Top 10 stories of 2010

The year 2010 was an eventful and colorful year in Laguna Beach, but no one was prepared for the year to end on a note of disaster. Here are the Coastline Pilot's top 10 news stories of the year.



Lagunans ended 2010 awash in mud and debris after a seven-day spate of rain culminated in an intense downpour early Dec. 22 that overflowed Laguna Creek, sending four feet of water surging onto downtown streets. Rain totals in the city were measured at 10 inches from the seven-day event.

Damage is still being assessed, but the most recent estimates from the city of Laguna Beach indicate $12.3 million in damage to more than 180 private and public properties, including $5.6 million in lost inventory due to flooding of the downtown business district.

The Laguna Beach Animal Shelter sustained $800,000 in damage; Anneliese's School had $900,000 in damage; the Main Beach lifeguard tower and Boardwalk had $250,000 in damage; and a police evidence facility located to the rear of City Hall sustained $100,000 in damage.

Most downtown businesses reopened within days after a heavy cleanup, but some canyon establishments remain closed and many of the city's most prominent artists lost belongings and work space. A total of 71 businesses or commercial structures were damaged.

The Laguna Relief and Resource Coalition coordinated assistance for those who lost their belongings or needed shelter. A total of 18 families were identified as in dire need of assistance, with 91 homes sustaining moderate to severe damage. Ann Quilter, who survived a "killer" mudslide in the canyon in 1998, was named coordinator of relief efforts.

In response to the damage, city officials opened the ACT V parking lot for refuse and debris and waived counter permit fees to expedite repairs to damaged properties until the end of January. A meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Susi Q Senior Center for a presentation regarding finance, insurance, low interest loans and landlord/tenant responsibilities in disaster situations.


Marine Reserve

After two years of meetings and a series of contentious hearings, the California Fish and Game Commission approved a citywide marine reserve with a "no take" designation for Laguna Beach on Dec. 15.

The action was authorized by the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, a 1999 voter-approved measure which mandates a statewide network of marine protected areas be created to protect marine life. Most controversial was the Laguna Beach "no take" zone, the most restrictive for a populated area on the South Orange County coast.

The "no take" zone means that all fishing and lobster-catching will be illegal off of Laguna Beach when the restrictions go into effect sometime in 2011.


City finances

Prudent spending and saving kept city solvent in 2010 as many other cities fell into the red. Prudent has become the watchword in Laguna's fiscal policy.

The city's financial picture was not rosy in 2010, but it wasn't in the red, thanks to policies designed to counter the economic downturn, which have other California cities in the doldrums. Retiring City Manager Ken Frank presented a balanced budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, as required by city law, by dipping into the "Recession Smoothing Account," set up in December of 2008 for just this purpose.

The adopted budget also included the first payment of an internal loan used to pay off the interest accrued by retroactive, some said "radioactive," increases in public safety employee's retirement benefits. The loan eliminated a $10-million debt to the Public Employee Retirement System, which will save the city an estimated $6.4 million in interest. Shoppers and retail business owners had something to cheer about when the city repealed the temporary half-cent sales tax approved by voters to pay for repairs to infrastructure damaged in the 2005 Bluebird Canyon landslide.

And while expected, city officials breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Federal Emergency Management Agency cut a check for $34 million to pay the bill for the repairs. Payments were also credited to the city's own Disaster Relief and Street Lighting funds and the Laguna Beach County Water District.


Alternative Sleeping Location

The city opened larger and year-round accommodations for local homeless people on June 15, providing nightly shelter and daily respite from the streets for those who could prove they had a tie to Laguna Beach or had been homeless in the city for a year.

The ASL, in Laguna Canyon, was the culmination of a homeless advocacy process that began when the ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit against the city in late 2008, accusing city officials of violating the constitutional rights of homeless people by not allowing them to sleep on public land or providing an alternative. The ASL facility costs the city about $20,000 a month to operate. The Friendship Shelter supervises the site during the evening and overnight hours, and the Resource Center provides assistance to the homeless during the day.

