Searching for a storm drain

Bryce Alderton

City officials concerned with flooding on Laguna Beach roads when

heavy rains pour down are hoping to build an additional storm drain.

Mayor Wayne Baglin met with Councilwoman Toni Iseman, City Manager Ken


Frank and officials from the California Department of Transportation last

week to discuss citywide projects such as storm drains and adding traffic

signals, Baglin said.

“I was pleased [with the meeting],” Baglin said.


The city wants to add a storm drain at 6th Avenue and Coast Highway,

which is expected to go before the city’s Design Review Board in May,

Frank said.

Frank estimates design and construction of the drain at 6th Avenue and

Coast Highway would cost $200,000. The city will go to bid if the Design

Review Board approves the project.

But one storm drain isn’t all that’s being talked about.

After the El Nino rains of 1998, Cal Trans and the city agreed that


each entity would build one storm drain, Frank said.

So as plans for a drain at 6th Avenue and Coast Highway go forward,

the site for the second drain remains up in the air.

Cal Trans officials said they have no knowledge of an agreement to

build the second storm drain at Thousand Steps Beach, where the city

would like to see a drain installed.

County officials have concerns with water quality and the potential

closing of a walkway leading to Thousand Steps Beach before any storm


drain is built there.

The county must approve the construction of a storm drain on the beach

because it owns that land.

“State law prohibits closing any public vertical access way to the

beach,” said Eric Jessen, chief of the county’s Harbors, Beaches and

Parks Division.

The stairway leading down to the beach would have to be closed to

build the drain, Jessen added.

“It’s a challenging situation,” Jessen said. “Ordinarily a

construction project of this magnitude and amount of area needed would

require closing of an access way.”

Jessen also expressed concern about the quality of the water that

would discharge from the storm drain, and where the storm drain would


“Would the pipeline cut across the sand or end at the back of the

beach?” Jessen asked. “There’s potential obstructions in the sand. We’re

trying to avoid that for liability purposes.”

An alternative area near Coast Highway and 5th Avenue could be used to

build a storm drain to improve drainage off Coast Highway because public

access wouldn’t be a problem, he said.

As a Laguna Beach resident, Jessen knows the problems heavy rains can

bring to this coastal city.

“I do understand the objectives,” Jessen said. “There’s significant

‘poundage’ of water in front of the [South Coast Medical Center where the

city wants to install a storm drain] and it’s difficult for motorists to

get through.”

The city’s master plan has called for installation of more storm

drains over the last 20 years, Frank said, with an added push to build

more drains following the El Nino storms of 1997 and 1998.

“Since 1998 we’ve tried to alleviate flooding on Coast Highway during

big rains,” Frank said.

Baglin agreed.

When the rains come, these areas all too often receive their fare

share of floods, Baglin said.

“It’s a terrible problem, all the water concentrates on Coast Highway

near the South Coast Medical Center,” Baglin said.