Residents urge renovating median and 1930s sewer digester

The road map for the proposed Village Entrance Project became a little clearer following a public workshop Wednesday.

About 75 residents weighed in on plans to beautify the intersection of Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road — the entry point into downtown for travelers heading through the canyon.

By a show of hands, residents favored renovating a median along a portion of Laguna Canyon Road, while keeping the historic sewer digester building and the city-owned, morning glory-covered carports behind City Hall.

The public unanimously supported not bridging a county-owned flood channel that runs parallel to Laguna Canyon Road, opting instead to create an artistically appealing fence along the channel as suggested by Arts Commission Chairwoman Pat Kollenda.

The city has not selected a design team for the $14.4 million project, which will include a landscaped area with a pedestrian walkway. The purpose of Wednesday's workshop was to gauge the public's hopes for the project and recommend suggestions to the City Council.

Talks mostly centered on the Laguna Canyon Road median from Forest Avenue to 500 feet north of Canyon Acres Drive.

Medians can be aesthetic focal elements, said Heritage Committee member Rick Gold, who supported renovation.

"We should not remove the median," Gold said. "Look at Dana Point at Coast Highway and Golden Lantern. Medians have become a thing of beauty. They help traffic flow and enhance the entire city."

Roger Torriero, chief executive and president of Griffin Structures Inc., and Deputy City Manager Ben Siegel facilitated the workshop. They asked residents whether they wanted to fast-track construction of a refurbished median instead of waiting until all the funding is in hand. (Griffin will be advising on the selection of the design team, including architect, civil engineer and environmental consultant.)

Most residents at the meeting favored median construction sooner rather than later but not using money from the existing Village Entrance budget. They instead asked that the city explore grants and other funding sources.

The city has $100,000 earmarked for median design in its 2014-15 fiscal year budget. The estimated cost of median construction is $1 million, which is not part of the total projected cost of $14.4.

Residents overwhelmingly favored keeping the historic digester and exploring ways of renovating its interior and exterior. The facility, built in the 1930s with Public Works Administration funds, houses police evidence. A tank still holds 60,000 gallons of raw sludge.

"[The digester] is welcoming for visitors to our community," resident Ginger Osborne said. "It could be used for public restrooms and a visitors center. It provides a nice bookend to another iconic structure — our lifeguard tower [at Main Beach]."

The building boasts a K-rating on Laguna Beach's historic register, meaning it has retained its original integrity and represents a particular architectural style or time period.

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