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Laguna Canyon Road project

December 23, 2005

WHAT:

Realignment and widening of Laguna Canyon Road.

WHAT'S BEHIND IT:

The four-mile project will expand the roadway to two lanes in each direction, divided by a median that separates the north- and southbound lanes by landscaping and elevation and moves the road west, away from two natural lakes.

Construction began January 2003, but planning started long before that.

Supervisor Tom Reilly appointed an advisory committee to reach consensus on the alignment and design of the road. Participants included members of Laguna Greenbelt Inc., the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, Laguna Canyon Conservancy, Village Laguna and the Laguna Beach City Council, represented by Bob Gentry and Lida Lenney.

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The committee was charged with reaching a consensus to reduce objections by Laguna Beach environmentalists.

Safety on the twisty, narrow road that has claimed more than its share of lives was a concern that motivated many of the participants. Flooding -- which closed the road during even moderate rains -- also was a consideration.

Meetings on the project were conducted privately, which generated criticism as a violation of the state Brown Act, which requires that public business be conducted in public.

The secret meetings were excused by participants as necessary to avoid posturing for the media that might solidify positions and derail attempts to reach consensus.

If fact, consensus was reached only by announcing two solutions: Move the road or raise it. Just two participants favored raising the road.

Relocation of the road was an imperative for Laguna Greenbelt's president, Elisabeth Brown. Laguna Greenbelt was willing to trade some loss of coastal sage for restoration of the wetland. Gentry and Lenney felt that the city was obligated to voters to disturb the canyon as little as possible, as had been promised in the bond election that raised funds to buy sections of Laguna Laurel.

Environmental activist Beth Leeds brought legal action against the committee and the county and was upheld in court.

However, by that time, the committee had reached consensus. Construction was then delayed by the county bankruptcy.

WHAT NOW:

The road is about 75% completed. A two-mile stretch of southbound lanes to the north of the San Joaquin Hills toll road has been completed and is open to two-way traffic. Northbound lanes are being worked on and when completed will carry one-way traffic from the city. The southbound lanes will become one-way into the city.

WHAT'S SAID:

"We can't tell how the road will work until it's completed," said Laguna Canyon Conservancy President Carolyn Wood, who served on the consensus committee. "Hopefully, by the time it gets done, it will do what is supposed to and reduce accidents."

WHAT'S NEXT:

The project is scheduled for completion by the winter of 2006.

-- By Barbara Diamond

20051223irx176ncDON LEACH / COASTLINE PILOT(LA)Crews have been working on Laguna Canyon Road at the 405.

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