SOUNDING OFF:Time to put South Laguna on the map

Nearly 20 years have passed since South Laguna left its uncertain existence as a ward of Orange County and entered, instead, the warm embrace of the city of Laguna Beach. North and South were united. It has not always been a smooth alliance. For some reason, South Laguna remains terra incognita — all those tiny streets, those narrow roadways, those signs warning off anyone who even thinks of parking in front of one of those much-too-small houses; hills not easily traversed; turnarounds that leave drivers sweaty and muttering imprecations.

Well, we could understand all that, if we bothered. South Laguna loves cottages; south Laguna loves and cherishes its neighborhoods and will protect them against all intruders, foreign and domestic -- particularly domestic. Yes, we are united, north and south, but it is not a love affair.

Take the matter of natural watercourses: A developer comes in and decides to build a residence or two or three on what clearly seems to be a natural watercourse.

South Lagunans and others protest: "You can't build that close to a watercourse." And the developer retorts, "Yeah? Show me the watercourse on the city map."

City staff says the watercourse doesn't appear on the city's certified map. The Coastal Commission says the watercourse is a stream and the project is appealable.

Now the gloves come off. Who has priority here, the city or the Coastal Commission? Lawsuits are threatened. Time is wasted. Money is thrown away. Tempers fray.

It need not be. What has happened is a failure on the part of the City of Laguna Beach to do its job. At a City Council meeting on January 18, 1994 — six plus years after South Laguna had joined the City — the council unanimously passed a resolution that directed the city staff to place certain major watersheds and drainage courses in South Laguna on the city's maps as a part of the General Plan.

The watersheds and drainage courses are named. It is as clear a directive as can be imagined. The council of Kathleen Blackburn, Wayne Peterson, Lida Lenny and Bob Gentry, under Mayor Ann Christoph, signed the resolution. And someone in City Hall chose to ignore the council's directive. City staff failed to pursue Coastal Commission certification of the map.

I do not know whom to blame — the city manager, the planning director, some unknown staffer — nor do I care. What matters is a quick fix.

This is not a difficult task. It means reading and writing (so maybe it is difficult) and putting the seal of approval on something that should have been approved 13 years ago. It means the end to the thus-far endless fights over whether there is or isn't a significant watercourse on a particular property a developer wants to build on.

It means no more trips to the Coastal Commission to get a new opinion and throw more fuel on the fire. It means, once and for all, a fair deal for residents of a beleaguered part of Laguna Beach.

This is more than a development issue put to rest; it is an acknowledgment of the existence of South Laguna.

A resident of South Laguna can say, with some pride, "Look at us! We're on the map."

And it again defines the roles of City Council and staff. The Council makes policy; the staff carries it out. OK, staff, lift and carry. We're waiting and we don't want to wait any longer.

  • Arnold Hano lives in Laguna Beach.
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