Residents, local environmental groups band together to halt unauthorized SCE grading

On Jan. 4, Janine Robinson set out on her daily morning walk in the area around Alta Laguna Park. However, what the Top of the World resident saw carved into the wilderness below was anything but routine.

The SCE grading looking north at Top of the World on Jan. 18. Clara Beard/LB Indy

Several dirt paths, approximately 20 feet wide and estimated to be one to two miles long, had been bulldozed into the city-owned open space creating a prominent blemish across the landscape west of Alta Laguna Boulevard and north of Park Avenue.

The SCE grading looking north at Top of the World on Jan. 18. Clara Beard/LB Indy
Robinson, who immediately contacted the Top of the World Neighborhood Association about her discovery, wasn’t the only citizen with raised eyebrows and questions.

Contractors take steps to mitigate potential erosion before the weekend rainstorm on Jan 18. Clara Beard/LB Indy

“Imagine my reaction when my son came running into the house asking why people in bulldozers were ‘wrecking the ground in our front yard,’” A Park Avenue homeowner wrote in an email to the Indy. “How do you answer such an improbable question?”

Contractors take steps to mitigate potential erosion before the weekend rainstorm on Jan 18. Clara Beard/LB Indy
After a week-long flurry of emails and calls back and forth to city and county officials, concerned residents and local environmental groups discovered that not only was Southern California Edison (SCE) responsible for the bulldozed paths, it was doing so without City and Coastal Commission permits.

On Jan. 11, Laguna Beach Interim City Manager Sean Joyce asked SCE to temporarily stop their repairs until the city could learn more about the circumstances.

SCE engineers inspect one of the five electrical poles scheduled for repairs at Top of the World. Submitted photo

“If citizens and environmentalists hadn’t alerted the city as quickly, and the city, namely Sean Joyce and Sue Kempf, hadn’t been so amazingly responsive and got them to stop immediately, they would have kept bulldozing, literally that next day, and could have caused more than double the amount the damage they already did,” Robinson said. “It’s not often the city and environmentalists team up so effectively and successfully and cause an all-powerful utility to stand down—and do the right thing.”

SCE engineers inspect one of the five electrical poles scheduled for repairs at Top of the World. Submitted photo
According to SCE Saddleback District Manager Robert Maystrovich, the public utility company was in the process of necessary repair work in the open space when engineers ran into a series of electrical issues, which, coupled with high winds, created an emergency situation.

“These new circuit loading and reliability risks to critical loads, including City Hall, along with the extreme fire risk caused by the initial weather event, led my team reclassifying this section of work as emergency,” Maystrovich explained in correspondence with Joyce, that he in turn, shared with all concerned parties in an email blast.

“As we shifted into the heavy terrain section, it was determined that the original construction plan to utilize helicopters to remotely fly in construction personnel and material was not viable due to the overgrown native vegetation,” Maystrovich wrote. “As we were without a place to physically and safely land them, this was no longer an option.”

Still, SCE lacked the necessary permits from the City and the Coastal Commission, prompting an emergency meeting with representatives from all three entities on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

“SCE agreed to submit an emergency Coastal Development Permit (CDP) imminently,” interim city manager Sean Joyce wrote in his report update on Jan. 18. “City staff met virtually with Coastal Commission staff this morning to confer about a variety of matters associated with the work performed and planned by SCE associated with its cover conductor project.”

Joyce said SCE has agreed to use helicopters for the pole replacements to avoid any further impacts on the habitat. SCE also hopes to complete its repairs before the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher begins its nesting season on Jan. 31.

SCE reports mitigation and restoration efforts are estimated to take five to 10 years. And with the popularity of Alta Laguna Park and the surrounding trails increasing, residents have expressed concern the bulldozed paths could be mistaken for public trails by visiting hikers, creating erosion.

Laguna Canyon Conservancy President Gayle Waite said she’s learned from meetings with the Southland Region Power in Nature Coalition that electric companies have caused this type of wildland destruction in other parts of California.

“When caught, they (electrical companies) are made to do mitigation, but it is usually too little, too late, and does not seem to stop them from repeating the behavior,” Waite wrote in an email to the Indy. “SCE should be forced to pay a big fine, but then residents and taxpayers will foot the bill and electric rates just go up.”

An SCE spokesperson is scheduled to give a presentation about the pole replacement project and its next steps during the upcoming Laguna Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 5 p.m.

“Laguna Beach city officials and the Coastal Commission should hold SCE senior management accountable since if these repairs were truly emergency ones, how is it possible neither was consulted and made aware of them?” Waite said. “Shouldn’t the city at least been alerted to a potential electrical emergency and have the fire department on notice? The public would like to know.”

Laguna Beach Spills More Sewage Into Ocean Than Anywhere Else in OC!

Article in the Voice of OC

If this 2023 top poo-luters recognition doesn’t uncover the watered down
priority and negligence of our aging sewer infrastructure system by public
officials what does? LB property and business owners should be outraged.
Ask yourselves and your city officials:

WHY have Bob Whalen and Sue Kempf the Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem
position-swapping duo for a decade not prioritized this infrastructure
problem? Especially since they have served as our water representatives
for years. They get paid extra to attend water agency meetings and protect
our community and coastal environment.

And WHY have they focused on catering to investors/developers,
proposing multi-million dollar parking structures at resident taxpayers
expense and buying expensive private properties (St. Catherines School
$23 M and Ti Amo Restaurant for $2.7 M) that we clearly didn’t want or

Wasn’t this hefty $1.5 M Fine by the State Water Agency in 2021 for a raw
sewage spill into the ocean enough to wake them up?

Other News Stories on Local Oil Spills:
na_beach_enforcement_06052021.pdf https://
The Patch:

Water Expert Roger Butow Guest Opinions:
The Patch – Laguna Beach 95,000 Gallon Sewer Spill How You Can Help
The Patch – Laguna Beach’s Bob Whalen Lost Clueless Over Chronic Sewage Spills
The Mirror – Laguna Beach reopens after almost 100,000 gallons of sewage leaked into water

Judie Mancuso Guest Opinions:
Letter: Laguna’s ocean water quality is a public priority

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 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.