Flood task force members selected

Eight applicants have been chosen for the newly formed Laguna Canyon Flood Mitigation Task Force.

The council on Tuesday selected landscape architect Bob Borthwick, Laguna Canyon businesswoman and resident Susan Hamil, retired county official Eric Jessen, former City Manager of Temple City Karl Koski, retired engineer William E. Lawson, sculptor and canyon resident Louis Longi, retired civil engineer Carl R. Nelson and canyon resident and U.S. Marine Corps Col. (ret.) Charles Quilter II to serve on the task force.

"I can't tell you how gratified I am that we had 15 applicants," said Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, who proposed the task force. "It shows a great deal of interest."

The panel was created to come up with measures the city can undertake to help Laguna Canyon property owners better prepare for floods and to make recommendations to the county and Caltrans that would benefit local efforts.

The eight members selected Tuesday will work with a member of the Planning Commission, to be named, and council members Kelly Boyd and Rollinger. A member of the Public Works division will be assigned to provide staff assistance.

"There were so many people who applied who need to be on the task force," Mayor Toni Iseman said.

As it was, the council expanded the at-large membership to eight from the proposed seven.

All of the applicants are Laguna Beach residents except Nelson, whose name was pulled from the list of applicants before the vote at the request of Iseman, who wanted to ensure his appointment because of his expertise.

Nelson worked for 50 years in Orange County flood control, including planning projects in Laguna Canyon from 1962 to 1989. He also served as county director of Public Works from 1975 to 1989.

City Atty. Philip Kohn said there is no residency requirement for membership on the task force, although the application asks for the number of years an applicant has lived in Laguna. At least two of the selected members were required to be residents of Laguna Canyon, fulfilled by the appointments of Hamil, Longi and Quilter.

Quilter said he had experienced just about every weather condition in his 39 years as a canyon resident, including the 1998 mudslides when he lost his home. He has special training in meteorology, weather phenomena and related technology.

Longi has worked with eight agencies trying to develop a 10-unit project in the canyon that is clear of water. He also expressed interest in developing an evacuation and emergency response plan that could help prevent injuries or death.

Hamil's interest in serving on the committee stems from her experience living and working in the canyon since 1961.

"I understand the unique and diverse community in which we live and the need to preserve those qualities while ensuring the safety of our residents," she wrote on her application.

South Laguna resident Jessen said his experience as Orange County Parks chief will be useful.

"I am familiar with overall greenbelt drainage and infrastructure impacted by major storm events," Jessen said. "I am familiar with the history of flooding, fire and landslide catastrophes throughout the San Joaquin Hills that surround Laguna Beach."

Koski said he understands the complexities of working with multiple agencies, as the task force will be doing, and also the importance of establishing local priorities and obtaining local support for a final plan.

Lawson provided his professional expertise to other communities until his retirement

"I have been a silent member of [my] community," Lawson said. "I have no excuse now."

Lawson, who has worked with Nelson in the past, said the city will not be able to afford to do a canyon project right.

"We'd have to tear down the city," Lawson said.

However, he feels practical improvements can be made to mitigate flooding in the canyon and downtown.

Rollinger said she hoped the applicants who were not appointed will stay involved. She promised to keep them in the loop.

The task force is expected to make recommendations over a six-month period.

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