Laguna Beach approves $2-million neighborhood and environmental protection plan

Beachgoers explore and take pictures in a sea cave at 1,000 Steps Beach in South Laguna.
Beachgoers explore and take pictures in a sea cave at 1,000 Steps Beach in South Laguna. The cave was recently “tagged” by spray paint, angering locals.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved a $2-million neighborhood and environmental protection plan at its last meeting on March 9.

City officials estimate that Laguna Beach receives more than 6 million visitors per year. The multifaceted plan, which is intended to mitigate the impact of tourists who come to the beachside town, comes after a year of living under coronavirus restrictions.

Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf said she believes that the pandemic resulted in people finding their way to outdoor recreational activities, which she said has contributed to an influx of visitors coming to the city for its beaches, parks and trails.

Crowded neighborhoods led to a long list of complaints from residents.

“This action by the Council will better protect our neighborhoods and preserve the natural beauty of our beaches and open space areas,” Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said in a statement.

“Through numerous neighborhood outreach meetings with our residents and neighbors over the last year, we’ve heard that more police protection, parking enforcement and trash pickup are needed to maintain the quality of life that we all expect. By committing $2 million to this effort, we are confident that we will produce positive and tangible results for our community.”

The new plan will be fully funded by visitors through the city’s parking fund and revenue generated by the Measure LL transient occupancy tax, city staff said.

Residents expressed concerns about nuisance activities, and as part of the plan, the city will be adding a police department neighborhood improvement team. The group will attend to quality-of-life issues, and two new police officers will be added.

There are also plans to add a gate and two security cameras at Alta Laguna Park.

“The increase in visitors in the past year has just been significant,” resident Meredith McMahon said. “I live two houses south of Park Avenue, about a five-minute walk to Alta Laguna Park, and on a weekend, you have to come up and see it for yourself, but it’s pretty chaotic.”

She added how the neighborhood transforms on the weekends due to it being a destination for hiking, saying, “A Tuesday at 9 a.m. looks very different than a Saturday at 9 a.m.”

Another resident called into the meeting and said that the Alta Laguna neighborhood has become like a “three-ring circus.”

Additionally, the approved package will establish teams for litter pickup, public trash collection will occur more frequently, and more trash cans will be provided to new spots in town.

“People talk about quality of life all the time,” Hoiyin Ip said during the public comment session. “Now, this is action, so thank you so much.”

The city also plans to turn public water fountains into bottle-refilling stations at parks, beaches and trails, while more parking options are expected to be developed in the Alta Laguna and Top of the World communities.

The council also directed staff to look into pursuing a number of policy changes, including the prohibition of single-use plastics on beaches and trails and by restaurants in distributing to-go containers.

Kempf said she felt a year would suffice to allow for restaurants to adjust to the new policy, saying, “It’s one of these things that if you don’t put something in place, you’re never going to get there.”

Prohibiting the feeding of birds in city parks, the use of large shade structures that could interfere with the vision of public safety personnel and abandonment of personal property in public areas were among the other policies discussed.

The council also asked city staff to explore the prohibition of leaving bicycles on Main Beach and in Heisler Park, as well as the possibility of having parks in noncoastal communities close at 10 p.m.

Upon hearing the presentation of the plan, Councilwoman Toni Iseman said, “I think the community is going to recognize the attention to detail that this has and the recognition of the complaints that they’ve been issuing over the years.”

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