Laguna Beach set to assume local control of South Laguna beaches

A view from the bluff at Aliso Beach in South Laguna.
A view from the bluff at Aliso Beach in South Laguna as shown on Sept. 22. Laguna Beach will assume ownership of South Laguna beaches from the County of Orange on March 1.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Laguna Beach will assume control of the beaches in South Laguna from the county of Orange on Wednesday, and city officials recently provided an update on the preparations and set some ground rules for the impending takeover.

The city plans to keep the hours of the newly acquired beaches consistent with the prior determinations of the county. Aliso, Camel Point, Laguna Royale, Table Rock and West Street beaches will be closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly. Thousand Steps Beach will close an hour earlier, at 9 p.m.

Aside from Thousand Steps Beach, dogs will be allowed at all times, except during the summer. Dogs will be prohibited on those South Laguna beaches from June 15 to Sept. 10 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.


With Aliso Beach coming under city control, the council opted to allow residents with shoppers parking permits to use both the coastal and inland lots. The parking lots at Aliso Beach total 290 spaces, 172 of which are on the coastal side of South Coast Highway.

The council appropriated $108,000 from the South Laguna fund for the installation of six new pay stations and parking signage in the Aliso Beach parking area. Rates will be $2.50 per hour and $20 per day from Labor Day to late June. During the summer, the parking cost will be $3 per hour and $24 for the day.

“I think we initiated this over two years ago, began this process of trying to make this happen, and everybody said it would never happen,” Mayor Bob Whalen said of the transfer of South Laguna beaches to the city. “... We kept at it, and it happened, and it happened on great terms for the city. I’m a firm believer this is the best move we’ve made with respect to these beaches in a long time. We got a good amount of money from the county to address the needs.”

Whalen thanked the city departments that assisted in bringing the South Laguna beaches under local control.

“I think it’s the right thing for our community to provide this level of service, uniformly, up and down the city to all our residents, including the residents of South Laguna. … There’s going to be some bumps along the way. This thing is not going to be seamless. I just ask everybody to recognize that, be patient, … give us feedback, let us hear the concerns, and then we got a great staff here that can work on solutions to make things work. … Let’s have a good summer.”

A March 14 meeting is being planned between city staff and South Laguna residents to learn more about operational issues at the acquired beaches.

The council approved the cooperative transfer agreement with the county on Nov. 15. The county agreed to pay $22 million to the city for the assumption of capital improvement, maintenance and operations costs related to properties and services in South Laguna.

Laguna Beach will conduct marine safety operations at South Laguna beaches. Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow said the city has recruited 25 new ocean lifeguards to achieve base level staffing, while that number will need to increase to 50 additional seasonal lifeguards to meet peak staffing needs for the summer.

Six additional lifeguard towers have been ordered, including the Pride Tower to be installed at West Street.

Council members also set aside $78,000 from the South Laguna fund for additional marine safety equipment, including an automated external defibrillator, a navigation system for rescue vessels and a drone. The panel also approved the addition of an equipment operator and a maintenance worker, with those two positions expected to carry a combined cost $225,000 annually.

Skimboarding considerations

The South Laguna beaches discussion drew a contingent of skimboarders. An urgency ordinance passed by the council Tuesday designated areas where surfing could occur in South Laguna, but the skimboarding community wished to be more flexible with the areas for skimming.

“The ask has been not to create rigid zones where … the skimming is going to occur, but to take into account the changing topography of the beach, sand shift, flow direction and everything else,” Snow said. “It’s obviously going to take a little more staff time, but clearly skimming is very important to the community in South Laguna and the community as a whole.

“We have partnered with who we believe is representing the skimming community to come up with a process for the summer that will allow us to do just that. What’s been happening over the course of time is these areas, they exist organically, so people come, they figure out where the best place to skim is, and then they just start skimming. Aliso has a marked area, but some of the other beaches don’t, so what’s going to happen is once those areas are designated, signage will be put out so that everybody knows where the skimming area is.”

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