’s initial conceptual plans avoid the above grade root structures and retain the trees.
Sam Goldstein, who owns a nearby building with the rooftop Skyloft restaurant, was at the public workshop and says the trees not only hinder his customers’ views, but are also counterproductive to the public use of the area and need to go.
“The ficus is not indigenous to Laguna Beach,” Goldstein said. “The square footage around this bathroom is taken up by roots above the ground, and pedestrians who are using the beach can’t use the area. I love trees, but it’s still a beach.“
Under the proposed layout, the trees will stay. The location of the new restroom will be shifted slightly to the west to try to avoid the bulging roots of the two trees.
“Basically we are going to surgically remove the public restroom and leave the root system that envelops the new restroom, and build the new restroom on that same footprint,” city planner Wade Brown said.
At April’s City Council meeting, some council members also expressed reservations about retaining the trees. “My big concern are these roots, and how it might affect this building five or 10 years down the line, because those roots are huge,” said council member Kelly Boyd.
Other public input from Tuesday’s meeting included locating some showers inside the building for privacy, adding towel hooks, stroller parking and racks for surf boards, all of which planners made note of. A representative of the city’s Arts Commission also attended the meeting, and wants to incorporate local artists’ input in the design because of its highly visible location.
“We are looking for places to put temporary art,” said Laguna Beach Arts Commission Vice Chair Michael Ervin. “There is some opportunity around this new building that might allow us to do that.”
In April the restroom replacement project was budgeted for $700,000, but planners now say cost estimates have risen, and they will have to go back and ask for more money to bridge the gap. The project will go to the Design Review Board in July, and if approved construction could start by December.
“At the north end where we just spent several million on a lifeguard tower, they have a huge room to clean all of their saltwater gear,” Applegate said. “It’s not fair to give the public two or three showers at this end and call it a day.”