Fire remediation measures approved

The City Council declared a September fire a local emergency so it can take immediate action to prevent the erosion of soil at the site, above Ruby's Diner, which was denuded of vegetation.

On Tuesday, the council voted to spend up to $300,000 for emergency measures recommended by Geofirm to protect the surrounding property during the upcoming rainy season. By proclaiming the interim measures an emergency project, it allows exemption from certain provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act and public contracting provisions that would delay the project.

"Time is of the essence," City Manager John Pietig said.

The post-fire condition of the burn area creates the possibility of rocks, debris and mud cascading onto nearby properties in even a modest rainfall, according to the resolution approved Tuesday.

Pietig will advise the council at the Dec. 4 meeting on bids for the remediation contract and costs to get the process underway as expeditiously as possible.

The Sept. 16 brush fire burned almost 5 acres between Laguna Terrace Park and Nyes Place. Downed power lines were deemed the cause of the fire, according to the fire investigation report by the Laguna Beach Fire Department. Southern California Edison is held responsible by the city.

Remediation measures recommended by Geofirm include debris netting on the upper slope and hydro-seeding.

Laguna Terrace Park will do some of the netting. Almost two-thirds of the burn area is within the park's land, according to information provided by the city. The city owns 4%; the rest is split among nine other owners.

All of the owners have been notified by mail of the city's remediation plan. Two meetings were held to provide them with information and to offer assistance.

The city has sent an agreement to the property owners, asking for permission to go onto the properties to carry out the remediation and asking for reimbursement of the costs if payment is not forthcoming from Edison.

Contact has been made with four of the property owners, and two have signed the agreements. St. Catherine's School and Laguna Terrace Park have verbally agreed to the right-of-entry and reimbursement.

“I know they didn’t tell any of the homeowners any of this. Are they required to do so?” resident Valerie Wallace asked City Manager John Pietig at the meeting.

He responded that he didn’t know what the park rules are regarding notifying the owners, but that they have been very proactive, and rightfully so, because of fears of the debris coming off that hillside.

“My concern is they’ve begun to pass through all of their cost to the homeowners, making the lease rates between $2,500 and $4,000 a month, and so I’m a little concerned about that,” Wallace said. 

An earlier version of this story misquoted Valerie Wallace.

The present condition of the burn site constitutes a "public nuisance," which means the city can take action on private property whether or not the owner responds.

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