Commentary by Howard Hills.
The Laguna Beach City Council did the right thing by approving obligation of funds for soil studies at the site of the proposed Village Entrance Project. Lately it has become fashionable to refer to the location of our City Hall parking lot, which doubles as a cherished farmer's market, as a "blighted" area. In reality, it is an extremely valuable civic asset that demands conscientious stewardship.
Regardless of how the property ultimately is used, doing the soil studies is a good investment of taxpayer dollars. Indeed, failure to dig into the facts about the extent of soil contamination at the site, if any, would constitute dereliction of duty to prevent economic devaluation of city property, all due to what may or may not turn out to be a case of slanderous environmental hysteria.
Thus, soil composition and toxicity studies are needed to confirm or dispel speculation by surrogates for the Village Entrance Project opposition that the site is a man-made toxic waste disaster zone. It has been asserted that costly soil remediation will be required to develop the site, due to the threat of airborne suspension or groundwater dispersal of contaminants allegedly embedded in the ground below.
The Village Entrance opposition has left no stone unturned in its lobbying campaign to stop the project. Tactics include castigating the City Council and tormenting the City Hall staff, who diligently are doing their level best to support our elected leaders in sorting truth from fiction with respect to soil conditions at the site.
Thus, in addition to the financial and political issues that are at play, it appears the Village Entrance Project already has been targeted by regulatory compliance lobbyists and “consultants” issuing dire warnings that we dare not go forward.
That is, at least not without paying those in the regulatory protection racket to deliver us from the treachery of irrationally construed government mandates.
It now has been asserted that the Village Entrance site is likely to become a financial sinkhole because a gas station operated there decades ago, making it a potential environmental quagmire into which none dare enter without following HAZMAT protocols.
But that's not all. Village Entrance opposition is also digging deep into a depository of environmental fears that include the threat of catastrophic earthquakes and flooding of biblical proportions.
Of course, they may be right. That is why the project plan properly includes a soil study, which certainly should focus on any man-made hazards as well as the geological competence of the site. If contamination is revealed posing a logistically or financially insuperable remediation requirement, obviously we need to know that sooner rather than later.
Yet, in what appears to be a scare tactic, it now is claimed that the Village Entrance Project implicates the same soil contamination issues that regulatory compliance technocrats allegedly used in 2002 to pressure the City Council into rejecting a $10 million federal grant to upgrade the dangerously antiquated downtown storm drain system. As a result, those federal dollars as well as the regulatory compliance support that comes with such grants went to the next project on the list in some other city.
If purveyors of regulatory officiousness actually played the pivotal role for which they now congratulate themselves in sabotaging the 2002 storm drain project, then they also have responsibility in the marine life and water quality holocaust caused by contamination from catastrophic flooding since 2002. By orders of magnitude, floods that could have been mitigated by upgraded storm drains have deposited far more human trash and toxic pollution in our marine zone than we have removed or ever will remove in past or future beach clean up projects sponsored in our town.
The City Council should not let the regulatory racketeers sabotage the Village Entrance Project. A realistic estimate of regulatory compliance impact on cost and design should be part of the project plan, but we cannot be held hostage to any misfeasance by well-intentioned locals who ran businesses, paid taxes, and built our town. How were they supposed to know it was a geologically unstable ancient river bed delta, and more recently, a transitional wetland flood zone?
Of course, we have known for some time now downtown will be destroyed by a bad enough earthquake. We often have had to make peace with that when our kids learned about the “liquefaction” effect in geology class, and couldn't sleep unless we lied and told them it was not something they really should worry about.
We certainly couldn't tell them that in geologic time, having a city anywhere on earth is risky business. Fortunately, they are off at college and find other ways to cope when they study astrophysics and realize how really grim the long-term prospects are for our descendants.
So we engineer for earthquakes, the optimists among us insure for quakes. In the meantime, we need to figure out if we can afford to be optimists and go forward with some version of a Village Entrance Project. Doing the soil study is an essential step in informed decision-making about the project, so the City Council did the right thing by getting on with it.
Howard Hills is a third generation native of Laguna Beach who has been active in Laguna Beach civic affairs since 1967. Views expressed are the personal opinion of the writer.