Laguna’s Citywide Hazard Report Raises Questions and Concerns

Have City officials ignored basic safety infrastructure for decades and focused too much on aesthetics?

The City of Laguna Beach just released a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP) for public review and they are asking for the input by 5 p.m. March 6, 2018. The draft document is lengthy but well worth the read. Click here for the full report.

In Brief…The City states that the purpose of the LHMP is to allow public safety officials and city staff, elected officials and members of the public to understand the threats from natural and human-caused hazards in our community. They claim that the LHMP will:
– Let Laguna Beach plan for future emergencies
– Be more prepared in advance of disasters
– Use strategies to reduce instances of property damage, injury and loss of life due to disasters
– Protect public health and safety and save money
– Strengthen the mission of public safety officers (police and fire staff), providing them with clear roles and responsibilities to build a safer community
– Make Laguna eligible for grants from the Federal Emergency management Agency (FEMA)
– Make Laguna eligible for financial assistance from the State when disasters occur

The LHMP identifies these natural hazards requiring protective measures: 
– Drought
– Extreme heat
– Floods
– Geologic snd seismic hazards
– Nuclear hazards
– Severe weather
– Wildfire
– Affects of climate change and other hazards that pose a threat to the community

The LHMP is divided into four main sections: 
Chapter 1: Summary of the identified hazards
Chapter 2: Hazard assessment/threat to LB and vulnerability to future disasters
Chapter 3: Hazard mitigation strategy
Chapter 4: Maintenance of the LHMP

LBCHAT Observations, Questions and Concerns..
The LHMP is a well-constructed report that meets FEMA regulations and may position the City for grant funding. The report appears to be more of a public relations document rather than a scientific effort.  The information within the plan is not new information but rather data that the city has had for years. The report often exaggerates some hazards and minimizes others.  It does not examine current and past city policies, procedures, and ordinances for accuracy and “good practices.”

While we applaud the City for creating the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan and fully support a plan to prepare and address future emergencies we are concerned about the serious nature of the contents identified and feel they raise safety and security questions that property owners/residents should be asking city leaders and staff.
For example…

• Why does the study not distinguish between fires that start in urban areas from downed utility lines and wildfires? What is the probability of an urban line starting a wildfire and traveling into the chaparral?  How many “wildfires” has Laguna Beach experienced in the last 100 years that were caused by downed utility lines in the city?
• Why does the report cite data only for the 100 year and 500 year flood scenarios? Have residents and businesses not experienced flooding from 5 year, 10 year, 25 year, and 50 year floods?
• Why are the watercourses in the city not part of the report?  Are they not the source of most frequent flooding and mudslides in neighborhoods?
• Why does the report only have a hazard map for earthquake induced landslides/mudslides, which are rare, and not one for rain induced landslides/mudslides, which happen regularly and often spectacularly?
• Why did the study not make use of the 2017 National Climate Assessment Report? For example, the committee decided not to include hurricane risk because of past weather patterns. The NCA report indicates that over the next 20 years hurricanes that hit Baja will likely move northward as the California Current warms.
• Why did the study not include an examination of city ordinances to assess whether they reduce or exacerbate natural hazards?
• Why did the study not examine the quality of Initial EIRs prepared by the Dept. of Community Development to assess their accuracy and full disclosure of risk?
• Drainage issues appear to be a serious threat. Has the City Master Drainage Plan written 11 years ago been implemented?
• The report lists 17 high-risk areas scattered throughout the city. Are residents aware that they live in a city-designated high-risk area?
• Why hasn’t Laguna had a Hazard Mitigation Plan until now when the report clearly identifies serious potential disasters in our area.
• Have we ignored potential hazards while focusing on aesthetics like the village entrance or the under-grounding of utilities?
• The driver to conduct the hazard identification effort is to gain grant or other disaster funds. Haven’t they always been available to us?
• Will the plan only be implemented if grant monies are available to us?  How many additional staff will be needed to implement and oversee this plan?
• What has been done to educate the public on environmental risks prior to this report?
• Will Laguna residents receive a higher level of environmental scrutiny by agencies such as CAEPA, Coastal Commission and FEMA?
• Should home sellers and RE agents advise new home buyers of the risks identified in this new City LHMP?  Will the LHMP have home insurance impacts?
Reference material worth reading: LB Flood History 1937-2011 by Village Laguna. Click here.

LBCHAT Subscribers
After reading the full LHMP report, you may have questions of your own. Submit them to the city and please share with LBCHAT. We do have to ask … are you concerned that City officials have ignored basic safety infrastructure and focused primarily on aesthetics and building tourism? And, are you satisfied with the vision, direction and effectiveness of our city leaders?  

Share your thoughts and comments with us at contact@lagunabeachchat.com. We want to hear from you!

Local resident comments on LHMP:

One of the things that you mentioned in your article is that people are concerned about how the LBHS will affect insurance rates. They have already been affected, but many people are unaware. If you have a longstanding policy insurance companies cannot arbitrarily cancel, but if you need a new policy, no major insurers are writing new policies in Laguna Beach.

Last year our company, Fireman’s Fund, went out of the home insurance business, so we had to find a new policy. Our broker came up with a high-risk, high premium policy from a Swiss company. We were looking at $6,000 per year premiums for a standard policy, which did not include earthquake insurance, and no commercial company would insure us for mudslide.

We were able to get a reasonably priced policy only through the State of California high risk pool, but even that is expensive.  The State itself is the insurer. Farmer’s insures the contents of the house, but no major company will insure the house even for fire, flood, or wind.

The insurance underwriters have calculated the risks that the City Council continues to deny, as they order trimming and removal of trees and vegetation that hold the soil. In the city’s Initial EIRs for the view ordinances it did not disclose that the ordinances would be applied to flood zones, landslide/mudslide zones, or watercourses. The city has been applying these ordinances to Laguna Canyon, Bluebird Canyon, South Laguna and all at-risk areas.

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