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Laguna Beach Battles Erosion at Park

The city will hold a workshop today seeking ideas to stop the cliffs from crumbling at Heisler Park. A grant will help fund a plan.

March 20, 2004|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Laguna Beach will launch a multimillion-dollar campaign today to stanch the erosion threatening bluff-top Heisler Park. The effort begins at 9 a.m. with a community workshop at City Hall to solicit ideas.

Since the park opened in 1927, piecemeal repairs have addressed erosion along the narrow walkways that bypass sensitive tide pools. The milelong park begins at the north end of Main Beach Park and rises to stretch along the bluff top.

As erosion claims more of the cliff, the city wants to address all of the park's problems while improving access to the beach and making better use of areas that have been neglected for years.

A $225,000 grant from the Coastal Conservancy, matching one from the city, will pay for a consultant to develop a master plan for repairs and improvements, said John Pietig, assistant city manager. The planning process will begin with today's workshop, he said.

"This is one of the premier parks in California, if not the nation," Pietig said, "and we need to preserve it for the future."

The park has about 500,000 visitors each year. They can reach the beach by several routes, including a steep stairway to Rockpile Beach and a ramp to Picnic Beach, Pietig said.

The erosion is partly due to ice plant, which swells with rain, breaks from its roots and slides down the bluff, loosening topsoil.

The erosion is so pronounced in narrow sections of the park that the entire bluff might collapse and take Cliff Drive with it, said Councilman Wayne Baglin.

A Laguna Beach architectural firm, L.A. Studio, will develop the park plan. The city will seek state grants to pay for repairs and improvements, estimated to cost $4 million to $5 million, Pietig said.

The issues to be discussed at today's workshop include how to preserve the bluff in environmentally sound ways.

For example, Rick Wilson, chairman of the Laguna Beach chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said the environmental advocacy organization opposes reinforcing the cliff base with concrete. That would interrupt natural beach erosion, he said.

"If you fix the back end of the beach and the ocean level continues to rise, eventually you end up with no beach," Wilson said.

"How do you manage a park and deal with the eroding bluffs in a way that is environmentally sensitive?" asked Joan Cartellino of the Coastal Conservancy. "That's what we're going to be talking about."

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