The city has withdrawn its original proposal for more permanent lifeguard towers on seven local beaches and sent it back to the drawing board.
The permanent towers would replace temporary towers — or chairs — in place during the peak summer season.
A revised plan for the permanent towers will be submitted to the Laguna Beach Design Review Board, which may issue a coastal development permit — unless the project is appealed either to the City Council or to the California Coastal Commission, which earlier this year determined that the project was appealable to the state panel.
“I am happy that the community will have more opportunity to get involved,” said North Laguna resident Sandra Siani, who appealed the original project to the coastal commission.
“Legally, notices of a project only have to be sent to property owners within 300 feet of a project, but when it is public beaches, it affects the whole community — and it is paid for by city taxes.”
The original proposal approved by the review board in January was to replace seven temporary elevated towers and chairs with a like number of 14-foot, 9-inch tall permanent ones with a 4-by-4 foot footprint. The solid fiberglass structures are designed with windows, a roof, attached deck with railings and an access ladder.
Zoning administrator Liani Sculler said the towers are identical to seven towers previously approved by city officials — and not appealed.
Marine Safety Chief Mark Klosterman wants to replace a total of 28 lifeguard “chairs” with the permanent towers over a period of years.
The new towers screen the lifeguards from the sun, provide safer access and egress with handrails and are more stable than the chairs formerly used, lifeguards said, meeting Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, which now mandate closed chairs for the safety of lifeguards, according to Klosterman.
“We need to do this,” City Manager Ken Frank said.
The chairs used for years in the city are “killing” lifeguards, according to Marine Safety Captain Kevin Snow, due to sun exposure that leads to fatigue. Cancer is also a concern.
“If [opponents] had seen the injuries and knew the demands of the job, they would agree with us,” Snow said in an interview with the Coastline Pilot earlier this year.
Frank said the revised project probably will be submitted to the city’s review board within the next two months — leaving the timing up to the Marine Safety Division.
“Ken [Frank] and I are absolutely on the same page on this project,” Klosterman said.
The amended proposal will eliminate the towers on a Treasure Island pocket cove and Divers Cove, which Frank said sparked opposition, but will include studies of wave run-up and biological resources, as recommended by the coastal commission staff.
Frank said the project sits solely on sand and does not affect bluffs.
“Those studies should have been done before the project was ever submitted,” said Siani, who appealed the original project to the coastal commission in March.
Coastal Commissioners Patrick Kruer and Sara Wan signed onto the appeal.
According to the commission staff report, the appellants contended, among other things, that the proposed towers create adverse visual impacts, present potential impacts to wildlife habitat, would be located in areas subject to potential hazards, such as erosion, and would affect lateral public access and recreation on the beaches.
“My appeal was never based on aesthetics versus safety,” Siani said. “You can have both. I would never compromise the lifeguards’ safety.”
Siani said she could not comment on the amended project until she reviews it.
Frank expects the review board to approve the revised project, as it did the previous submittal, and to issue a coastal development permit.
“The project can be appealed to the council or to the commission, which has approved similar ones in other communities and some in Laguna that have already been constructed and [for which] we’ve had no complaints,” Frank said.
Siani said no one complained because of the city’s noticing policies.
However, a tower at Crescent Bay Beach was reduced one foot in height at the request of a property owner in a public hearing.
No one appealed the project approved in the first of the year to the council.
The five towers in the revised project are slated for Bird Rock, Sleepy Hollow, Thalia Street and Oak Street.