Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Kinsman was shocked to learn that Laguna Canyon Road is not a state-designated scenic highway, considering it cuts through regional wilderness parks and a canyon the community has made great efforts to preserve from development.
The City Council unanimously supported Kinsman’s proposal to explore the process and implications of the state designation. A portion of the 133 is a county-designated Scenic Highway and viewscape corridor, although the date of the designation is somewhat hazy.
“Laguna Canyon Road from Big Bend to Lake Forest, just this side of the 405, is designated as a scenic highway on the county’s master plan, but it doesn’t hurt to check if the state recognizes the county designation,” said Laguna Canyon Conservancy President Carolyn Wood.
“Maybe if it had the state recognition, Caltrans [California Department of Transportation] would remove those big mounds of dirt left over from the realignment of the road. The whole purpose of the scenic highway designation is to preserve the natural beauty and Caltrans promised to keep it looking natural.”
Wood, a legendary archivist, said the county designation was made in 1986, backed up by Laguna Canyon Foundation records, guardian of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, through which the 133 runs.
“The foundation supports any legal proposals to protect the land in an enhanced manner,” said Karl Warkomski, recently appointed executive director.
However, according to the city’s General Plan, the county designation was in place by 1975.
The Scenic Component of the County’s General Plan was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 1973.
“There have been very few changes in the Scenic Map since then,” said Harry Persaud, county manager of the road program.
County records on the date the 133 was added to the Master Plan of Scenic Highways were not immediately available.
The city’s General Plan states that protections for county scenic roads are similar to the state protections.
Placement on the state list can only be done by the state legislature and requires joint action by the Senate and the Assembly.
The benefits of the state designation are posted on the Caltrans website.
Among the benefits:
Protection from encroachment of incompatible land uses such as junkyards, dumps, concrete plants and gravel pits, etc.
Mitigation of activities within the corridor that detracts from the scenic quality by proper siting (location), landscaping or screening
Prohibition of billboards and regulation of on-site signs so they do not detract from scenic views
Making development more compatible with the environment and in harmony with surroundings
Regulation of grading to prevent erosion and cause minimal alteration of existing contours and the preservation of important vegetation along the highway
Preservation of views of hillsides by minimizing development on steep slopes and along ridgelines
Requirement of a minimum setback for residential development adjacent to the highway to prevent the need for sound walls.
“Maybe that could also save us from reader boards,” resident Charlotte Masarik said.
Caltrans put up a large board earlier this year without a city permit, but removed it when the city objected to the installation without a review or permit.
Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson said the designation might also give the city more control over the aesthetics of communication installations although the city would still be banned by federal law from denying the installations.
To date, Laguna Canyon Road has not even been nominated for the state designation. And according to a state engineer, Caltrans is considering reclassifying Laguna Canyon Road from Main Beach to Big Bend from a state highway to a conventional highway.
The difference is that a conventional highway is owned and maintained by jurisdiction of record, rather than the state, Persaud said.
A city staff report has been prepared on the process and implications for a state-designated scenic highway and is expected to be on the Sept. 2 City Council agenda.
BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 494-4321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.