Sheila Maquilan, left, and Steve Tollefsrud are part of a group of Laguna Canyon residents who have formed the Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization that wants a halt on any development in the canyon until a comprehensive plan is made. (Don Leach / Coastline Pilot / May 7, 2014)

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The Laguna Beach City Council directed city staff on Tuesday to look into the possibility of a short-term moratorium on development in Laguna Canyon.

The council had been listening in recent sessions to residents' concerns about proposed and approved projects in the area.

Councilman Steve Dicterow called for a discussion on canyon zoning after the April 22 council meeting, when hundreds of residents packed City Hall to speak on a proposed 40-unit facility for the mentally ill near the dog park and Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

Laguna Canyon residents have recently banded together to form The Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization (CANDO).

Members want to halt development in the area until they see a long-term plan that addresses infrastructure and safety along Laguna Canyon Road, a state-owned highway and a primary artery for traffic into and out of Laguna Beach.

CANDO has two dozen active members, who represent several hundred residents from the Laguna Canyon Property Owners Assn., the Canyon Acres, Woodland Drive and Sarah Thurston neighborhood associations, and homeowners on Castle Rock Road, Stan Oaks Drive and Raquel Road, said Steve Tollefsrud, who lives on Canyon Acres Drive.

The group is concerned that Laguna Canyon Road, which is primarily two lanes, will not be able to support development projects in the canyon.

Dicterow asked city staff to look into a possible development moratorium until a comprehensive plan for the canyon is in place.

"There's a lot of activity [in the canyon] going on," Dicterow said. "If I lived there I'd sure feel like we're under attack. It's time for an open and frank discussion about what is going on there, whether rules are adequate and which steps should we be taking."

On April 1 the City Council approved a 30-unit artist work-live project and three weeks later the Planning Commission gave the OK for additional summertime parking at both the Boys & Girls Club (public valet) and at a vacant lot on Canyon Acres Drive for art festival employees.

Appeals for both projects have been filed.

Meanwhile, the Friendship Shelter and Jamboree Housing Inc. are proposing the 40-unit facility to house primarily mentally ill patients, and a Newport Beach resident wants to build a three-story, 97,025-square-foot self-storage facility in the Big Bend area.

It's too much, resident Carl Klass said.

"That canyon is like an artery, an artery in your body," Klass said. "It's a free-flowing vein. You stop that vein and you have a heart attack. You wonder why people are mad in town, well you guys have been doing this for 20 years. You've been piecemealing things into the canyon, and you have the occupancy in the canyon keep getting larger, larger and larger, which means there are more people in the canyon. That canyon still has a two-lane road with no sidewalks."

Laguna Canyon, an area from El Toro Road to the Festival of Arts, includes nine zoning types, including houses, businesses and open space, principal planner Scott Drapkin said.

Drawn by what they call the canyon's rural, peaceful nature, Tollefsrud and partner Sheila Maquilan moved to their Canyon Acres Drive house in 2010.

But all too often they hear screeching cars and screaming sirens.

"We hear sirens going up and down [on Laguna Canyon Road] a minimum of three times a day," Maquilon said.

Other times, there are too many cars on the road, Maquilon said.

"In the summer it takes 30 minutes from Coast Highway to home," Maquilon said. "During spring break, traffic starts backing up at 1 p.m."