A Proposal back in 2005


E.C.O.La.B – Ecology Center of Laguna Beach


“Green” Gene Sottosanto

Email –[email protected]

                           Laguna Beach has a penchant for preserving the natural landscape and caring about the environment. In order that our actions may be consistent, we logically need to work wisely with the natural resources within our community. An ecology center to help reduce, reuse, recycle and restore within Laguna is therefore an important need presently unavailable in the area.

This working ecology center would be useful as an appropriate landscaping and gardening educational and operational facility. The facility would also be useful for resource recovery. Enhanced nature trails would accompany the area. Individuals and groups could find a wholesome creative outlet using designated plots with prescribed guidelines.


                            A location with potential for this endeavor is on city property zoned for open space use, and previously used as an equestrian center. There are remains of fencing, paved areas, a watering system, old corals and a shack. There are both exotic and indigenous plants from forbs to trees. The specified location is next to a school and is endorsed by the director who would like school participation. The site is within the area defined as “reach 3” by the creek rehabilitation study and is also known as the “Dewitt property”.     This location would give Laguna added charn, recognition, and credibilityu by its visible canyon setting.


The cities open space committee; Mike Phillips, the cities environmental specialist; Barbara Weir, the publicity chair of the Laguna Beach Garden Club; Jeff powers, the owner of Earthscaping and a previous member on the design review board; and many various individuals have expressed approval and desire for the center, offered ideas and support, and have asked to be kept posted.

Groups that could participate include city operations, homeowners, landscapers, gardeners and tree trimmers, garden enthusiasts from apartment dwellers to estate owners, food markets, students, and scouts.


Stages would take place after approval by any regulating agencies and a management team.

The first stage will be to define and map the specific areas of operation with considerations for environmental integrity. The second stage would be grading and/or covering infested areas with clean soil, native soil or deep mulch layers.

Next, participants could be carefully brought in after approval by the management team.


                   There are at least seven (7) separate facets that can be considered. 1: recycling of terracing materials.   2: A multi faceted organized and limited composting and mulch area.  3: A demonstration, education and experimentation area      4: Individual and group garden plots.  5: A propagation area for indigenous and food bearing plants, 6: A sales, distribution and information area. 7: Nature trails with Western Bluebird, wren and Barn Owl Boxes.

Special concerns:

Important considerations include the preservation of indigenous plants, the purity of Lazy creek, proximity to the canyon road, flood areas, steep grades, parking and access, other needs and potential support of individual areas. None of these conserns prohibit the possibilities mentioned.

Each individual area will have its own considerations and rules to follow. Some of these are listed below.

In the #1 area for the recycling of terracing materials – Less desirable and all materials may need to have a limited volume. Some treated wood may need to be separated for use with non-edibles. Materials could be put to immediate use especially at the bottom of the long wide strip to the south of the parking area and along the canyon road. This area may be designated for garden plot usage.

In the #2 area for composting and mulching – Materials should be pre-approved and carefully managed. They may include untreated grass clippings, other landscape trimmings, market waste, restaurant waste, sawdust, livestock manures when available, and a portion of rinsed seaweeds.  Early weed abatement can be encouraged to prevent reseeding and any exceptionally invasive weeds can be avoided.

In the #3 area for demonstration   A demonstration area should be carefully thought out and well maintained.  It would operate cohesively with the #6 area.

Indigenous, food bearing (for people and wildlife), fire retardant, and drought tolerant plants will be specified. Mulching, composting, home earthworm production, gardening methods, non-toxic insect abatement, counter top and apartment patio gardening, bird and butterfly assistance, several hens, a few ducks, goats, and a couple of pigs are some of the items that can be considered for demonstration, educational and functional purposes. Experiments can include different soil types, seeds, cultural methods, soil amendments, companion planting, use of seaweed and more.

In the #4 area of individual garden plots – Rules will need to apply regarding who gets how much space and with what requirements, fees, and privileges. (See attachment)

In the #5 area of propagation – The focus will be on the types of plants in the demonstration area and on plants that have special appeal for distribution or sell.

