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Editorial: Time to fix the creek problem

December 30, 2010

Once again, Laguna Beach has been in the eye of a storm of nature. This time it was a massive, seven-day rainstorm that culminated with a huge downpour early Wednesday morning that sent waters flooding through Laguna Creek and tested the mettle of residents and swift-water rescue teams trying to help them to safety.

The good news is that, despite some scary moments, no one was killed or badly injured, with the exception of three small animals — a rabbit and two chickens — stuck in the city animal shelter during the deluge.

The damage to the downtown area looked bad, and some merchants lost their wares, but again, there was no loss of life. (A woman was killed in a crosswalk around this time, but authorities do not believe the incident was storm-related.) Two days after water and mud cascaded through downtown, most merchants had cleaned up, thrown their doors open for last-minute Christmas business and Laguna Beach was once again a popular spot for shopping and visiting.

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City officials are reminding the community that this storm is just the beginning of the rainy winter season and to expect more wet weather, and be prepared with sandbags and floodgates. Businesses that used floodgates — metal doors that fasten tight and hold water and mud at bay — survived the deluge while those that didn't suffered the most damage. Downtown businesses would be wise to follow the example of their neighbors and invest in these gates, and use them when heavy rain threatens.

The last time the creek overflowed to this extent was in 1998, and this same scenario has happened repeatedly over the years. And yet, this is fixable: Plans to widen the creek outfall so it won't pour out onto the city streets have been put forth over the years, but for some reason never acted on.

Just think what would have happened if this downpour was at 2:30 p.m. instead of 2:30 a.m., in a downtown filled with holiday shoppers. It's not too alarmist to predict that these fiercely rushing waters — several feet deep at one point — could have easily swept cars into pedestrians, or dashed people against buildings. It could have been so much worse than what it was. Instead of a massive mud cleanup, there could have been lives and limbs lost.

It's time city officials — elected and appointed — sat down and figured out how to make the downtown safe from this recurring problem.

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