Monster machines are moving more than a million cubic yards of earth and sand to stabilize a landslide-threatened ocean bluff between Monarch Bay and Dana Point where developers already have sold 75% of the bluff-top home lots for up to $2.2 million.
The unstable condition of the bluff near the exclusive Ritz-Carlton hotel in Laguna Niguel "has been recognized for years. It's the location of an ancient large landslide," said James A. Miller, chief of the grading section of the county's Environmental Management Agency.
But county officials say the developer's heavily scrutinized $2.2-million project to stabilize the historic landslide should pass inspection muster, so there is little, if any, chance that buyers of the lots are throwing their money down a rathole, so to speak.
"The grading plans and procedures have been reviewed and approved," Miller said. "I would have to say it is very, very unlikely that the work will not pass final inspection. If by any chance it doesn't, they'll be given the opportunity to make corrections."
Robert D. Burk, manager of the county's Public Property Permits division, which issued permits for part of the undertaking, agreed.
The lots are being laid out for a plush project known as Ritz Cove, almost next door to the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Because of the poor geological condition of the property, the current developer, the Stein-Brief Group of Laguna Niguel, had to show it could be stabilized before the county would approve the plans.
"It was very difficult to get through the (county's) plan check stage until we could be sure it would be stabilized," Miller said.
The work involves driving dozens of steel pilings into the beach in preparation for building a rock revetment. The faulty material in the old slide area then will be scooped out and the area will be refilled and compacted, said Bob Sullivan, engineering technician in the EMA permits division.
But in order to get the $2.2-million stabilizing work done, the developer had to get approval for use of the portions of the public beach at Salt Creek Beach Park as a staging ground for the huge earthmoving machines.
Permits to encroach on public land were granted Jan. 7 by the Public Properties Permits division, with a completion deadline set for April 15. But Stein-Brief has told the county it won't be able to meet that schedule.
"Stein-Brief asked for, and we granted, an extension to May 15," said Sullivan, but he added, "A $1,000 penalty will be assessed for each day beyond that."
While work is going on, a 500-foot-long and 100-foot-wide section of Salt Creek beach has been blocked to the public. But Sullivan said the steel pilings will be removed and the beach restored at the conclusion of the project.
He added that the soils will have to be tested again by grading department engineers before further development can take place.
In addition to the 101 lots, which range in size from about 6,000 to more than 14,000 square feet, and from $350,000 to $2.2 million in price, a small public park, streets, utility lines and walkways will be laid out.
Brochures show Mediterranean styling throughout the development, which covers about 35 acres and offers broad ocean views and immediate access to the beaches.
John Leslie, a staff analyst for the California Coastal Commission, said that first conceptual approval for a project on the bluff, along with other proposed Monarch Beach area developments, was granted in 1979 while the land still was owned by Avco Community Developers. Stein-Brief purchased the property in 1983, and Leslie said the commission gave final approval to the developer's specific plan in 1984.