Are sand erosion and rising seas a concern for San Onofre’s ocean-front nuclear waste storage?

A “No Parking Anytime” sign nailed to a wooden post was being tossed around the slamming shore break, plucked by the raging sea from a nearby dirt parking road at San Onofre State Beach – a sign of the times as sand erosion shrinks the coastline.

The combination of high tide and strong surf a few weeks ago also caused waves to slam onto a big bluff between the popular surf beach and the tucked away San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, at times leaving no sandy shore exposed before pounding against the tall walls.

When high tides and big swell merge – as can happen several times a year – waves can crash over the rock barrier at the edge of the sandy beach and onto the public pathway in front of the power station, simply dubbed SONGS. Behind that is a concrete sea wall – when the tide is at its highest the wall extends about 20 feet above the water – that serves as a protective shield to guard what’s stored about 100 feet away: 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste set in stainless-steel canisters encased in a “concrete monolith.”

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was shuttered in 2013, with the last of its nuclear waste put in a partially buried dry-storage system in August 2020. There the hazardous byproduct is expected to sit until the federal government moves it off site – and that plan has no clear timeline.

In the meantime, coastal erosion and rising sea levels have become a hot topic in Southern California in recent years as shorelines continue to thin, especially during big swell and high-tide events that can chomp away at sand buffers that once protected homes, roads and infrastructure.

  • The moon rises over San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station as big waves and a high surf pound the concrete wall below the station that supports the path connecting north and south San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. South-facing beaches were pummeled by a storm surge that caused waves in the 4-foot to 7-foot range in addition to extreme high tides nearing 7-feet by nightfall. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is seen from Trail 1 at San Onofre State Beach south of San Clemente on Tuesday, August 27, 2019. (File Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A no parking sign and post rolls in the surf at San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. South-facing beaches were pummeled by a storm surge that caused waves in the 4-foot to 7-foot range in addition to extreme high tides nearing 7-feet by nightfall. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Gary Headrick, co-founder of San Clemente Green, runs down the beach as the moon rises San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station while big waves and a high surf pound the beach at at San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. South-facing beaches were pummeled by a storm surge that caused waves in the 4-foot to 7-foot range in addition to extreme high tides nearing 7 feet by nightfall. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Big waves pound the concrete wall below San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station that supports the path that connects north and south San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. South-facing beaches were pummeled by a storm surge that caused waves in the 4-foot to 7-foot range in addition to extreme high tides nearing 7 feet by nightfall. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The moon rises over San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station as big waves and a high surf pound the concrete wall below the station that supports the path connecting north and south San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. South-facing beaches were pummeled by a storm surge that caused waves in the 4-foot to 7-foot range in addition to extreme high tides nearing 7-feet by nightfall. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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So while removing the nuclear waste from San Onofre remains stuck in a bureaucratic limbo, some worry about what could happen if the sea’s reach stretches too far inland as the shoreline shrinks.

“When you think about all the wrong things coming together at the right  time – a storm surge, some sort of tsunami event, a freak high tide – it’s just very vulnerable,” worries Gary Headrick, founder of San Clemente Green, an environmental group that has pushed for relocation of the nuclear waste for years.

Southern California Edison, the shuttered station’s custodian, recognizes climate change is a concern for the current location, meant to be a temporary solution, and has put “a lot of effort into ensuring spent fuel storage safety,” company spokesperson John Dobken said.

“That’s our top priority – maintain the spent fuel in a safe manner while it’s here,” he said, “while at the same time working to get it moved off our coastline.”

Battle with nature

It’s a worry San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation has also had on its radar in recent years, asking in 2019 for the State Lands Commission to require Southern California Edison to do an annual Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Report, the first of which was released a few months ago.

“Sea level rise, coastal flooding and exacerbated coastal storms due to climate change are absolutely concerns Surfrider has when it comes to the long-term storage of spent fuel at SONGS,” Katie Day, Surfrider’s environmental science and policy manager, said in an e-mail. “The current sea wall is just a temporary blockade, and as coastal erosion continues to occur at San Onofre, the risk of future inundation of the site increases.”

The vulnerability report released in March details the state of the eroding beach lining SONGS, as well as a rock revetment wall in front of the nuclear waste storage area that needed to be expanded and stabilized in recent years due to damage by the sea.

