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Laguna Council Clears Way for Controversial Reservoir


LAGUNA BEACH — A four-year controversy over construction of a reservoir, which became the city's most politically charged issue after the October firestorm, neared resolution Tuesday as the City Council cleared the way for the tank's construction.

While the plan to build a 3-million gallon reservoir in the Top of the World neighborhood still must receive a coastal development permit from the city, officials agreed the council's 4-1 vote has removed the major hurdles.

"Our approval of those permits will not be unreasonably withheld," Mayor Ann Christoph said.

After months of meetings, the council announced it had reached an agreement with the Laguna Beach County Water District allowing it to claim the knoll site for a price somewhere between $174,000 and $568,000, the amount to be determined by a judge. The agreement also ends the water district's condemnation proceedings against the city for the property.

A trial date scheduled for June now will be used simply to determine the value of the land.

The agreement clears the way for the water district to build the tank as it had previously proposed: rising 17 feet above ground and then covered with earth and landscaping in native plants.

Some City Council members had hesitated to approve the plan because the knoll had been purchased with money to buy open spaces, and environmentalists consider it a sensitive site.

The proposal had become a focal point in a controversy over whether the city was equipped to fight the Oct. 27 wildfire that damaged or destroyed more than 400 homes. Following the fire, many contended that the reservoir would have helped firefighters.

A compromise plan previously suggested by the council had called for a reservoir to be built underground. But water district officials had said the tank should be built above ground to permit the water to flow by gravity.

The Laguna Beach County Water District also still must get permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Fish and Game.

Councilwoman Lida Lenney cast the only no vote.

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