The City Council cleared the way Tuesday for two pedestrian pathways, one at the top of town and one in Laguna Canyon.

Stantec will be paid $155,500 for design services related to a pedestrian pathway that would connect Alta Laguna Boulevard to the road between Top of the World and Arch Beach Heights and for services related to the creation of a path between the Laguna College of Art + Design and the ACT V parking lot.

The Top of the World pathway requires easements from two property owners, with whom the city has been negotiating since August.

"We believe we have reached the appropriate point to prepare some preliminary designs for the creation of those easements," said city Project Manager Ward Brown.

The contract with Stantec stipulates that no money can be spent on a final design until the easements are acquired or secured by an agreement. Services until then will be limited to surveys and preparation of documents and exhibits that might be needed to acquire the easements, Brown said.

Nineteen speakers, including three 8-year-olds, spoke about the pathway, the majority in favor of it. Letters were also submitted.

Longtime resident Art Wahl wrote that it is time for the city to establish a safe, non-motorized trail between Top of the World and Arch Beach Heights, a more healthy way for children and parents to go between the two hilltop neighborhoods.

"Any notion that 'mothers from southern areas of Laguna Beach will walk their children to TOW school,' as we have previously heard, is ludicrous," wrote Dr. J. Sebag. "It is too far and too steep a climb along the fire road for children in elementary school."

Brown said the proposed graded path is fairly steep, but negotiable.

At some points, the 6-foot-side path would have a 20% grade, similar to the fire road, other portions of the road would have an 8% grade, Brown said.

Steeper areas would be paved, less steep areas would be covered in decomposed granite, confined by rock borders.

Most of the opposition to the path comes from residents in Sommet du Monde, French for Top of the World, a gated community adjacent to the proposed pathway. They value their privacy and have declined to allow passage through their streets, except in emergencies.

"The path would be an exit for the folks who live downhill and will have a great impact on the safety of the community in the surrounding area," resident Charlotte Masarik said.

"In fairness to us all, I think the property owners in Sommet du Monde cannot have it both ways; either support the pedestrian walkway or they open their gates," she added.

Attorney Gene Gratz said the real impact was on the folks whose homes back up to the proposed easement.

"They strenuously object to the project," Gratz said.

No objections were voiced at the hearing on the proposed pathway between LCAD and ACT V. The staff advocates a pathway through county parkland, rather than along Laguna Canyon Road. The preferred route avoids conflict with Caltrans, which is unlikely to approve a design that doesn't include curb-and-gutter construction that would require the relocation of utility poles along Laguna Canyon Road.

Minimal grading would be required by following natural ground contours.

The path would be constructed of decomposed granite, confined by rock borders and occasional short retaining walls, less than two feet tall, similar to ones near the Nix Nature Center in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, according to city staff.

Removal of coastal sage scrub for the path would be mitigated by the removal of adjacent non-native vegetation and restoration of the area.

An easement from the county is required for the proposed pathway, which the city would construct, maintain and assume liability.

The council voted 4-0 to proceed with both contracts, with Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson absent due to illness.

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