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Noise Rattles Nerves in Laguna

Nuisances: There's a growing consensus that the beach community is getting too loud, and residents want relief.

November 18, 2001|CHRISTINE HANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two-year-old Torrey Menne bolts from the frontyard of his Laguna Beach home in tears when motorcycles thunder down Pacific Coast Highway on weekends.

All day, Lyn Chevli hears the rumble of bulldozers and dump trucks at the Treasure Island construction site, sounds she and neighbors fear will only be replaced by the din of tourist traffic once the five-star resort opens.

Whether the noise culprits are Harley riders or construction workers, barking dogs or banner planes, late-night party-goers or high-speed pleasure boats, there is a growing consensus that Laguna Beach is getting too loud. And residents want the volume turned down.

The arts-oriented community is hardly the first place to huff about noise pollution. But "Lagunatics," as some dub the citizenry, are more protective than most of their town, with its postcard-perfect ambience, artsy downtown, jagged coastline and soaring green hills. And to many residents, noise symbolizes Laguna's growing pains, which some say are harming the environment and eroding the community's values.

At the urging of residents, efforts are afoot to strengthen the city's noise ordinance. Police are targeting motorcycles that make too much noise, citing dozens of riders over Labor Day weekend.

"We can't just sit back and lose our quality of life," said Councilwoman Toni Iseman. "I'm not giving up. I will continue this until we see that there is some kind of enforcement and some new ordinances on the books."

For many anti-noise activists, the charm that first lured painters and photographers to Laguna's sandy shores a century ago is fading into the background, like the color in an old picture.

Weekends start off with a buzz. The day-trippers arrive, circling village streets and alleys, hunting for parking spots.

"I don't ever go downtown in the summer on the weekend because it's traumatic," said Chevli, a 69-year-old sculptor and writer who moved to Laguna in 1961.

But home hasn't been much of an escape either. Chevli lives in an apartment on the south end of town, across from Treasure Island, site of the city's biggest and most controversial development project. Work began in 1998, and when the 30-acre, $150-million compound is finished, there will be a 275-room hotel, 17 homes and 14 condominiums.

Laguna Beach already brims with 3 million visitors a year, mostly summertime day-trippers headed to the beach or the signature Festival of the Arts. And many wonder if Treasure Island will bring still more crowds--and noise.

Among the more immediate noisemakers is the loud Harley crowd. These are not the law-abiding boomers who are simply escaping from the button-down worlds they live in the rest of the week. These are the riders who reconfigure or cut off their tailpipes so everyone can hear them coming.

"They are just totally upon you. It's a true interruption in your thoughts and in your conversation. It's a total interruption of your space," said Patricia Halman-Menne, describing how her son, Torrey, heads indoors when he hears them coming. "They will send him into the house, crying. They don't have to be that way."

Halman-Menne, 36, lives with her husband and their son in a 1929 home that is one of the few with a frontyard along Pacific Coast Highway. She has grown accustomed to the rush-hour traffic. But the weekend bike traffic is simply too much, she said.

"I'm not an old fuddy-duddy," she said. "It's not about taking away great business from Laguna."

Last summer, at the direction of the City Council, police began enforcing a ban on modified mufflers in a crackdown that peaked Labor Day weekend, when more than 130 citations were issued. Some observers argue that the effort did more harm than good, igniting more rebellious behavior by some and chasing other riders away, leaving bars and restaurants with fewer customers.

In any case, officials have since resorted to a friendlier campaign that smacks more of Laguna's laid-back attitude--at least for now. Extra warning signs have been posted outside popular biker hangouts. And in a one-page flier making the rounds, Police Chief Jim Spreine extends an olive branch, inviting bikers back as long as they cooperate.

"All motorcyclists are welcome and are encouraged to come into this community as long as they respect the peace and tranquillity," Spreine wrote in the bulletin.

Many bikers seemed impressed by the new approach, but it's too early to tell whether it will work.

The conflict came as officials began taking a new look at Laguna's noise ordinance.

In some cases, there is virtually nothing the city can do. Laguna Beach has virtually no control over certain types of noise, such as banner planes that crisscross the city during the summer. The planes are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has expressed little interest in establishing stricter noise rules.

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