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War of view vs. safety at headquarters

Size mattered at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. No one wanted to give an inch on the size of the proposed lifeguard headquarters on Main Beach.

The council voted 4-1 to send the project to the Planning Commission for review and recommendations despite the stalemate between supporters and opponents of the redesigned and reduced proposal, which they posited as view versus safety. And the final decision may not be the city’s choice.

“The reality is that you five [council] will not make the decision — the Coastal Commission will make the decision,” said City Manager Ken Frank.

Frank was disappointed in the obdurate positions taken by both sides of the issue, including the view concerns expressed by Inn at Laguna management, which didn’t like either of the two proposals presented at the council meeting. The line in the sand drawn by the adherents of a bigger project they said was imperative to serve the lifeguards’ needs now and in the future.

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“I am disappointed in the Inn at Laguna, and I am disappointed with the people who want the most grandiose plan,” Frank said. “The hotel can probably hold up the project for years, and we need to take its concerns into consideration.

“But this project will go through at some point.”

Six design options for renovating the restrooms and lifeguard facilities at Main Beach were presented to the council in September 2001. Marine Safety Chief Mark Klosterman recommended a 5,200-square-foot headquarters, the average size of lifeguard facilities in Orange County.

The council selected a one-story headquarters with its location to be swapped with the existing restrooms on the south end of Main Beach.

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In January 2005, the council reviewed the study of the city facility that included a “maximum” and a “reduced” program. The site study is available for review in the City Clerk’s office.

A 4,990-square-foot design, proposed in February, created a storm of opposition, directed at the size and the “modern” design, criticized as not in keeping with the site.

The elimination of the parking garage for marine safety vehicles reduced the size by more than 1,000 square feet, but site constraints, which made it difficult to resolve view concerns, still were in play, according to a report by Assistant City Manager John Pietig.

The proposed building closest to Pacific Coast Highway could not be lowered because it sits over a sewage lift station and lowering the building would put it into the flood plain of Laguna Canyon Creek and in the coastal wave run-up zone, Pietig said.

Frank warned the council that the coastal commission will not be happy with any portion of a building that pushed out onto the sand.

“As for a parking garage on Main Beach, [coastal commissioners] will beat the crap out of us,” Frank said.

“We never get the maximums. We didn’t get it with the Senior Center. We didn’t get it with the corporation yard. Let the process proceed and get everyone working together.”

Opposition to the “maximum” plan led to the design of the “current” plan, an amalgam of which was forwarded Tuesday to the Planning Commission with directions to consider the project using the “reduced,” 3,950 square-foot exterior design concept, but enlarging the size to between 4,500 and 4,990 square feet, with sensitivity to “green” construction materials.

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Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman voted against the motion because she wanted the larger project specified for commission review.

“Making it smaller compromises public safety,” Kinsman said.

Representatives of the lifeguards concurred.

“How does an individual’s view preservation dictate the size of a public safety facility that services millions of beach patrons annually or how does individual view preservation set precedent for public safety building size,” said Kai Bond, president of the Laguna Beach Lifeguard Association.

Lifeguard Scott Diederich asked on behalf of the city’s Municipal Employees Assn. — of which he is president — for the council to support the larger project, which was proposed in February, but lost out to the later proposal presented to the public in October.

“The [February] design recognizes the marine safety current needs and will be able to address the future needs of the Marine Safety Department,” Diederich said. “If the building is to last a minimum of 50 years, then the first design of 4,990 square feet is the most viable presented option for the 21st Century.”

Ocean protectionist Fred Sattler said he could support the exterior of the revised project, but had qualms about a headquarters with less than 5,000 square feet.

“There will be a lack of adequate training and meeting space,” Sattler said. “There will be inadequate gender-specific changing and showering facilities.

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“I am asking you to fully consider the potential of inadvertently fostering a hostile environment in the work place if this condition were allowed.”

He also said that a first aid room that could not accommodate more than one injured person at a time was too small, not to mention there would be no allowance for the expansion of programs or staff.

Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly said the original design for the larger building was too big, too ugly and not appropriate for Main Beach, but she could live with the revised project as presented.

“I am sorry that people think we don’t love the lifeguards — we do,” Egly said. “But I don’t see the arguments made on this project.

“I agree with Ken: send it to the Planning Commission and get everyone together. Don’t applaud.”

Kinsman told Egly she didn’t have to worry about that from an audience that mostly supported the lifeguard’s position.

“Neither [proposal] is an architectural masterpiece, but we need to go with the plan that provides the most space,” Kinsman said. “We need to build the bigger building and if it takes two years longer, that’s what we have to do.”

Kinsman also said that 660 square feet of the facility is public restrooms, which should not be included in the square footage for the headquarters.

Councilman Kelly Boyd said he was not willing to approve a building that would not serve the purpose for which it was intended for more than a few years.

“When we remodeled City Hall, it was obsolete before we moved back in,” Boyd said. “The proof is those five trailers parked out in back.

“I am not going to let that happen to the Lifeguard Headquarters.”

His compromise was to park the lifeguard vehicles off site, but to keep the square footage that had been earmarked for a garage.

Frank said Boyd’s compromise might make the project easier to sell to the coastal commission.

Resident Tom Girvin said the lifeguards depend on the council and the city management to provide for their needs.

“It is my opinion that 94% of the Laguna Beach population does not go into the ocean nor are they aware of the job the Marine Safety Department does,” Girvin said.

“The objections come from businesses who feel that their issue is a view issue. The city is being intruded upon by the big bucks whose interest is financial.

“It would be interesting to determine whose efforts are more beneficial to the city: the tourists who are protected by the Marine Safety Department or the small number of visitors whose views will be interrupted by a new Marine Safety Headquarters.”

Mayor Toni Iseman said the most distressing aspect of the project is the divisiveness demonstrated, but she was also upset that there was no discussion of the project’s environmental impacts to one of the city’s iconic sites.

“This was a no-where meeting,” Iseman said. “We have to listen to one another.

“We are asking the Planning Commission to do the heavy lifting on this. They will be dealing with a sacred area and public views are a huge issue. And how green can we make this building?”

Frank said the project will come back to the council after the Planning Commission reviews the design, scheduled to begin at the Dec. 12 meeting.



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