2011 In Review: Skateboarding debate rolls through City Council

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following were chosen by the Coastline Pilot staff as the most important news stories of the past year in Laguna Beach.


After six months of sometimes raucous commentary, both pro and con, in the last half of 2010 the City Council in February took up the issue of speedboarding or skateboarding on city streets. Council chambers were packed when discussing the controversial issue.

In April, after months of study and comment, the council voted to ban skateboarding on eight precipitous streets and to require skateboarders to abide by various rules, including: requiring boarders never to sit or lie down, but only stand up; not to exceed 25 mph; never perform stunts; and obey all traffic signs.


2. Rug store manager accused in sex assaults

Downtown business owners and patrons were taken by surprise when a well-known businessman that ran Sirous & Sons Rug Gallery was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting eight women, with additional charges associated with three other women.

Saeid Boustanabadi Maralan, 53, of Laguna Niguel was arrested in September after Laguna Beach police responded to a report by a former 17-year-old intern, who alleged that Maralan had shown her pornographic images on his computer.

Police were able to examine the computer and find evidence, opening up an investigation that spanned more than three years and included felony counts of forcible rape, sexual battery, sexual penetration with a foreign object by force and assault with the intent to commit oral copulation; he also has misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure and false imprisonment.

Victims had come forward prior to the minor's report, but they did not want to prosecute Maralan. After news of the arrest spread, more victims came forward, agreeing to testify.


3. Flood recovery

A major flood in December 2010 that inundated Laguna Canyon neighborhoods and downtown, causing more than $10 million in damages, proved to be a major challenge for citizens and city officials in 2011. In January, immediate needs were addressed through volunteers who donated money, clothing, goods and labor to get mud-soaked residents back into their homes, and businesses cleaned up.

City officials applied for FEMA funds to help defray emergency response costs, which finally came through in July, and the Small Business Administration responded with low-interest loans to help the afflicted. The City Council also began to look into the long term, appointing a task force in March that made a number of key recommendations to reduce the flood hazards and warn the community in the event of another deluge.

In September, the city fought to remove some properties from FEMA's flood plain map and save property owners from being required to purchase flood insurance.

After eight months of study, the Laguna Canyon Flood Task Force announced in November a proposal to reduce flooding by 30% by enlarging a portion of storm drain under the Coast Highway. That proposal would require approval of Caltrans.


4. Marine reserves delayed

The state Fish & Game Department announced June 29 that fishing would be off-limits in most of Laguna Beach's coastal areas as of Oct. 1, but then delayed implementing complex rules of the Marine Life Protection Act until Jan. 1, 2012.

Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, an activist group, swung into action early to begin monitoring the city's beaches and tidepools to provide a baseline for comparison when the new rules, designed to safeguard sea life and particularly "nurseries" for the young, go into effect.

The city is divided into three different areas, most governed by a strict "no-take" rule on any marine life.


5. Heisler Park renovation

City officials celebrated the completion of Heisler Park renovations with a traditional ribbon cutting June 10. The ceremony took place in front of the newly constructed amphitheater, a centerpiece of the final phase of renovations funded by $7.5 million from grants and city funds.

Orange County Integrated Regional Water Quality Management funded an $800,000 grant, and the state Water Resources Control Board put in $1 million from the Clean Beaches Initiative fund and another $1.8 million for the protection of the park's "area of special biological significance."


6. Resource Center pulls out of ASL

In September, the Laguna Relief & Resource Center pulled its services out of the Alternative Sleeping Location, where it had offered daytime support to the 50 or so nightly dwellers of the Laguna Canyon Road emergency shelter for local homeless.

Resource Center officials said they could no longer afford to pay rent to the city to keep the services at the site, but they would keep the nearby food pantry open to the public and continue to provide other services to the homeless. The City Council expanded the Friendship Shelter's contract by two hours, for an additional $31,535 annually, to provide extended morning services for the shelter residents.


7. Laguna Terrace mobile home park

Residents of Laguna Terrace Park, a mobile home community, continued to be up in the air in their quest to purchase the property from the owner.

Despite approval from the Laguna Beach City Council, the California Coastal Commission intervened on the basis that an old lot line adjustment had not been approved by the commission. A July court ruling against owner Steven Esslinger sent the matter officially to the Coastal Commission.

Esslinger then announced that he planned to charge the residents for the cost of appealing the ruling, but reversed his decision in October.

Meanwhile, park dwellers continue to meet and discuss plans to take possession of the property at some future date.


8. Eucalyptus trees in Bluebird Canyon

The fate of five eucalyptus trees hung in the balance in October, when the City Council agreed with Southern California Edison that the trees were a threat to power lines and could become a hazard in Bluebird Canyon.

This set off a firestorm of support for the trees — despite a series of recent eucalyptus incidents in Orange County, including one that claimed a life. Finally, Edison relented, after initially delaying the planned tree removal.

In early December, tree advocates got an early holiday present when the council approved Edison's request that the trees remain. Some canyon residents disagreed, however, citing the tendency of eucalyptus to ignite during wildfires.


9. 'Quiet Zone' approved

A plan to limit late-night noise near Mozambique restaurant was approved 3 to 2 by the City Council in February.

Dubbed the "Quiet Zone," the plan restricted area nighttime parking to vehicle's with shopper's permits or resident guest passes. The area included both sides of Glenneyre Street up to Carmelita Street and between both sides of Center Street to Bluebird Canyon Drive.

In September, the council reviewed the plan and whether it was working or not. Speakers both for and against the plan showed up to provide input. The council again voted 3 to 2 to continue the program.


10. Animal shelter reopens

The Laguna Beach Animal Shelter opened in August. It was closed for eight months after the December 2010 floods caused $800,000 in damages.

The shelter opened its doors to guests, revealing an updated facility that included a new "cattery" for boarding felines, office space, quarantine areas and a state-of-the-art stainless steel kennel with heated flooring. Doggy doors now connect the kennel to an outside viewing area, where prospective pet owners can meet the pups.

Constant air circulation and skylights give the kennel and open and airy feeling, limiting barking.

"If you'd seen it before, you would know it's a 300% improvement," said Civilian Supervisor Jim Beres, who oversees the shelter.

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