Our Laguna: 2010 ends with water, water everywhere

El Niño was a bad, bad boy this year. He played some really nasty tricks on Laguna in the final weeks of 2010 — and it sure brought back memories of the 1998 mudslides.

Charlie and Ann Quilter were back in the news, but it was on a happier note — the Laguna Canyon home they built to replace the one destroyed in '98 was still standing after the Dec. 22 mudslides slithered around their home instead of through it — and Annie got through this storm with her clothes still on her back.

In 1998, she was swept out of her home on a sea of mud and dumped in the meadow across Laguna Canyon Road, starkers as the day she was born.

"I thought I was going to die a horrible death suffocated by mud and I had given myself up to God," Quilter said Tuesday. "When I came to a stop, I said to heck with this: I am getting out of here."

Unfortunately, the mud compressed the oil from the poison oak that covers the ground in the canyon and subsequently coated her. A couple of weeks later, the Quilter showed up at the Patriots Day Parade wearing red tights to disguise the lesions.

She was grateful to be alive, but truly upset by the lack of police and fire response to canyon dwellers in jeopardy.

"We were abandoned," Quilter said. "I didn't call for help because I knew no one would come."

But the city learns.

"It was very reassuring this time and comforting to see [City Manager] John Pietig everywhere up and down Laguna Canyon Road personally making sure Caltrans had enough workers on the road," Quilter said. "The city was out in full force."

In fact when Quilter, daughter Emily and her dog tried to evacuate, a police officer was stationed at the bottom of their driveway on Laguna Canyon Road. He instructed them not to try to cross the inundated road and to go back to the house, but Emily wasn't about to be in the house during another mudslide. Nope, not doing that, she told the officer. Nope. Forget it. He insisted, but then hesitated and asked, are you the Quilters? Yep. "OK, stay right where you are," the officer relented.

Although a massive amount of debris came down the hill in back of the Quilters' new home, the new construction and the diversion wall behind it did exactly what it was engineered to do, Quilter said.

Still, they didn't escape unscathed. Emily was pulling debris off the fence by hand at the Bluebelle Foundation property so the water could flow though instead of damming. The debris contained the poisonous leaves. Oh, dear.

The Quilters have taken in refugees, as have others in the canyon.

"There are a lot of people out here who have lost everything and that story is not getting out," said Quilter, who has been there and done that.

Looking for a silver lining?

No human deaths have been blamed on the storms that battered Laguna throughout December, culminating on Dec. 22. But the year won't be over until midnight tonight with more rain in the forecast.

Darcy Roth, the city's IT systems specialist and weatherman, estimates that almost six inches of rain fell at City Hall between Dec. 21 and 23. Other areas in the city may have experienced more or less precipitation; measurements vary widely in Laguna.

Weather certainly wasn't the only story reported by the Coastline Pilot in 2010. Here are some snapshots of what made the news in 2010.

Jan. 1: Council members Toni Iseman and Kelly Boyd were named Newsmakers of 2009. The two didn't always see eye to eye on issues, but much was accomplished when the joined forces. Poles apart in style and political philosophy, they are united by a love for Laguna and their desire to serve it.

Authorities investigated a capsized boat at Aliso Beach, suspected as a vehicle of human trafficking.

Jan. 8: Ketta Brown was named Board of Education president.

Irate residents demanded action by a hamstrung council on two hot issues, leaving folks on both sides of the dais frustrated. The public opposed a T-Mobile proposal to install a telecommunications tower on Fire Station 3 property and a proposal to renovate a South Laguna home expected to house be used for rehabilitating addicts. Local action on the issues is limited by federal and state laws.

Jan. 15: A Foothill Ranch man was fatally shot by police while allegedly trying to flee the scene of a traffic accident on South Coast Highway. The shooting was under investigation by the Orange County District Attorney's office, the usual procedure in officer-related shootings in Laguna.

Laguna Beach Unified School District Supt. Robert Fraisse announced his retirement after a three-year stint here.

