Laguna Beach to pursue local control of South Laguna beaches

The Laguna Beach City Council seeks to bring the county-owned beaches under local control.
The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously supported bringing the county-owned beaches under local control Tuesday, directing staff to pursue an agreement with the county by Nov. 15.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach has set in motion plans to assume ownership of South Laguna beaches that continued to fall under the oversight of the County of Orange after the city annexed the territory in 1987.

The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday unanimously supported bringing the county-owned beaches under local control, directing staff to pursue an agreement with the county to that effect by Nov. 15.

In a letter dated Aug. 17, county executive officer Frank Kim stated the county would offer $22 million to transfer the county’s coastal properties within Laguna Beach. The Orange County Board of Supervisors will have to sign off on the transfer for final approval.

The lump-sum payment from the county would go into a fund intended to aid specifically with city operations in South Laguna. Revenue raised from the South Laguna parking lots would also go into that fund, city officials said.

A lifeguard keeps watch at Aliso Beach in South Laguna on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I think it’s just going to be a real benefit to our community long term, a real benefit to people in South Laguna [and offer] better enforcement operations,” Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said. “I also do want to thank Supervisor [Lisa] Bartlett. She’s really been great for our community. She’s coming to the last couple of months of her tenure before she terms out, but I think this is something she really wants to get done before she leaves.”

An agreement between the city and the county would see Laguna Beach take over Aliso Beach, including parking and concessions, as well as the beaches at Camel Point, Laguna Royale, Table Rock, Thousand Steps and West Street.

The city would then manage the properties, including maintenance such as trash collection and landscaping at the locations, capital improvement projects and marine safety operations.

Assistant City Manager Ken Dormer said one of the beach-related complaints the city receives from residents is a lack of enforcement of the state’s ban against smoking on a public beach. “The contract lifeguards with the county basically are looking eyes on the water all the time, where our lifeguards are city employees.

“They’re looking at not just the water, doing an exemplary job, but also at the quality-of-life issues that occur on the beach around them.”

Beachgoers have a chat on the sand at Aliso Beach in South Laguna on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Dormer said the hours of the now county-owned beaches would remain the same if transferred over to the city.

City officials estimate that assuming control of the beaches in South Laguna will be accompanied by start-up costs of about $1 million, while it’s estimated staffing and maintenance will cost $2.25 million annually.

During a presentation to the council, Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow told the panel the city would need to add approximately two dozen part-time lifeguards to cover the expansion in territory to be serviced.

Ed Almanza of Laguna Ocean Foundation said the organization was “doing backflips” at the prospect of bringing South Laguna’s beaches under local control.

“We think that our guards, our lifeguards are such an asset,” Almanza said, adding that they contribute as stewards of environmental protection. “Why wouldn’t we deploy them down there? Our guards would improve public safety, would improve marine protection. I think our marine protection function would be more active down there.”

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