Mandatory flood gates proposed for Laguna Beach

Business and property owners in the downtown and Laguna Canyon flood plain can expect notification in their mailboxes of a city proposal to require flood gates for their doors and low windows.

City staff estimates flood gates could have prevented about half of the $3.5 million in flood-related damages seen by businesses in the mapped flood hazard area of the Downtown Specific Plan. The city's proposal mandates the installation of the devices that prevent mud and water from inundating interiors whenever the city declares a potential flood.

"It seems obvious when you see the damage done in December 2010 to businesses that did not use flood gates," said Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman.

Grossman suggested the requirement, which was adopted as a recommendation by the Laguna Canyon Flood Mitigation Task Force, of which he was a member.

The Planning Commission declined to take action at the Sept. 12 meeting on the proposed amendment to the city code until business and property owners were notified. The only public notification of the amendment to the Flood Plain Management Ordinance was the meeting agenda.

"People should be notified before the city imposes a rule that requires them to spend money," said Commission Chairman Bob Whalen.

City staff research indicates that flood gates cost anywhere from $300 to $600 for off-the-shelf material and installation and up to $1,000 for a prefabricated metal installation per door.

Some businesses have more than one door.

"It does involve expense, but it will save money in the long run," Grossman said.

Of the 163 businesses surveyed in the flood hazard area, 28 were equipped with flood-contingency measures and/or flood gates, according to the staff analysis by Principal Planner Scott Drapkin. Staff can identify the equipped businesses by the channels that support the flood gates at existing doors, gates and windows.

Some business owners acknowledged during a post-flood survey that they didn't know they had flood gates on the premises and tried to block the intrusion of water and mud with tables and chairs shoved against the doors.

The draft ordinance also requires the flood gates be labeled as such with instructions not to throw them away, the location of the opening for which they were intended and the address of the business the gates will protect.

The amendment requires businesses to install the channels for the floodgates within 90 days of being notified by the city. Staff recommended that property or business owners could apply for a one-year extension to comply and to submit a completed "Contingency Floodproofing Measures Plan" to the community development department director, who must approve the plans on a case-by-case basis.

A year is the time period used in other amortization ordinances, Drapkin said.

"Why not three or six months?" asked Commissioner Linda Dietrich. "A year could take us into another flood season."

The requirement would be implemented in phases, Drapkin said.

"It wouldn't be possible to go out and do it all at once," Drapkin said. "We are assuming there will be some pushback."

Drapkin said workshops and perhaps an installation practice session will be held.

Dietrich recommended the city also investigate possible grants for the devices.

The commission has scheduled a hearing on the amendment at its Oct. 24 meeting.

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