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Our Laguna: ‘Bluebelt’ group gets in high gear

Things are looking rosier for Laguna Bluebelt — both the ocean and the organization.

Laguna Bluebelt is a loose — their word — coalition of groups in and around Laguna Beach that focuses on the immediate environment. It is currently focused on the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.

The initiative calls for a network along the California coast of marine reserves — “no take” areas — no collecting shells, no poking at sea anemones and no commercial or recreational fishing. The size and shape of a reserve in Laguna is being hotly debated.

“If the reserve is smaller in Laguna, it would put a larger one in Palos Verdes,” said Judy Yorke, a member of the Laguna Beach Environmental Committee who facilitates the Bluebelt dinner meetings.

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“Perfect,” said Mayor Kelly Boyd.

Boyd was in the minority at the meeting Monday at El Callejon, as he was in a City Council vote to send a letter to the state to support expansion of the Heisler Park reserve along the entire Laguna coastline for five years.

You could say the table talk was lively.

The Bluebelt supported the letter, but the vote was not unanimous. The majority of the group wants what is called the end-to-end (city limits, more or less) proposal or at least as much as they can get.

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Groups listed on the Bluebelt website include Orange County Coastkeepers, Help Blue Water, Village Laguna, Endangered Planet Foundation, South Laguna Civic Assn., ZeroTrashLaguna.org and OCDiving.com. Listing does not constitute endorsement.

“We are not a lock-step group,” Yorke said. “OCDiving.com voted against a full reserve because of the impacts on recreational divers.”

Six proposals are currently being considered by the Regional Stakeholder Group for the south coast area, charged with making a recommendation to the state’s Blue Ribbon Task Force.

The Surfrider Foundation reportedly is interested in submitting a seventh map.

Guidelines for the regional group set 9 square miles as the minimum size for a reserve. Fishers would like to see that be 3 miles long and 3 miles out, which would leave the Laguna coast on either side of the Heisler Park Reserve unprotected.

At the moment, Boyd said he could support A and B, both of which limit the reserve size and keep more of the city’s coastline out of the state’s clutches.

Arnold Hano called me a slaughterer the other day,” Boyd said. “But most recreational fishers do what I do: Catch and release or only catch what you can eat.”

Jinger Wallace, who represents Village Laguna at the Bluebelt meetings, said recreational fishers would only have to drive a short distance from Laguna to enjoy their sport, just as she drives out of town to walk her dogs on the beach in the daytime.

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She would like to see the reserve cover all South Laguna’s coastline, although she could live with a buffer zone around the treated water outfall at Aliso Creek.

The end-to-end proposal was not among the six maps of proposed plans displayed at an Open House earlier this month at Ben Brown’s of the South Coast Study Region from Point Conception to the San Diego County border with Mexico.

Four of the maps were proposed by the stakeholders and given jewel names. Two maps were produced by “external groups,” — in other words fishers — and designated A & B. A was dubbed the Fic/Fin proposal — prepared by the Fisheries Information Committee and Fisheries Information Network, not the Thick/Thin proposal as previously reported.

A reserve must be at least 9 square miles. That could be 1 mile out to sea and 9 miles long or 3 miles long and 3 miles deep.

“The preferred distance is 6 ½ to 12 miles of shore length; 3 miles is the minimum,” said Ray Hiemstra, the Coastkeeper representative to the Bluebelt, and a stakeholder. “Consumptives [fishers] want the 3 miles.”

It has become a battle of conservationists against what they are calling consumptives.

Hiemstra doesn’t expect much new to come up in the third round review.

Stakeholders will be meeting again Aug. 3 and 4 in Carlsbad.

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“In the first plenary session, they will pretend you haven’t paid any attention to everything that has been talked about in the MLP second round,” Hiemstra said at the Bluebelt meeting.

“The second day will be a workshop.”

Stakeholders will probably be broken into three groups, mainly because only three facilitators have been hired, Hiemstra said.

Hiemstra said consensus will never be achieved, but a “cross-interest” proposal that addresses ecology as well as economics is feasible.

“The reason we are in Laguna is because it will cause the least economic hardship,” Hiemstra said.

“Bosh,” Boyd said. “Tell that to the lobster fisherman.

“If the state is so enthusiastic about reserves, why not put it in Crystal Cove, which is a state park, and leave Laguna alone?”

Heimstra expects to see the stakeholders rally around the Topaz plan.

“It is the closest thing to a compromise,” Hiemstra said. “Nobody likes it, but they like the others even less.”

Roger Butow, founder of Friends of the Steelhead, supports Topaz, with the caveat of extending it to Camel Point.

Michael Beanan, who speaks for the South Laguna Civic Assn. at the Bluebelt meetings, would like to see a Laguna Beach Reserve that started at Abalone Point and ended at the Dana Point Headlands.

“I’d like to see it in the Salton Sea,” Boyd said.

Criteria for a reserve also includes deep rock — 300 feet deep — and kelp.

“Laguna meets both of those requirements.” Hiemstra said.

Kelp reforestation

And a big thank you for the kelp goes to Nancy Caruso, who has spent the last seven years restoring depleted kelp forests.

“For the first time in 25 years, Heisler has kelp,” Caruso announced at the Bluebelt meeting. “Heisler was one of the biggest kelp forests in Orange County 30 years ago and it’s back.”

Caruso, known as the “Kelp Lady,” is not a member of the Bluebelt.

“That was the first meeting I attended, but I probably will join,” she said.

Beanan is a big supporter of her efforts to keep the local project going.

“Sea urchins are the No. 1 predator of kelp, and I am training volunteers to pluck the urchins off of rocks,” she said.

“We have removed more than 25,000 in the last two months.”

The project could continue under exemptions in the reserve project.

“If they put a reserve in Crescent Bay or Shaw’s Cove, we would have to get rid of the urchins so the kelp could naturally reforest,” Caruso said.

Her project includes continual monitoring. She also provided a report to the regional stakeholders documenting the kelp forests, many unreported for decades.

Also at the Bluebelt dinner: Tidewater docent Sandy Dildine and North Laguna resident Pat Carpenter, who was looking to learn more about the group.

For more information about Orange County Kelp Restoration Project or to make a donation, contact Caruso at kelpladu@hotmail.com or call her at (714) 206-5147.

Visit lagunabluebelt.com.


OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com


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