“When the beach is narrow or water level unusually high, or both, waves breaking on the revetment can cause dislocation of individual rocks, which contributes to revetment instability,” the report’s authors said.

In 2018, Southern California Edison had to place imported rock riprap along 500 linear feet of the southern portion of the public access walkway and elevate the access ramp to compensate for sand loss, the report said. SCE did more work in 2019, adding about 150 feet of rock riprap, as well as 70 feet of rocks near the south end of the public walkway.

With regular maintenance, the report said the revetment is likely to tolerate wave forces with “acceptable rock movement” for about 30 years.

More than 1 million cubic meters of sand were placed on the San Onofre beach during the 20 years of construction on the nuclear power plant, which started in 1964.

But as time passed, the beach started to narrow again.

From the early 1990s to last year, the long-term average erosion rate at San Onofre beach has been between 2.3 feet and 4.3 feet a year, the report said.

The erosion, as well as the geological instability of the surrounding area because of local fault lines – all close to densely populated areas – are a concern and regular monitoring is needed, Day said.

This Google Earth image shows how close the expanded dry storage area for spent nuclear waste will be to the shoreline at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. (Image courtesy of Google Earth)

Erosion is a problem plaguing large sections of the Southern California shoreline.

Just a few miles north of SONGS, Capistrano Beach is crumbling, with so little sand left a basketball court fell victim to the ocean’s force and more damage is occurring to cement walkways and the parking lot each time a high tide and swell coincide. A few miles south in San Diego, erosion threatens an ocean-front stretch of railroad and nearby multi-million dollar homes lining the coast. Just next door in San Clemente, the city might resort to moving its Marine Safety Headquarters inland to get it away from the waves.

The storage should at least be moved to a higher part of the station now, away from the ocean before it’s too late, argues San Clemente Green’s Headrick.

“I’m more concerned about the generation that follows. This is going to continue eroding and we’re going to realize ‘Oh, this is happening faster than we thought’ and we will have to move it again,” he said.  “And that’s a dangerous thing.”

The California Coastal Commission in its permits for San Onofre’s dry storage system has consistently brought up concerns related to coastal hazards, including sea level rise and erosion, and the risks associated with seismic and tsunami events, said commission spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz.

“We believe the (system) is designed and managed to withstand coastal hazards over the short term, but the coast is not a good place to store spent nuclear fuel over the long term,” she wrote in an e-mail. “However, until the federal government identifies and approves a site for long-term storage for spent nuclear fuel, we are stuck with it on our coast.”

Officials at Southern California Edison say they’re also eager for the waste to be moved off site – and away from the 8 million people who live in a 50-mile radius.

But until the national paralysis on finding a permanent home for the nation’s nuclear waste is overcome, that’s not going to happen. The company announced a new coalition in March to try to push the feds to action.

The U. S. Department of Energy agreed 40 years ago to accept waste for permanent disposal. Utility customers pumped billions into the Nuclear Waste Fund to pay for it.

More than $10 billion was spent on efforts for at repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. But $43 billion languishes in the fund — about $1 billion of it from Edison’s customers.

The Department of Energy has not accepted an ounce of commercial waste, and most say there appears to be no permanent solution in sight.

Settlements from utilities’ lawsuits against the Department of Energy is what is funding the temporary storage systems, like what has been built at San Onofre.

“Our hope is that federal action and careful monitoring of the site will prevent canister exposure to corrosive saltwater,” Day said. “But the risk of future inundation increases with each day, so swift action is needed by the federal government to find an alternative offsite location as soon as possible.”

The storage system

Picking the location was a compromise after the Navy nixed property near its Camp Pendleton on the inland side of the 5 Freeway.

Image courtesy Holtec

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has only licensed a handful of companies to build these temporary dry storage systems. In 2014, Edison chose Holtec’s HI-STORM UMAX, a partially underground system described as a “concrete monolith.”

Holtec says the system – with corrosion-resistant, stainless steel fuel canisters encased in reinforced concrete 3- to 4-feet thick, topped with 24,000-pound steel and concrete lids —  “provides underground storage of used nuclear fuel that is unperturbed by flood, high water table, tsunamis, or hurricanes, and is seen by the industry observers as the ultimate foil to the kind of terror that struck on 9/11.”

It’s designed to withstand submersion under 125 feet of water, Edison spokesman’s Dobken said.

