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Council: Easements needed to stop Buck Gully erosion

City instructs staff to keep trying to persuade residents to comply with projects that aim to keep the area from sustaining major mudslides in an El NiƱo year.

September 22, 2009|By Candice Baker

The Newport Beach City Council instructed city staff Tuesday to continue trying to request easements from property owners along Buck Gully.

Civil engineers in the city’s Public Works Department are concerned that slopes lining the gully, bounded by Pacific Coast Highway, Hazel Drive, Evening Canyon Drive and the ocean, could shift or fail during storms. Several meteorologists expect an El Niño storm season this winter.

The city is seeking easements granted by property owners in order to complete several projects that would control erosion in the gulch. A secondary benefit of the erosion control project would be the removal of dense, invasive non-native plants and replacement with drought-tolerant, fire-resistant native plants, the city said.

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“In order to move forward, we need to have the easements by November,” city Project Manager Bob Stein said.

Following that, construction would begin next summer after the end of the breeding season for threatened and endangered birds, so the work would be completed by the first rains.

“This is the most dangerous kind of construction you can do,” Stein said, especially when the ground is saturated.

The majority of the gully is divided into many private property parcels; the city owns the bottom portion of the gully, near the ocean. Only about 12 property owners out of 26 along the gully have granted permanent easements to the city to date, despite more than a year and a half of meetings, fliers and phone calls.

The city plans to revamp its marketing efforts to help assuage homeowners’ fears of what granting easements could mean.

Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, who represents Corona del Mar and Newport Coast, said she heard residents were concerned the city had “another motive in mind” when it requested the easements.

Many residents who have properties in and around the gully are concerned that granting an easement will mean a loss to development rights, city officials said. Other residents are concerned about the natural beauty of the canyon. Some believe there is no real threat, and that the city is crying wolf.

“I’m inclined to think that the neighbors are perhaps laboring under some misinformation,” Mayor Pro Tem Keith Curry said.

City Atty. David Hunt assured Gardner and the other council members that the easements would be used only for this project, and for occasional inspections as needed.

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