The City Council conditionally approved steps that would allow residents of Laguna Terrace Park to buy the ground under their mobile homes. The proposal would continue to make headlines throughout 2010.

Kris Head was promoted to Fire Chief, succeeding retiring Mike Macey.

Jan. 22: The City Council approved at the Jan. 19 meeting extended hours of operation for Mozambique Steak House, despite neighborhood opposition and a unanimous recommendation by the Planning Commission opposing the proposal.

The council also approved City Manager Ken Frank's recommendation to borrow money from idle funds to pay off the Public Employees Retirement System debt, thereby saving thousands of dollars in interest.

Jan. 29: The city's budget, ways to bring more businesses to Laguna and the town's dissatisfaction with the repaving of Coast Highway by Caltrans were among the topics discussed at the council's annual retreat.

The city and an officer who cited a demonstrator for blocking the sidewalk at Main Beach were vindicated by a federal judge's ruling.

Feb. 5: A Mission Hospital survey indicated Laguna Beach residents for the most part healthier than the national average, the homeless population included.

Feb. 12: Opposition to T-Mobile's proposal to install cell tower at Fire Station 3 induced the city to exclude the installation on its property.

The council panned the proposed use of surveillance cameras in downtown Laguna, perceiving it as an erosion of civil liberties.

Feb. 19: A city-funded survey showed Laguna's residents are well-educated, older than their Orange County neighbors and earn more money, which they spend on food or personal services in town. However, they go elsewhere for big-ticket items and clothing. The survey was sponsored by the volunteer Long Term Business Assistance Task Force, co-chaired by Mayor Elizabeth Pearson and Mayor Pro Tem Iseman.

The conversion of Laguna Terrace Park to resident-owned hit its first roadblock when the California Coastal Commission voted that city approval of the conversion was appealable.

Feb. 26: A Costa Mesa man pleaded guilty to burglarizing homes where he worked as an electrician. He was arrested in 2007 by Laguna Beach police detectives who had linked him to multiple burglaries in South Orange County communities, including Laguna.

Fourth-grade students at El Morro Elementary School returned to their classrooms, which had been inundated with mud on Jan. 19. Damage was estimated at between $100,000 and $125,000.

March 5: The council approved a curfew on city beaches. The California Coastal Commission challenged the city's position that the curfew did not need a coastal development permit.

March 12: Winning entries in the 44th annual Patriots Day Parade included Kyne Dance Academy, the Laguna Beach Unified School District Elementary Band, Rick Stollo's antique automobile, floats by the Laguna Beach Garden Club, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and the Pageant of the Masters and the HIP District. Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy led the parade as grand marshal. Community Clinic doctors Tom Bent and Korey Jorgesen were honored as Citizens of the Year; Hannah Glass and Austin Giangeruso the Junior Citizens of 2010. Dave Connell was named Patriot of the Year. Thurston Middle School sixth-grader Lorenzo Gomez wrote the winning essay that was printed in the parade program. ;

Fire displaced nine people and damaged Indian Summer, the store below the apartments where the fire started. Structural damage was estimated at $180,000, content damage at $100,000.

More activities were proposed during the 1 to 5 a.m. beach curfew in a compromise engineered by Assistant City Manager Pietig with the coastal commission.

Pietig's participation in high level negotiations with the commission was a portent of things to come: His success in managing contentious projects was a factor in his appointment as city manager later in the year.

March 19: A Laguna Beach 16-year-old stabbed one teenager in the stomach and wounded two others, all Laguna Beach High School students.

March 26: The City Council voted unanimously to relocate the homeless sleeping shelter at ACT V to a city-owned property on Laguna Canyon Road between the Animal Shelter and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

A picnic to raise funds for the annual Fourth of July Fireworks Show was approved. The picnic was organized by the Laguna Board of Realtors, which had pledged the funds for the fireworks.

See next year's paper for the rest of 2010 headlines.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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