Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Officials show concern

By Barbara Diamond, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot
February 11, 2010

Emergency actions taken by the City Council at the Feb. 2 meeting reflected city officials’ concerns about the health of Laguna’s coastal waters and its denizens.

The council voted unanimously to direct the city manager to ensure that a city staff member of his choice or an elected official would attend hearings that pertain to the council majority’s support for a citywide marine reserve and to endorse a federal grant to restore the abalone population along Laguna’s shoreline.

Councilwoman Jane Egly sponsored the addition of the item titled “State Marine Reserve” and Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman introduced the item “Application for a Federal Grant to Support Abalone Revitalization.”

Both items were added to the agenda on a 4-1 vote. Councilman Kelly Boyd voted against the addition of both items because he did not see them until 1 p.m. the afternoon of the meeting and felt the public did not have time to respond to the proposals.

Although Boyd seconded the motion on Egly’s recommendation, he said his support was limited to Egly’s position that City Manager Ken Frank is the person to pick who goes to what meetings to represent the city.

“I am still absolutely opposed to the reserve,” Boyd said Wednesday.

Representation at state hearings

Egly agreed that Boyd supported her opposition to a suggestion by Councilwoman Verna Rollinger that the city’s marine safety officer be assigned to attend the meetings.

“It is my understanding that what Kelly supported was the recommendation that the city manager direct who goes to Fish and Game [hearings],” Egly said. “I don’t believe at all that he was supporting the city’s position on this [reserve] issue.”

Egly, Boyd and Mayor Elizabeth Pearson opined that the council should not usurp the city manager’s authority over staff assignments.

City employees have assigned duties that could conflict with meeting dates, Frank said. Besides, he said, sometimes it was more appropriate for the mayor or an elected official to represent the city at public meetings.

Frank added that he had tried to find out when or if the Fish and Game Commission would be considering the Laguna Beach Marine Reserve, but was unsuccessful. It is also possible that the Orange County Task Force that developed proposals for South County could be reconvened.

“We need to know what meetings are coming up and what person is appropriate to attend them,” Pearson said.

Egly said that was the substance of her motion.

Laguna resident Fred Sattler urged the council to appoint a member of the Marine Life Protection Act process to represent the city.

“We need someone who was part of the process,” Sattler said. “We need someone who can say why Laguna Beach was chosen as a reserve and why it should be the length of the city.”

During public comment, South Laguna resident Barbara Pincheny claimed scare tactics were being used to turn the public against the reserve, which is favored by many environmentalists.

Bill Shedd, who conducted the store-front collection of signatures of local voters opposed to the reserve, said less than 50 of the people he personally spoke to out of the 1,900 signators agreed with the council’s position.

“The majority of folks who live here aren’t in favor of what the city [council] is doing and I am having a tough time with spending money on something people don’t want,” Shedd said, referring to the cost of sending a representative to the meetings.

Boyd noted that the Fish and Game Commission indicated that a final decision on the marine reserve designation would be a lengthy process, and a decision might not be reached until the fall.

Abalone restoration sought

Iseman brought the second item to the council: sponsorship of a $200,000 grant application for a project to increase the diminishing number of abalone off Laguna’s shores.

She said Nancy Caruso, known as the Kelp Lady, would be responsible for most of the work related to the application. The grant application must be submitted through a municipal, county or state government, according to a staff report.

Caruso reported that the program would involve local schools and other organizations in planting up to 1,000 abalone per year.

Boyd took issue with the report, which outlines the history of California’s once-abundant abalone population, and states that the abalones were decimated by commercial fishing after the 1950s.

“Many abalones were killed through withered foot disease, not just taking by humans,” Boyd said.

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