1930s sewer digester should get more than paint and a touch-up, Laguna residents say

Laguna Beach residents at Tuesday’s public workshop about the Village Entrance urged officials to give greater care to a sewer digester building they consider one of the city’s landmarks.

The building, erected in the 1930s with Public Works Administration funds, stands on city property that is bordered by portions of Laguna Canyon Road and Broadway Street and Forest Avenue.

The area, known as the Village Entrance, currently includes an asphalt parking lot, but is slated to receive a makeover with landscaped grounds and a multi-use trail, among other features.

Tuesday’s workshop was meant to give the City Council and Planning Commission an opportunity to learn and comment on the latest design. The Commission will consider the design and feedback from Tuesday’s workshop at its regular meeting on Dec. 13.

The council and commissioners listened as representatives from Griffin Structures, Inc., and Michael Baker International discussed the latest design elements.

Crews will paint and patch holes on the digester, but speakers said the city should go a step further in its treatment. The digester currently houses police evidence.

“It’s time we bring it up to date,” Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Boyd said of the digester. “To me, the exterior is the most important. I’m not so much concerned about the interior.”

In the last few years residents have offered various ideas for a renovated digester, including a visitors center.

“On the outside, it’s embarrassing to have that railing hanging down where there used to be a stairway from one door to the next,” resident Barbara Metzger said. “If that building were E-rated [for historical significance] and belonged to anyone else the city would have been making noise about maintaining it.”

Project plans include adding a small berm between Laguna Canyon Road and the trail to provide better separation of cars and pedestrians, 62 light poles in parking areas and along the trail, and replacing asphalt in the parking lots with permeable surfaces.

Commission Chairwoman Susan Whitin was worried light poles would be the dominant feature people see.

“The first objective stated was site aesthetics,” Whitin said. “For eight or 10 years the light poles are going to dominate that entire edge because the trees are going to be very small when they go in."

The $8.4-million estimated price tag, an increase from $6.9 million the city has earmarked for the project, caused alarm among some residents.

“I’ve talked about his project being a public-private program,” resident Judie Mancuso said. “We do need money to pull in from the community, from private funding, nonprofits.”

Council members during their regular meeting Tuesday, which followed the workshop, approved paying consultants an additional $1.5 million to oversee design and construction through June 2020, the estimated completion date.

Added costs include $380,000 in contingency for possible construction cost increases, $100,000 for sidewalk and landscape extensions from Tivoli Too to the Laguna Canyon Frontage Road, and $156,000 for a person to oversee construction of bridges, retaining walls and utility connection, according to a city staff report.

None of the council members said they liked chain-link fencing that runs along a county-owned flood control running through the property and suggested city staff investigate fencing alternatives.

Consultants said costs could fluctuate depending on bids the city receives and final construction expenses, thus they wanted to be conservative in funding estimates.

“We don’t have to finalize decisions on plant sizes until we’re deep into the project,” Roger Torriero, Griffin Structures’ chief executive and president, said. “We might find we have some money to replace some of trees with ones of larger size.”

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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