Trail to the Sea

A trail to provide a connection from the Aliso Wood Canyon Wilderness Park to the beach has been considered for decades – originally by the County of Orange when the City of Aliso Viejo was just an idea in the making.  In 2015 the California Coastal Commission (CCC) permitted the old Ben Brown’s property in Laguna Beach to be renovated with the condition that the developer set aside $250,000 for the study of a trail alignment from the park to the sea, given that the developer refused to allow the trail to go through the golf course as envisioned by the County planners in the early 1970s.  This $250,000 in lieu fee was a dramatic decrease from the staff recommendation of nearly $2 million.  The $250,000 was to be deposited in an interest-bearing account so that it could accrue interest until the trail alignment studies were complete.  Eight years later, under the watchful eye of the City of Laguna Beach, less than $200 of interest has been accrued.  Not quite what had been envisioned.

On March 7, 2023 the Laguna Beach City Council signed an MOU with the Coastal Commission stipulating that $30,000 of the quarter million be set aside for studying multiple trail alignments.  The council then selected the Laguna Canyon Foundation (LCF) to consider possible routes for the future trail, but failed to alert the public that the trail could not use the alignment preferred by the developer through the Hobo Aliso Ridge conservation easement held by the Coastal Conservancy.  There are also serious environmental impacts related to the trail alignment that would connect with the OCTA preserve given the status of that preserve land.

Sierra Sage members have been interested in this possible trail for a long time, but this trail alignment study has met with much criticism and skepticism by multiple environmental organizations including Audubon, Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, and the Sierra Club – specifically the Save Hobo Aliso Task Force in Laguna Beach.  Based on the public comments at the March 7th City Council meeting, it’s not just the environmental community that is opposed to the proposed trail alignments. There is a lot of uncertainty out there, and no one is happy with the way this trail is unfolding given the decades of promises made by many.

According to an article of March 18, 2023 in the Orange County Register, three have been suggested, two of which appear to follow extant use trails.  The building of an official trail along these lines could well prove complicated as it could run afoul of the Hobo Aliso Conservation easement (held by the Coastal Conservancy) where it would be forbidden, or the Orange County Transit Authority (OCTA) preserve, where environmental issues would also be at stake.  Multiple environmental organizations have expressed skepticism about the trail alignments, including Audubon, Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, and our own Hobo Aliso Task Force.  And, as is to be expected, potential trail users have weighed in with disparate views of what this connector trail should be.  All of this was on view at the March 7 City Council meeting in Laguna Beach and it is bound to continue where different jurisdictions, different legal restrictions and differing views of what constitutes acceptable environmental impact and what makes a good trail are involved, there is bound to be argument and a lot of weighing and balancing.  But, bottom line, we have waited a long time for this trail, and we want to see it built within a reasonable time frame and in an environmentally responsible way.  Stay tuned and stay engaged.