The year began on a sad note for the homeless community and activists when Charles Reginald Conwell, known as "Cowboy," was struck and killed Jan. 9, 2010, on Laguna Canyon Road while making his way on foot to the previous shelter at the ACT V lot. Cowboy had been a familiar face on the streets of Laguna Beach for some 30 years.


Incumbents reelected

The seating arrangement on the dais in the City Council Chamber may have changed, but the faces didn't. Incumbents Toni Iseman, Kelly Boyd and Elizabeth Pearson were reelected, bucking a national trend that saw highly regarded elected officials sidelined. Iseman was elected for a fourth consecutive term, unprecedented in Laguna.

Challenger Emanuel Patrascu picked up 16% of the vote. Patrascu, who is employed by Republican State Sen. Tom Harman, was not endorsed by the local Republicans or the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn., which gave their support to Boyd and Pearson.


Immigration sweeps

The issue of illegal border crossings came to Laguna Beach after a series of beach landings by suspected human smugglers were discovered, mostly at Aliso Beach in South Laguna. The landings in turn brought the U.S. Border Patrol to the city, and their activities prompted protests by immigration activists.

In one reported incident, an employee of the Coastline Pilot — a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent — was detained on June 18 by Border Patrol agents as he worked on a news rack in downtown Laguna. The employee was released after producing his papers. On June 25, protestors marched near the Broadway bus depot with signs assailing "Illegal Search & Seizures" and alleged racial profiling by the agents.



After a number of incidents and mishaps involving street skateboarders, some residents demanded that skateboarding be banned on steep streets in the city.

The issue drew more than 150 people when it was presented before the Parking/Traffic/Circulation Committee on July 22. The committee drafted recommendations that will be discussed by the City Council on Feb. 1.


Coast Inn/Boom Boom Room

The proposed redevelopment of the Coast Inn, site of the iconic gay bar the Boom Boom Room, drew accolades from some and criticism by others. The plan, which included the elimination of the site of the former bar, was approved by the City Council on July 6 with the stipulation that a 35-seat public wine bar be opened at the location and that the gay history of the area be recognized with a placard or installation at the site.

Despite the concessions, the project was appealed to the California Coastal Commission in August by opponents as over-reaching in its scope and on the basis that it eliminated an important and historic visitor-serving component — the bar, which was noted as the first establishment to obtain a liquor license in Laguna Beach following the repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s.


Laguna Terrace Park

Laguna Terrace Park filed a lawsuit to avoid dealing with the California Coastal Commission on a proposal to subdivide the parcel and let the residents buy the land under their coaches. The park owner petitioned the court to block the commission from assuming jurisdiction over the proposed conversion to a resident owned park.

The court was also asked to prohibit the commission from challenging a coastal development permit that the City Council approved and declared un-appealable, a decision the commission disputes.

"It says something when people prefer the legal route to dealing with the commission," park manager Jim Lawson said.

Judge Ronald Bauer was appointed to hear the petition. He is the same judge that ruled that the St. Catherine of Sienas School project, adjacent to the park, did not come under commission jurisdiction.

The park petition is based on similar issues, Lawson said.


Cell towers

City officials and residents may rail against the proliferation of communication facilities — commonly called cell towers — but there is little they can do to control it.

Federal law prohibits local jurisdictions from outright banning the facilities or even making it so difficult for the communications industry to locate there that it amounts to a ban, City Atty. Philip Kohn has repeatedly advised the council.

Locations may not be denied based on radio frequency emissions, if they comply with the Federal Communications Commission standards, according to Kohn. However, federal law does not categorically prohibit local regulation. Installations in Laguna must be submitted for design review.

Mayor Toni Iseman would like to see the city tighten what regulations it can.

"I agree with [Toni] that we should keep our regulations as tight as possible," Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said. "I don't like this any better than you [Iseman], but the decision has been taken out of our hands."

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