The city is at odds with a private school, the county and Caltrans as to the cause of a frequent northbound traffic jam on Laguna Canyon Road near El Toro Road, which builds up in the mornings and afternoons.
Mayor Toni Iseman has formed a City Council subcommittee to deal with the traffic issues in the canyon, which she attributed in an agenda bill to parents dropping off and picking up non-local students of the Manzanita campus of Anneliese’s Schools, near the busy intersection.
She and Councilmember Kelly Boyd, the other member of the two-person subcommittee, will meet with the school to see what can be done about the backup.
“We’re going to do all we can,” said Elise Higley, administrative grade school director at Anneliese’s. “We’re willing and totally excited to find any solution we can.”
The city’s public works department has produced a special projects inventory that states that “both the County and Caltrans traffic engineers believe that the congestion is caused by the limited capacity of the El Toro Road intersection rather than traffic exiting and entering the Anneliese’s School.”
The department also said “the County plans to add an eastbound through-lane on Laguna Canyon Road before El Toro Road, which is expected to allow more vehicles through the intersection and reduce congestion on Laguna Canyon.”
The lane is slated to be completed by the end of the year.
Higley, a Laguna native, said that she didn’t think the school is the sole reason for the congestion.
“My mom’s been cursing the canyon traffic for 40 years,” she said.
Iseman said in her bill she was of the impression the school has not planned any imminent changes in its traffic management.
But school say they have plans to overhaul its methods.
“We just purchased a small minivan,” Higley said; the school is currently investigating how to create the most effective shuttle service possible, and plans to begin its new service in the fall.
“We’re hoping that will help with some of the congestion,” she said.
The school also has distributed information on the benefits of carpooling, and has parent volunteers who aid during drop-off and pickup times.
Higley said the school will be very receptive to outside suggestions.
“You kind of get caught in your way of doing things,” she said.
Higley theorized that morning commuters also tend to clog up the canyon when it’s at its worst.
“It just bottlenecks right there,” she said.
Higley found the Caltrans plan to be problematic, especially if the construction were to take out some of the nature preserve land alongside the road.
“I would hate for any land to be used up that wouldn’t have to be,” she said.
“All in all, people just really need to realize that it’s going to be traffic-y right there,” Higley said. “That’s part of the pros and cons of living in Laguna. The views could be worse.”
She cited Park Avenue after school gets out and Coast Highway as other examples of bottlenecks.
Higley said about 360 attend the Willowbrook campus during the regular school year, with a few dozen less during the summer, but that children attend classes on different days, so all the students are rarely present on campus at the same time.
“We do have a lot of local families,” Higley said. She estimated 60% to 70% of the students are locals, noting many other local kids attend after-school art and music programs at the campus.
Iseman noted in her agenda bill that as the school is operated under a conditional use permit from the city, the council could mandate changes if necessary to reduce the number of children the school may serve, but that she would prefer to work cooperatively with the school before such measures are taken.
Higley said she hopes the city and community see the school is actively involved in the town, from students visiting the terminally ill at South Coast Medical Center to singing at Hospitality Night.
Higley has put in calls to Iseman, and said she looks forward to working on the issue.
“Hopefully we’ll find some solution that everyone’s happy with,” Higley said. “I would love to not have as much traffic in the canyon.”