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Laguna Beach leaders push for water-saving renovations at Main Beach Park

A child plays at the playground for Main Beach Park, which was replaced in 2013.
A child plays in the Main Beach Park playground, which was replaced in 2013. Laguna Beach plans further renovations at the park.
(File Photo)

Main Beach Park is getting an update as the Laguna Beach City Council directed staff Tuesday night to retain the current landscaping but look into replacing the turf with drought-tolerant grass, installing a more efficient irrigation system to save water and replacing park amenities such as benches, trash receptacles and lighting.

City staff presented several options along with a report that estimated it costs $40,000 annually to maintain the turf, with almost $20,000 for watering alone.

“The turf, restrooms, showers, drinking fountains and all non-turf planters at Main Beach Park utilize over 3 million gallons of water each year, of which approximately 2 million gallons are for watering the turf,” staff said.

Staff also presented considerations such as installing a new pedestrian walkway connecting to Ocean Avenue, extending a marine safety vehicle access ramp, maintenance of the historical lifeguard tower and replacing pathways.

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The focus of residents during public comments and council members during their discussion was on whether the grass should stay.

Council members largely agreed that there needs to be an improvement on water use at Main Beach Park, regardless of whether the grass is retained.

“When you build a house here ... you have to put in drought-tolerant landscaping, and I think we should be setting a good example,” Councilwoman Sue Kempf said. “We can’t make everybody do that and turn around and not do it ourselves. I don’t know how we’ll do that if we keep all the grass. I’m not sure what we can do about that, but that’s a lot of water.”

Councilman Peter Blake said he would like a landscaper to redesign Main Beach Park’s turf due to its water consumption to “give us a window to the sea that we could all be proud of and that we can all say, ‘We took 2 million gallons of water a year and we saved it.’ I don’t care about $40,000. I care about 2 million gallons of water a year.”

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Mayor Bob Whalen suggested that staff replace smaller areas of turf with low succulents so as to not interrupt the view of the ocean where possible.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman recommended replacing the benches to match the material of the boardwalk.

Along with its other directions, the council decided to hold off on adding the new pedestrian pathway until after the crosswalk at Ocean Avenue is moved and staff can evaluate where residents are walking.

Council members also elected to alter the paved cobblestone areas in the middle and the south end of the park.

The park, along Coast Highway between the city’s Marine Safety Department headquarters and Laguna Avenue, is being renovated as one of the developments in this year’s city capital improvement budget, said Shohreh Dupuis, director of public works.

The city has budgeted a total of $600,000 to renovate the park — $100,000 for design and $500,000 for construction.

Several of the park’s notable features — including the boardwalk, which was renovated in 2009 and repaired in 2011; the playground, which was replaced in 2013; and the basketball courts, which were resurfaced this year — will not be included in the upcoming project. Neither will the restrooms at the south end of Main Beach, which are slated for renovation next year.

The project will be coordinated with the Laguna Beach Police Department to ensure it meets Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design standards. Staff will return to the City Council at a later date for final approval of the renovation design plans and the construction bid.

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