Reducing fire risk, business-friendly improvements and record-low crime headlined this year’s annual Laguna Beach State of the City Address on Thursday, May 2, 2019. The annual State of the City event is hosted by the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“We are taking a thorough, top to bottom look at wildfire risk and fire safety in our City,” said Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen. “Our number one priority is to evaluate the level of fire risk, take the steps needed to reduce that risk and overcome any roadblocks in the way of implementing the necessary risk reduction programs.”
In December, Mayor Whalen formed the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Subcommitte with Councilmember Sue Kempf to investigate and assess the City’s fire risk, vegetation management programs, the emergency alert system and evacuation routes. The subcommittee’s draft report is expected to be completed by summer of 2019.
“We hope to have a comprehensive evaluation of where we are and the opportunities going forward so we can make the right choices,” said City Manager John Pietig. “Changes are going to have to be made to maintain the type of community we all want to live in but also maintain it in the safest manner possible.”
At Thursday’s State of the City Address, Mayor Whalen also gave a status update on Senate Bill 584, legislation he drafted with State Senator John Moorlach for wildfire mitigation. The legislation seeks to expedite the process for local jurisdictions, like Laguna Beach, located in Tier 3 fire-threat areas to underground current overhead electrical utilities through cost-sharing programs with the state and utility companies.
“Laguna Beach has restricted access- there are only three ways in and three ways out of the City,” Whalen said. “With utilities lining Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road we are concerned for our community from a public safety standpoint.”
At the event Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella credited the City’s record-low crime rate to greater police visibility, new technology, and increased community education and outreach. Property crime in Laguna Beach is 19% lower than it was in 2017. Violent crime and robberies also decreased year-over-year. The overall crime rate is 14% lower than it was in 2017 and is the lowest crime rate on record for the City.
“Increasing the number of Beach Patrol officers and setting up an informational booth at Main Beach on the weekends helps heighten our presence out in the community, which in turn reduces crime,” Farinella said. “Our officers have been diligent in identifying crime and nuisance issues, and working to address them through creative strategies and community engagement.”
Progress on current large-scale infrastructure projects, like the first phase of the Village Entrance Project, were also highlighted at Thursday’s event. When finished, the Village Entrance Project will provide 370 parking spaces, 118 new trees plus walking and biking trails along the project area at one of the busiest intersections in downtown Laguna Beach. Coast Highway intersection improvements and the conversion of Ocean Avenue to a one-way street were some of the planned Public Works downtown improvements highlighted during the Mayor’s State of the City Address.
“Ocean Avenue is one of our busy streets for downtown foot traffic,” said Shohreh Dupuis, Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works. “By converting it to a one-way, we are able to add eight additional parking spaces on the street- and by moving the crosswalk at Coast Highway from the south side to the north side, we are making it easier for more people to access all that our downtown businesses have to offer and to access Main Beach Park.”
The City’s upcoming Downtown Specific Plan was also outlined and is designed to promote greater flexibility with downtown development requirements, commercial building height and business parking requirements. The Downtown Action Plan will include hardscape design, street furnishings and landscape design in the downtown area.
“We hope these enhancements will make it easier for businesses owners to consider opening up in downtown Laguna Beach,” said Greg Pfost, Director of Community Development. “We want to continue to help businesses thrive while fostering the unique atmosphere that makes shopping, eating and playing in Laguna Beach so special.”
The annual State of the City Address is held at the Montage Resort.