A study of earthquake risks off San Onofre’s coast pegged the maximum credible tsunami threat at less than 10 feet.

The nuclear plant itself was designed to withstand a magnitude 7 quake five miles away or peak ground acceleration of 0.67 Gs (G-forces). The dry storage systems are more than twice as robust, designed to withstand peak ground acceleration of 1.5 Gs, officials said.

In addition to getting the NRC’s blessing to construct the Holtec system, Edison had to get permission from myriad state agencies as well. That came with even tougher requirements than what’s mandated by the NRC, including the swift development of an inspection system to monitor the canisters within the vaults as they age. Edison has also developed a robot that can repair canister scratches  while they’re still in the vaults.

Officials know climate change is an issue. The Holtec system’s support foundation is about 3.5 feet above the groundwater table, according to 2020 survey data. The foundation itself is 2-feet-9-inches thick, sitting atop a 3-inch layer of concrete. Together, that provides an additional three-foot separation between possible rising groundwater levels and the vaults containing the fuel canisters, Edison said in a written statement.

Every year, Edison must file the report with the State Lands Commission on the site’s vulnerability to sea-level rise. And, the Coastal Commission’s permit for the storage system is for 20 years; Edison will have to complete a climate change analysis before it can be renewed, officials said.

Surf history purveyor Dick Metz to be honored with Lifetime Achievement Award at Waterman’s Ball

Dick Metz would see his surfing buddies hauling their old, 100-pound redwood boards to the dump, stopping into his Hobie retail shop in Dana Point on the way so they could buy newer, lighter balsa boards that were easier to ride and carry across the sand.

“Why don’t you leave them here, it will save you a trip,” he’d tell his surf buddies. “They just left them there. All these guys were friends, I knew the backgrounds of the boards and wrote it all up.”

Metz would hang the old, outdated surfboards up on the walls as décor. He did the same in Hawaii when he opened surf shops there, gathering wooden boards from friends like the famous Kahanamoku brothers. A good friend of surfboard maker Hobie Alter, Metz opened retail shops around the world bearing the inventor’s name.

As decades passed and fewer of the redwood boards existed, Metz found himself with a museum-worthy collection but with nowhere to share them.

So he created the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, SHACC for short, in San Clemente, which on Aug. 7 is celebrating its belated 20th anniversary with a Founder’s Day event that was postponed last year by the pandemic.

The gathering will also be a pre-party to honor Metz’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which he will receive from the Surf Industry Manufactures Association a week later at the Waterman’s Ball. He’ll be honored at the ball alongside world champion and newly-crowned gold medal Olympian Carissa Moore, who is receiving Waterman of the Year. Environmentalists of the Year awards are going to musicians Ben, Joel and Peter Harper.

  • Dick Metz, a surfer who inspired the Endless Summer film, revolutionized surf retail and created the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Waterman’s Ball on Aug. 14, as well as a “Founder’s Day” event at SHACC on Aug. 7. (Photo courtesy of Metz)

  • Dick Metz, a surfer who inspired the Endless Summer film, revolutionized surf retail and created the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Waterman’s Ball on Aug. 14, as well as a “Founder’s Day” event at SHACC on Aug. 7. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/SCNG)

  • Dick Metz, a surfer who inspired the Endless Summer film, revolutionized surf retail and created the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Waterman’s Ball on Aug. 14, as well as a “Founder’s Day” event at SHACC on Aug. 7. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/SCNG)

  • Dick Metz, a surfer who inspired the Endless Summer film, revolutionized surf retail and created the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Waterman’s Ball on Aug. 14, as well as a “Founder’s Day” event at SHACC on Aug. 7. (Photo courtesy of Metz)

  • Dick Metz, a surfer who inspired the Endless Summer film, revolutionized surf retail and created the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Waterman’s Ball on Aug. 14, as well as a “Founder’s Day” event at SHACC on Aug. 7. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/SCNG)

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Metz, 92, is one of the few still around to remember the infancy of modern-day surfing. He caught his first wave at age 7 at San Onofre during a time when there were fewer than 100 surfers along the California coast. He became friends with Laguna Beach watermen who spent their days on the sand and in the surf.

