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Tree closes road to Laguna Beach

September 01, 2007|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

On the eve of one of Laguna Beach's busiest weekends of the year, one of its two main roads was closed Friday -- and probably will remain so until late this afternoon -- all because of a tree.

The giant oak toppled onto Laguna Canyon Road about 12:45 p.m., taking three power poles with it and strewing branches and live transmission lines across the roadway. The resulting electrical outage affected 1,136 customers, authorities said, most of whom had power restored within half an hour. About 600 of them, however, were expected to wait longer, some as long as all night.

The accident also caused a small fire, which Laguna Beach firefighters quickly put out.

The mishap occurred in the 20600 block of the tree-lined, curving highway, one of only two routes into the seaside resort town. The other entry is Pacific Coast Highway, already overflowing with motorists coming for the final days of three art festivals as well as trying to escape the hot weather inland.

"It's a holiday weekend, which is always big," Rose Hancock, director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, said of the three-day Labor Day weekend. "It's going to be harder to get in and out of town."

Pam Gorniak, a spokeswoman for Caltrans, said it was unclear why the tree fell. "It's over 100 years old," she said. "It probably just uprooted."

Laguna Canyon Road was closed from the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor to Canyon Acres Drive, a distance of about four miles, she said. The closure was expected to remain in effect for up to 30 hours and intermittently through the weekend as crews from Caltrans and Southern California Edison work to clear the highway and repair the damage, Gorniak said.

"We have crews working to repair the damage, which could take a number of days," said Paul Klein, a spokesman for Southern California Edison.

The incident occurred as three events -- the Sawdust Art Festival, Laguna Arts Festival/Pageant of the Masters and Art Affair, all on Laguna Canyon Road -- geared up for their final weekend. The city's 2,500 hotel rooms have been booked, officials said, and as many as 120,000 beachgoers were expected.

Madeline Ruiz, marketing coordinator for the Pageant of the Masters, was putting a positive face on the situation late Friday. "I don't think [the road closure] will affect the number of people we get," she said. "We're up and running and the show will go on."

Across the street, Sawdust Festival spokeswoman Rebecca Meekma was more temperate. "Obviously, access to Laguna Beach is limited," she said, "but there are other ways around."

She added: "Laguna Beach is such a special place because it's separated from the rest of Orange County. So it just makes it that much more special when you get here."

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david.haldane@latimes.com

Times editorial assistant Nardine Saad contributed to this report.

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