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Council backs Diamond Crestview parking restrictions to aid firefighting

Certain streets in Laguna Beach's Diamond Crestview neighborhood are likely to lose some parking spaces during high fire-danger days to allow fire equipment maneuvering room.

The City Council voted 4 to 0 on Tuesday to allow fire authorities to close 35 parking spaces along narrow winding streets in the hillside area to provide room for fire engines to squeeze through in an emergency. Councilwoman Toni Iseman recused herself from the vote because she lives within 500 feet of one of the effected streets.

The council must vote again on the ordinance at a second reading. The law would then go into effect 30 days later

Parking spaces are scattered among area roads such as Crestview Drive, Diamond Street and Pacific Vista. The area is one of the most difficult to access, with only one way in and out — along Diamond Street.

Engines need at least 20 feet of width to allow for a tactic that Laguna Beach Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse calls "leap frogging." This occurs when firefighters attack a blaze moving up a hill, LaTendresse told the council. One engine stops and firefighters douse the fire, while another engine moves farther up the hill so crews can spray the flames.

Under the new rules, parking would not be allowed on roads no more than 27 feet wide, while on streets 27 to 32 feet wide, cars could park on one side only.

The city has already had 10 red-flag days this year, the most of any year dating to 2008, according to a staff report. Red-flag days are National Weather Service alerts that suggest conditions are ripe for wildfires.

The service declares a red-flag condition when relative humidity is less than or equal to 15% with winds 25 mph or greater or frequent gusts 35 mph or greater for six hours or more; or humidity is 10% or less for 10 or more straight hours regardless of wind speeds, according to the staff report.

The number of red-flag days may decrease when the National Weather Service creates a coastal Orange County zone, which LaTendresse said should occur by the end of the year. The coverage area currently lumps Laguna Beach in with inland cities such as Brea and Yorba Linda, which generally have drier air.

A sign at the entrance to the neighborhood — at Diamond and Catalina streets — would inform motorists of a red-flag day, and the city will paint a red flag on the spots where parking is not allowed during those times. Los Angeles and Pasadena have enacted similar rules.

Residents would be able to sign up for email, texts or phone alerts — similar to traffic updates — on the city's website, and the Fire Department will send notices of impending red-flag conditions 24 hours in advance, the staff report says.

If the ordinance gains final passage, the city would allow a grace period through Dec. 31 whereby illegally parked cars would not be ticketed. Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, the fine would be $43, the staff report says.

Tad Heitmann, who lives on Crestview Place, applauded the Fire Department and Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee for coming up with the program. But he said he was concerned about neighbors being able to exit the area if their cars weren't close by.

"If we have to move our cars somewhere else, where would that be?" Heitmann asked. "There aren't usually open spots in Diamond Crestview. Public safety is the biggest issue. If there is a fire and residents don't have access to their cars, walking into another neighborhood [to reach their cars] defeats the whole purpose of allowing people to get out."

LaTendresse suggested residents park cars in their garages and work with neighbors who may have extra space in a driveway.

"If we're able to get in there and fight the fire, we believe we will be saving lives," LaTendresse said. "If we wait before we go in and let the people evacuate, the fire will be of a magnitude that we may not have success.

"If we're able to [get engines into a neighborhood] and still provide an egress out for residents, then that's what we're trying to achieve."

The committee and fire officials held meetings with residents and building industry representatives to inform them of the pilot program, which could be expanded to other areas of the city. The city's public works department is currently installing 200 signs throughout the neighborhood to mark areas that are dead ends or have no room for a turnaround.

The committee and Fire Department are also communicating with OC Parks about possibly closing Laguna Coast and Aliso and Wood Canyons wilderness parks on red-flag days.

They will return to the council next July with a progress report.

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