It was about 1958 when Metz decided to take a three-year-long adventure around the world, coming back to Laguna Beach to tell good friend Bruce Brown about his travels – the inspiration for Brown’s famous surfing film “The Endless Summer.”

When Metz returned, Hobie suggested he go back to Hawaii and expand the brand’s retail operations there.

“The Honolulu store was the first-ever retail store that had 80 to 100 surfboards, you could pick the shape, color, size and go out and use it that day,” he said.

As Metz opened up more Hobie shops, and later Surf Line along with Dave Rochlen that would carry other brands’ boards, he used the same concept for sprucing up the shop’s walls and ceilings by asking friends, many of them famed, for their old boards.

When Metz returned to California in the ’70s, he put all those old boards from his Hawaii shops into a container ship to bring to the new California surf shops.

“I really liked the history of all of it. I thought it was important to show people the evolution, how it changed and why it’s changed,” he said. “I realized every year they had a little more interest, people would ask about them.”

In 1985, he went to the first-ever surfboard auction, thinking to himself who would actually pay for “these old boards?”

Surfboards went for upwards of $1,500, some even fetching $3,000.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Metz said. “All of a sudden, my boards, which I got for free, had a value to them. I was in shock about the whole thing.”

In 1999, he officially created SHACC and filed for nonprofit status.

“I just rented a desk in Laguna, a friend had an office. I bought a computer, I was trying to figure out how to put my surfboards in a computer. I didn’t really accomplish anything,” he said with a chuckle. “It started in a very small way.”

Metz donated all his old boards, which also included many early-day Hobie surfboards, to the collection. Long-time surf buddies added some of their surfboards as well.

In the early days, Metz enlisted the help of friends who had become big names in the surf world to donate. Within weeks, 100 surfers had each donated $6,000 toward getting SHACC established, a $600,000 fund to kick start the foundation.

“That gave me a lot of courage that I was on the right path,” he said. “Hobie always said, ‘You can figure it out. We’ll help you.’ That gave me the courage and the fortitude to move forward.”

In 2015, SHACC put together the first-ever surf exhibit showcased at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., an inside look at “The Endless Summer” film.

SHACC’s collection now includes more than 800 surfboards and 9,000 photos, 3,000 magazines and 1,300 books, along with other surf memorabilia such as movies, equipment, clothing and more, Executive Director Steve Morris said.

Metz thinks about his own early start on his 109-pound redwood surfboard, he said, with only a handful of spots such as Doheny, San Onofre and Palos Verdes Cove where those boards could be ridden. Now people are riding 5-foot, 4-pound boards and many more breaks have opened up to them.

There are now millions of surfers around the globe and a multi-billion dollar surf industry to cater to them.

While SHACC is celebrating surfing’s past, it is also looking to the future. In the works are plans to move from the hills of San Clemente to be on the water in the Dana Point Harbor, which is undergoing a major renovation.

The Founder’s Day event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Aug. 7 at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, and is open to the public and free of charge.

OC’s Kolohe Andino beats USA Surfing teammate in bid for gold

The winners for surfing’s historic debut could be decided by the end of the night Monday, July 26, with three Orange County surfers still in the hunt for a spot on the podium.

San Clemente’s Kolohe Andino and fellow teammate Caroline Marks, who lives in the same town, are still in the running for an Olympic gold medal. Huntington Beach surfer Kanoa Igarashi, who is surfing for host country Japan, is also in the running for a podium finish when the contest resumes.

Huntington Beach’s Kanoa Igarashi, surfing for Japan, is still in the hunt for a gold medal. (Photo courtesy of ISA/Sean Evans)

Igarashi and Andino are scheduled to match up  in the quarterfinals when the contest kicks off at about 3 p.m. — meaning only one of them can advance, the other having to say goodbye to their Olympic dreams. Though the remaining match ups are scheduled for Monday, the ocean is the ultimate decider and the finals could be held on another day if surf conditions don’t hold up.

Surfing debuted at the Olympics for the first time ever at Tsurigasaki beach over the weekend, with both men and women competitors taking to the water in small, messy conditions when the contest got underway. There was enough push from a tropical cyclone to hold the event.

Sunday’s action saw a match up between  Andino and fellow teammate John John Florence, of Hawaii, both who grew up competing against each other as youngsters on the amateur circuit and later as the world’s best surfers as they battled on the World Tour.

But this time, something else was at stake — the chance at a gold medal.

