In December, I will be retiring as city manager of Laguna Beach. Over the 31 years of my tenure, the city has progressed in numerous areas. For the next 10 weeks, I would like to share my perceptions of the city’s most significant accomplishments during the past three decades. As in most “top ten” lists, we will start at the least important and gradually escalate to No. 1 — the most influential change in our community.
No. 10 on the listing of city accomplishments over the last 30 years is the enactment of Senate Bill 23 in 1987. Sponsored by our State Sen. Marian Bergeson, SB 23 overturned a series of pernicious court decisions that created unsustainable financial exposure for cities and counties in California.
These court decisions culminated with the “Taylor case” involving a swimmer who seriously injured himself diving head first into the surf in Newport Beach. That accident led to a $6-million award against Newport Beach, even though no city employee, facility or construction was involved in the accident. Instead, the court determined that the simple provision of lifeguards by Newport Beach subjected the city to potential liability for anyone who was injured in the surf.
Unless the Taylor decision was overturned, cities and counties would have confronted untold millions in lawsuits. Many jurisdictions would have been compelled to eliminate lifeguards in order to escape the untenable liability exposure.
Laguna Beach and Newport Beach initiated a statewide coalition of beach cities and counties that paid for attorneys and lobbyists to help pass corrective legislation. Bergeson was an energetic, influential author. With the successful enactment of SB 23, cities and counties were granted an immunity for injuries that occur on public beaches in their natural condition. This immunity is absolutely critical for Laguna Beach because our beaches are entirely natural with no harbors, marinas, breakwaters, or other manmade facilities to modify the natural contours of the ocean. Since 1987, Laguna Beach has never lost a lawsuit or paid a claim over injuries in the surf.
Ken Frank is Laguna Beach city manager.