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Grant will help city clean Laguna Canyon Creek

Laguna Canyon Creek

Laguna Canyon Foundation executive director Hallie Jones walks along Laguna Canyon Creek on the DeWitt property on Wednesday. The city received a grant to restore the area and is partnering with the foundation and Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. on the project.

(Don Leach / Coastline Pilot)

Laguna Beach is cleaning up in more ways than one.

Two years after the cleanup of a nearby hazardous waste site, the city has received notice of a $500,000 grant for removing invasive plant species in and along Laguna Canyon Creek, planting trees along the creek and constructing a public trail that will be a safer walkway than busy Laguna Canyon Road.

The project will provide a destination for hikers, students and other visitors, offering interpretive trail signs to educate about the riparian habitat along the creek, according to plans.

The California Natural Resources Agency, whose mission is to restore, protect and manage the state’s natural, historical and cultural resources, awarded the grant for restoration of an area within the 186-acre, city-owned DeWitt property in Laguna Canyon.

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The restoration area is adjacent to a 6-acre parcel within the DeWitt property that was the site of a hazardous waste cleanup effort in late 2014, four years after floods in the area caused erosion, exposing debris.

The city removed 15,500 cubic yards of waste in an area referred to as the burn site, so named for the household trash incinerated on the land between 1958 and the early 1970s, consultant Bob Burnham wrote in an email, citing an environmental impact report. Debris included broken and melted glass, fused metal, ceramics and porcelain.

The city purchased the DeWitt property for $2 million in 1991 after two years of wrangling over the price with then-owners John DeWitt, a San Gabriel Valley oil dealer, and Alice Platz, an Arizona resident, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“We’re so happy about being able to to work together on a project of this magnitude,” Hallie Jones, executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation, said of the foundation’s partnership with Laguna Greenbelt Inc. to give the city expert council on the project. “Laguna Canyon Creek’s restoration is a high priority.”

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The Laguna Canyon Foundation is a nonprofit organization created to preserve and protect the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and surrounding parklands. Laguna Greenbelt is a grassroots organization that works to protect wildlife habitat.

The nearly 5-acre restoration area, adjacent to the creek, stretches from the Sun Valley neighborhood north to Anneliese School. It harbors areas of invasive arundo and pampas grass, scattered dirt piles and a former asphalt parking lot, according to a city staff report.

Jones expects to begin removing invasive plants and debris this fall or winter. Vegetation experts still need to decide which types of plants to include in the meadow and along the creek, she said.

Inspiration for the project came from landscape architect and Laguna Greenbelt board member Bob Borthwick, who developed a comprehensive plan for improving areas along the 51/2-mile creek, which begins north of Laguna Lakes.

“Bob did the yeoman’s job on Laguna Canyon Creek as a whole, really highlighting the most critical improvements that could take place,” Jones said.

Last year Borthwick told the City Council that “It’s a thorn in my side” when people refer to the creek as a ditch or channel. “It’s not the creek’s fault it looks the way it does. It’s our fault for the way we’ve packaged it.”

The Laguna project was one of 23 statewide awarded a share of $10.3 million in grant funding in conjunction with the California River Parkways Act of 2004.

Grant applicants needed to satisfy two of five conditions. The DeWitt project qualified under the habitat category, for improving or restoring riparian environment, and for interpretive enhancements, said Bryan Cash, the resource agency’s deputy assistant secretary.

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“It’s great there is an elementary school next door so students can see a restoration project” in progress, Cash said. Interpretive signs along the trail will help teachers instruct students on the natural elements of the area, he added.

The grant, combined with $125,000 from the city and $5,000 in private donations, will make for a comprehensive restoration effort of the DeWitt property, those associated with the project said.

As part of the grant application, the city agreed to conduct a biological study and secure necessary permits from regulatory agencies before beginning work to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Agency staff typically visit a project site while work is in progress and at the end to ensure consistency with planned restoration, Cash said, adding that the city will receive funding in stages as it submits invoices to the agency.

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Bryce Alderton, bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce


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