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City abandons channel reconstruction

Barbara Diamond

City officials said “Thanks but no thanks” Tuesday to $10 million in

federal and county money earmarked for the flood control channel project

on Broadway.


“We’d be doing [the project] to prevent a natural disaster by creating

an unnatural disaster,” said City Councilwoman Toni Iseman, who never

favored the project because of its effects on business, traffic and

particularly Main Beach.


The council voted 4-1 to abandon the proposed construction of a new

flood control channel beneath Broadway, for which the Army Corps of

Engineers and the county would have put up most of the money.

The vote came as a surprise. The agenda item dealt only with the

design and location of a gravity sewer to a new Main Beach Lift Station.

“I am not looking forward to chatting with county officials,” said

City Engineer Steve May, director of Public Works.

This was the second time the city pulled back from the brink of a


county project to improve the storm flow from Beach Street to Main Beach.

The flow backs up during heavy rains at Beach Street, where a larger

drain that pumps 2,200 cubic feet of water per second down Laguna Canyon

Road ties into a smaller drain that flows at 800 cubic feet per second.

The county has proposed a variety of solutions to the flooding since

1981. This time the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to participate.

The city’s Wastewater Advisory Committee, chaired by Mayor Wayne

Baglin and Iseman, lobbied against the project.


“The impacts are too great for what you will receive,” committee

member Ray Lewis told the council.

George Zebar said that to jeopardized community resources just to

avoid a “few days of flooding seemed out of proportion.” The city’s cost

of the project was estimated at $2 million. The county would have taken

responsibility for maintaining the channel after completion.

“If we don’t do the project it will free up $1.6 million,” said City

Manager Ken Frank. “Offsetting that: I don’t know if the county will ask

to be reimbursed and we will have to refurbish the channel.”

The council agreed to look at alternatives to the proposed project in

six months.

One alternative proposed was to reline the current drain with a slick

surface of some kind to increase the flow. May, who has walked and, in

some areas, crawled through the drain, said repairs are needed to protect

exposed metal from rusting.

A slick surface might increase the flow from 800 to 1,100 cubic feet of water per second, but the proposed project would have been able to

handle a 100-year flood, May said.

“It seems like a good idea to reline the old channel, but no one has

told me what we are going to do with the other 1,000 [cubic feet per

second] that will blow out downtown,” said Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman,

the lone vote against abandoning the project.

The abandoned project also had the approval of the California Coastal

Commission. What it didn’t have was the support of the downtown business

community or residents.

Councilman Steven Dicterow said he withdrew his support because he had

trouble seeing the benefits of the project, no trouble seeing the

drawbacks and because he did not see people at the hearing who would

benefit from the project.

The mayor’s about-face on the project was perhaps the most startling.

He had been its most fervent supporter and was the only council member to

vote this spring against delaying the start of the city’s sewer

realignment project, which needed to precede the county-corps project.

“I am for moving ahead as quickly as possible,” Baglin said then.

The delay was prompted by staff’s reluctance to fast-track the city’s

sewer project without having the design nailed down.

At the conclusion of the vote to abandon the project, Freeman thanked

the representatives of the county, Army Corps of Engineers and design

companies who worked on the project, for their efforts.

* BARBARA DIAMOND is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot.

She may be reached at 494-4321.