In the #6 area of sales, distribution and information – There would be as in all areas, (especially initially), limitations depending on the success and stage of the center. Ultimately any garden products demonstrated could also be for sale. At least once a month an individual buyer may bargain for materials to sell at the Saturday morning open market.

In the number #7 area for nature enhancement – Human traffic is an important consideration. The trail can follow a path that is already largely defined. Rope or other types of rails can keep visitors less disruptive while providing better viewing stations and understanding. (Certain desirable bird species can be helped with nesting boxes or specific plants).

The trail and native plant restoration area:

From the parking lot, the trail goes to the north and eventually crosses the creek near the Anneliese school property.  By removing large oleanders and some acacia, the trail would be improved. The extra light and opening would be helpful for a garden project that Anneliese’s school could decide to do. (A short distance inside the fence line there is a row of tall cypress that would prevent a loss of shade.) The trail could be more clearly defined in other areas as well. Much of the surrounding area is generally impenetrable which may be desirable in cases where it protects wildlife.

There are a few areas along the path with a dense growth of large iceplant. Although these areas may operate as fire breaks especially when the creek is dry, they can be reduced to open up areas for planting of select indigenous plants. Other large areas of various plant types can be further analyzed including pampas grass and arrundo that should be removed.

Parking lot access to areas:

The area may be entered by the previously paved parking lot near the north end. At least   ten vehicles can park in this area. Parking off the side of the road is one additional possibility and there is more along Phillups road.

To the immediate south of the parking area, between an irrigated area previously restored and the road, is a strip of land at least 30 feet wide and perhaps a hundred yards long. This area is raised above the wetter restored section largely planted to willows and is partially protected from the road by large shrubs and trees. A trail has begun to form below this slightly sloped area and can be used to access dozens of individual plots.

There is enough open area near the parking lot to use for storage and distribution of terracing materials, and other supplies.

This parking lot is also a good place to access a trailhead.

Additional access:

                  There is also access at the south end of this property from Phillups road. Along Phillups road are large areas that are generally composed of invasive grasses. These areas can be transferred into native shrubs and some additional parking. Planting would help create a screen from the adjacent neighborhood. Another possibility may be to plant varieties of fruit trees.   A short distance up the road is a house with old animal corrals adjacent. A large level open field previously graded and devoid of indigenous plants is below the house. It is as big as a soccer field and is surrounded on two sides by giant arrundo reeds. This area offers many possibilities for gardening, mulching and composting operations and any of the other aspects as well. Skimming oily residue off water can occur in this area that is furthest downstream.  Sub stations could be established at other locations in town.


After designating the areas of use and some grading or covering of invasive plants, purchases for the function of the center could include plants, fencing, tools and a tool shed, bulletin boards, placards, composting units, some type of toilet, and a place for educational materials to be distributed. Retrofitting the irrigation system would be necessary. Money for labor and time would be helpful, but volunteer help will be encouraged, and some salaries or other wages may be paid as a budget allows. 

Funds and support: 

Besides grants, donations and volunteers, fees may be generated from garden plot holders, tree trimmers, landscapers, gardeners and others with reusable waste to dispose. Plant, mulch, natural fertilizers, amendments, terracing material, and earthworm sales are possible. Opportunities for community service from scouts, students and others will be available. City employees have stated that their time on the clock could be re-appropriated.

Additional money saving and making ideas:

1: Christmas tree grinding for mulch. 2: seaweed products for use as fertilizer or other purposes. 3: city storage of landscape materials and tools. 4: some parking. 5: Possible savings on green waste program.6: Bio-diesel production and use. 7: Sales of garden produce.

(What becomes of the house on Phillips road would affect the above three highlighted facets.)


In summary: 

This endeavor would help Laguna to organize and improve its organic and solid waste program.  Conceivably Laguna would be an example of better ecological economics for surrounding communities as well. One could cross over the street from their weekend hike at the preserve and learn how they can help the environment at home.

I for one would be glad to volunteer, even in lieu of payment based on success, that I believe, would be forthcoming.