Hansen: Canyon on the verge of eruption

It has been said that a volcanic eruption can create its own lightning. Well, a perfect storm is brewing in Laguna Canyon, and the lightning has already started.

Have you been hearing all the sonic booms?

The first salvo was the recently approved but hotly contested artist live-work project. Right on its heels was a massive public storage proposal, which failed to get past initial planning reviews but is not necessarily dead yet.

In the background is the ever-expanding Laguna College of Art + Design, and coming Tuesday to the City Council is the Friendship Shelter's proposal for permanent supportive housing for Laguna's homeless.

All of this in the "rural" canyon.

All on a two-lane road that is already gridlocked.

All of these projects are perfectly legal, necessary and likely to eventually pass.

Will they be approved as is? Probably not. But the question remains: What is acceptable development in Laguna Canyon?

Half the town seems to say "none," while the other half doesn't care and just wishes they could drive faster through the canyon.

"It's a coincidence of timing that all of this is happening at the same time, but my hope is people wait and see what the result is going to be," said City Councilman Steve Dicterow, who voted in favor of the live-work project.

Dicterow said he spent considerable time evaluating whether the live-work project would significantly affect traffic or otherwise degrade the character of the canyon. He concedes that the new pipeline of projects may be difficult for residents to accept.

"That's the nature of Laguna Beach," he said. "There's always something that's controversial, and people are always making the argument that they see the end of Western civilization as we know it."

While complaining is common in Laguna, it also results in better projects, Dicterow said.

"Half of the town said that about Montage, and I was on the council at the time, and we did a very responsible development, and it came out fine," he said. "Nobody complains about it today."

The challenge with the canyon is that it's not an unfettered bluff over the ocean. Instead, it's a natural bottleneck.

You know when you order a chocolate shake and are given that small straw, and every time you try to suck out the shake, it doesn't work?

That's pretty much Laguna Canyon Road.


In the meantime, new projects will continue to be submitted to the city, especially now that the economy is picking up. The mixed-used zoning — everything from light industrial to recreation — basically supports anything within reason.

The city's specific plan offers only vague guidelines like encouraging a "rural atmosphere," but let's face it, rural is subjective.

"Increasing land values will create additional pressure to develop or redevelop at a higher density than now exists," according to the Laguna Canyon Annexation Area Specific Plan. "Policies and appropriate implementing actions are necessary to preserve the rural character of Laguna Canyon and to encourage a small, rural scale of development."

The real problem with traffic can't be tied to the projects that Laguna Beach controls. It stems from the external development from Irvine and adjacent cities.

At some point, Laguna Canyon Road will have to expand and become safer. It was 1988 when the state's Department of Transportation tried to widen it, but of course the effort failed because of the uproar.

Can we admit that maybe it's time to reconsider something new?

My hope is that a creative proposal can work in combination with other citywide solutions.

We are so far past the level of service required for pedestrian safety and proper transportation that it's not even funny.

Outside of tourists, no one visits Laguna anymore because people don't want to fight the traffic or deal with the parking problem.

Meanwhile, we continue to ignore reality: Laguna Beach is not a village anymore.

It's a deadly hazard.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World