USA Surfing member John John Florence, of Hawaii, was taken out by teammate Kolohe Andino, of San Clemente, who is still in the running for an Olympic gold medal. (Photo courtesy of ISA/Sean Evans)

Andino bested Florence during their heat, fickle ocean allowing Andino to kick off the event with a 8.5-point aerial and a total score of 14.83 for his best two waves. Florence, however, couldn’t find a second score to back up his 6.77-point ride, leaving him without what he needed to advance.

“John and I are very honored to compete for the USA, and whether it was ankle slappers or big standup barrels, it was going to be an intense heat and really fun to watch — one for the history books,” said Andino in a recap interview with the International Surfing Association. “I haven’t done a maneuver like that in seven or eight months. I surprised myself.”

Both Andino and Florence are coming off injuries that required surgeries in recent months.

Florence noted he was “stoked” when he saw the draw, calling it a “fun challenge, a fun battle.”

“I would have loved to win a gold medal, but I am pretty happy just being here and surfing against the best in the world,” Florence said in the International Surfing Association release. “I am going to take what I can from my experience and learn from it. Hopefully I will be here next time. I would love to see surfing in many more Games in the future.”

During the two days of competition on Saturday and Sunday, some of the world’s best faltered and would have to say goodbye to their Olympic dreams, including a surprise early exit for Australian world champion Stephanie Gilmore, who lost out to South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag.

“I was in the first heat of the day, going against the seven-time world champ, so I had nothing to lose,” said Buitendag in an interview with the ISA. “Today things went my way. A lot of things had to align for this victory. I just decided to control the things I can – good wave selection.”

Surfing is one of the only sports that relies on Mother Nature to deliver – and a heat with lulls that have surfers waiting for waves could make or break their Olympic bid.

Though there was more swell on the second day of competition, it came with harsh winds that caused a delay in the competition. But when it resumed, the event saw some of the world’s best put on strong performances to take out their opponents.

The ocean delivered more punch on Sunday, enough for Caroline Marks, a 19-year-old Florida surfer who now calls San Clemente home, to earn the top total heat score of the day on Sunday, with a 15.33 score that allowed her to advance to the quarterfinals when the contest resumes.

USA Surfing team member Caroline Marks is still in the running for an Olympic gold medal. (Photo courtesy of ISA/Ben Reed)

“I’ve definitely thought about the runway of Olympic Games in my future, but right now I am just trying to enjoy this moment in history. It’s so cool to be a part of this,” she said to ISA.

Still in the running are Brazil’s Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira, both among the world’s best, as well as Australian’s Owen Wright, who had the highest men’s total for the day to advance to the quarterfinals. Wright’s teammate Julian Wilson was knocked out of the event.

But there’s also a mix of up-and-comers like Portugal’s Yolanda Hopkins and Peru’s Lucca Mesinas hungry to take home gold.

Competition will continue at 3 p.m. Monday with the Men’s and Women’s Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Bronze Match and Gold Match.

More info: nbcolympics.com/surfing

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Artist Wyland challenges plans to remove his gray whale mural on Laguna Canyon Road

It’s one of the last images of the sea people see as they leave Laguna Beach: a gray whale popping it’s head out of the Pacific Ocean.

On Friday, July 30, a press conference was held in front of the 34-year-old mural along Laguna Canyon Road, one of Wyland’s 100 Whaling Wall series, to oppose plans for its removal.

The developer who bought the industrial property wants to replace the porcelain tile image with tenant signs, but the marine artist is saying the mural is protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990.

  • A tile replica of a Wyland painting of a California Gray Whale in Laguna Beach, CA, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Steve Creech, the president of the Wyland Foundation, says the property owner of the industrial building along Laguna Canyon Road is planning to demolish the 500-square foot artwork on Saturday. The existing tile mural, which dates back to 1996 replaced a painted version installed over 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Wyland supporters stand near tile replica of a Wyland painting of a California Gray Whale in Laguna Beach, CA, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Steve Creech, the president of the Wyland Foundation, says the property owner of the industrial building along Laguna Canyon Road is planning to demolish the 500-square foot artwork on Saturday. The existing tile mural, which dates back to 1996 replaced a painted version installed over 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Steve Creech, the president of the Wyland Foundation, near tile replica of a Wyland painting of a California Gray Whale in Laguna Beach, CA, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Creech says the property owner of the industrial building along Laguna Canyon Road is planning to demolish the 500-square foot artwork on Saturday. The existing tile mural, which dates back to 1996 replaced a painted version installed over 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A tile replica of a Wyland painting of a California Gray Whale in Laguna Beach, CA, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Steve Creech, the president of the Wyland Foundation, says the property owner of the industrial building along Laguna Canyon Road is planning to demolish the 500-square foot artwork on Saturday. The existing tile mural, which dates back to 1996 replaced a painted version installed over 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A Laguna Beach police officer tells Steve Creech, the president of the Wyland Foundation, and other Wyland supporters that they are trespassing as they hold a press conference near tile replica of a Wyland painting of a California Gray Whale in Laguna Beach, CA, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Creech says the property owner of the industrial building along Laguna Canyon Road is planning to demolish the 500-square foot artwork on Saturday. The existing tile mural, which dates back to 1996 replaced a painted version installed over 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A tile replica of a Wyland painting of a California Gray Whale in Laguna Beach, CA, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Steve Creech, the president of the Wyland Foundation, says the property owner of the industrial building along Laguna Canyon Road is planning to demolish the 500-square foot artwork on Saturday. The existing tile mural, which dates back to 1996 replaced a painted version installed over 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Chris Dornin, president and CEO of Dornin Investment Group, contends the mural was originally installed as a billboard sign to advertise the Wyland gallery that was once located on the property.

“Wyland designed it so he could remove it when he vacated the property, but he never did and now he is trying to claim something drastically different,” Dornin wrote in an email.

Wyland, speaking from Hawaii where he’s preparing for the grand opening of a new Wyland Gallery on Kauai, said he originally did create the art on honeycomb so it could be removed, but many years have passed and it is now too fragile to take down.

“People have driven by that wall for 30 years. It belongs there, it needs to stay there,” Wyland said. “Someone that buys a building doesn’t have a right to destroy art that becomes part of the community.  That’s the critical importance of public art.”

Wyland got his start in Laguna Beach, inspired during a summer trip as a kid when he saw gray whales nearby while he was swimming in the ocean.

His first-ever mural and the first of his 100-wall project was painted in 1981 on Pacific Coast Highway –  a piece of art that later put him at odds with the previous owners of Hotel Laguna, who painted over it in the mid-’90s. The hotel’s current owner allowed Wyland to recreate his original mural two years ago, which is next to his Laguna Beach work-live studio.

In 2017, Wyland battled with Hawaiian Airlines after it bought the airport center building in Honolulu and wanted the rights to the two murals on the buildings. The airline and artist eventually came to agreement, with Wyland restoring the artwork.

Since last year, Wyland and the developers of the AES power plant in Redondo Beach have been at odds over an iconic 586-foot, 95-foot high mural he created there in 1991.

Wyland argues his murals have protections under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, including requiring written consent before the work can be destroyed.

“They’ve come across the wrong artist. If they get away with it, all public art is exposed. I need to stand up for artists. I will always do that,” Wyland said. “Our position is, we are not allowing them to remove or damage the mural, now or in the future.”

Dornin said he received design review approval more than a year ago from the city for cosmetic upgrades, including replacing the Wyland billboard with tenant signage for the property at 2171 Laguna Canyon Road.

He contends the piece was never commissioned as part of the city’s Art in Public Places program.

“That doesn’t in any way say it’s not public art,” Wyland said. “It’s one of the largest public art projects in Orange County and inspired so many more, and so many other artists.”

The piece, “Laguna Coast,” is one of the smaller murals in the Whaling Wall series at 20 feet long and 24 feet high. The 12th in the project, it was dedicated on Dec. 2, 1987 and later recreated in porcelain tile in 1996.

“Art is important to the community.  Who thinks it’s a good idea to remove something that is a landmark in Laguna Beach, plus adds value to the building and the community?” Wyland said.

But Dornin said Wyland is welcome to keep the art and has given him two years notice to remove the mural.

“If the billboard is important to him, he is more than welcome to remove it and show it in one of his galleries or install it on a property he owns,” Dornin said.

Steve Creech, executive director of the Wyland Foundation who was at Friday’s press conference, said though there were emails exchanged years ago, a third-party source just warned them about possible imminent removal, maybe as early as Saturday, and time is needed for inspection. Dornin could not be reached to ask about any immediate demolition plans.

At first year anniversary of deadly AAV sinking, families seek safer hatch, plan lawsuit

The families of nine men who died a year ago Friday, July 30, when their amphibious assault vehicle was overwhelmed with water and sank off San Clemente Island are asking the Marine Corps to stop using the vehicles in water until a safer hatch system is installed.

In a press conference Thursday at a Holiday Inn in Oceanside, attorneys representing the families said they will also be filing a lawsuit against BAE Systems, the manufacturer of the AAVs, to “hold them responsible for the boys not being able to get out” of the 26-ton vehicle. The attorneys said research they had done by experts indicates the outward opening hatches on the AAV were too hard to open once submerged and that training in this situation would not have made a difference.

Christiana Sweetwood, mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Sweetwood, Aleta Bath, mother of Pvt. 1st Class Evan Bath and Lupita Garcia, mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Marco Barranco appear alongside attorneys at a press conference at the Holiday Inn Oceanside on Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Oceanside, Calif.  (Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)

“The fact that there was no adequate egress, BAE has known this for decades,” said Annee Della Donna, one of three attorneys representing the families. “There was no way to open the cargo hatch door with pressure from 5,000 pounds of water.”

BAE Systems declined to comment on the expected lawsuit and directed questions to the Marine Corps.

“We offer our deepest sympathies to the families impacted by this tragedy and we mourn the loss of the nine service members,” company spokesman Tim Paynter wrote in an email.

The pre-deployment training accident is now being called the deadliest in the Marine Corps’ history using the tracked, armored vehicles that transport infantry troops between beaches and ships out in the ocean.

Della Donna said the lawsuit will be filed no later than Monday.

“When the Pinto burned, what did we do? We sued Ford,” she said. “We have to hold BAE accountable.”

The results of an eight-month investigation by the Marine Corps were released earlier year, with Marine Corp leadership saying the accident was “preventable” and a mix of mechanical failures in the aging AAV, lack of adherence to standard operating procedures and training, leadership failures and the demands of a pre-deployment training schedule amid a pandemic all contributed.

The families are barred from suing the military by the Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members and their families from filing suit against the federal government for wrongful deaths or injuries while serving.

The fallout from the accident has included removal of all those along the unit’s chain of command, including most recently relieving the former commander of the 1st Marine Division from his new post as inspector general at the Pentagon.

A second, broader investigation by the Marines into how the units for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with which the men were training for deployment, were assembled and a separate investigation by the Navy are still awaited.

In the meantime, the families are asking that the Marines not use the AAVs, or the newer Amphibious Combat Vehicles, until a new hatch system is developed. The ACVs – 36 are now based at Camp Pendleton – are being phased in to replace the AAVs, which the Marines first used in the early 1970s.

Marine Commandant David Berger pulled the AAVs from use right after the accident and they weren’t used again in the water until April after new training and safety protocols were developed following the finding of the investigation. Infantry troops weren’t allowed into the vehicles in water until late June.

Della Donna and partner Eric Dubin said while the Marines conducted their investigation, the attorneys spent the year having a new hatch designed to make the vehicles safer by allowing it to open to the inside. Della Donna said Marine veterans, engineers and people from the Department of Defense consulted on the design.

“We’ve designed an emergency system that will release the door in an imminent sinking,” Della Donna said.

She added that they asked BAE to get involved. “We reached out to BAE and said, give us your engineers,” she said. “We didn’t get the help we wanted and now we want the public to know we have a solution that this will never happen again.”

Della Donna said she and Dubin, who have an office in Newport Beach, and Timothy Loranger, of Los Angeles, representing several families, want the Marines to order the “AAVs and ACVs pulled until new egress systems are made.” 

“We are demanding from Congress that these changes be made,” Della Donna said. “We want no money from Congress going to the military until these changes are made.”

Carlos and Evelyn Baltierra, whose son, rifleman Pfc. Bryan Baltierra, 18, of Corona, was the youngest to die in the accident, were at the press event.

“We’re here standing together as one,” Carlos Baltierra said of the families. “We are here to honor our boys and we’re here for each other.”

“We are looking for justice,” he said. “We want to make sure this information (on the defective hatch) gets back to the military and this never happens again.”