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Committee moves forward with proposed Bluebird Park monarch butterfly garden, new Riddle Field playground

By SARA HALL

In two separate votes this week, the Recreation Committee unanimously supported moving forward with a proposed monarch butterfly garden at Bluebird Park and a new baseball-themed play structure at Riddle Field.

First on the agenda, committee members voted 5-0 on Monday (Feb. 7) in favor of the special habitat approximately 500 square feet (in two sections) at Bluebird Park to support North America’s arguably most beloved butterfly.

A local nonprofit, Pollinator Protection Fund, was recently awarded a grant of approximately $5,200 by the Monarch Joint Venture (an organization that operates primarily on funds from the U.S. Forest Service) to create the garden in Bluebird Park.

PPF, based in Laguna Beach, brought the idea for a similar habitat at Heisler Park to the committee last summer. It was approved by the committee and City Council, and work on the project recently completed.

It was a great community project and turned out well, commented Senior Recreation Supervisor Alexis Braun.

“Every time I’ve gone, I’ve seen a couple monarchs,” she said.

A few of the committee members also mentioned seeing the new Heisler garden since completion.

When the committee approved the Heisler Park project, several commented that they would like to see this idea expand in other areas of the city.

PPF is now proposing planting native California milkweed in two sections of Bluebird Park to support the popular pollinators that migrate through the region.

Committee moves forward section A

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Section A of the proposed Bluebird Park monarch butterfly garden

Section A is proposed to be located in the southwest area of Bluebird Park on the slope to the north of the picnic tables and to the east of the stairway that goes up to Calliope Street. PPF proposes to add a significant number of plants in this area with minimal interference to the existing plants. An educational sign would be installed at the foot of the slope.

Section B is proposed as a fairly small area (approximately 12 feet by 10 feet) located near the “back corner” of the eastern part of Bluebird Park.

The existing plants can stay as-is in the garden, the newly planted native milkweed won’t impact what’s already there, Braun confirmed.

Eucalyptus trees, a favorite choice for overwintering monarch butterflies, surround the park, helping entice them to the area.

“Bluebird Park presents a superb opportunity for monarch butterfly conservation, education and awareness and for Laguna Beach to have its own small colony of monarchs established over time,” the PPF proposal reads.

The garden will take about four months to plant and develop, while working with city staff. The Pollinator Protection Fund will be carrying out the majority of the planting and will work with city staff on obtaining and installing the signage. The design for the sign already exists (in Heisler Park). PPF anticipates completing the project by August.

The main issue discussed by the committee was potential damage at the second site during special events. During summer Concerts in the Park, kids often play around the tree and in the area where Section B of the garden is proposed, Braun noted, and that could be a concern. The milkweed may get trampled, committee members agreed.

Ultimately, the committee approved a motion to support moving forward with Section A of the garden, and directed staff to continue exploring Section B options, including other possible spaces either on-site or elsewhere in the city.

They also asked for slight modifications of the signage to better identify the types of milkweed, following a suggestion by committee member Roger Kempler.

Kempler recommended adding more images or better identifying the different types of milkweed. Others agreed that the differences should be emphasized, particularly because tropical milkweed is dangerous for monarch butterflies.

Committee member Cathleen Greiner noted that this process shows how the committee can work with the community on projects. A citizen saw a need and brought the idea forth, she said. They recognized Laguna Beach as a historical stopping spot for the monarch butterflies, noticed the decline and had a solution on how to help. This project should also help bring awareness to the issue, she said.

“And, hopefully, an increase in population back to Laguna,” Greiner added. 

Committee moves forward butterfly

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A monarch butterfly in Laguna Beach

PPF aims to establish additional monarch butterfly habitat areas across the City of Laguna Beach with the proposed gardens, which will provide food and breeding grounds for the endangered western monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies’ current status warrants being listed as “endangered,” but is precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in December 2020. With this decision, the monarch becomes a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and its status will be reviewed each year until it is no longer a candidate.

The western population located in California declined from about 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 30,000 in 2019, according to FWS.

Each fall, monarchs migrate to central Mexico and some parts of the Southern California coast, where they overwinter in large clusters on trees. In spring, they return north and the females lay eggs on milkweeds, the only plant on which monarch larvae will feed.

The population that winters along the California coast hit a low of less than 2,000 butterflies in 2020, a 99.9% decline since the 1980s, indicating that the western monarch butterfly migration is nearing collapse, according to The Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates.

The primary drivers of decline are loss of overwintering, breeding and migratory habitat in California and pesticide use, according to Xerces officials.

Committee moves forward Riddle Field recent

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Riddle Field with recent improvements

Later in the meeting, the committee heard an update on the Riddle Field improvements, including an updated roof on the dugout. Monday was the first day of practice, Braun said. 

There are still a few finishing touches for phase one of the project, Braun said. Some sod still needs to be placed and the new bleachers will be installed soon.

It’s looks “absolutely gorgeous,” Greiner said.

Braun also shared some recent draft conceptual drawings for the new playground, which the committee previously approved.

“It has a few more little elements to make it a bit more unique,” she said.

The latest renderings incorporate the baseball theme that committee members previously requested. Design elements include a miniature baseball diamond on the ground, an oversized baseball bat anchored to the mat, and baseball cap designs as the roof of the structure.

“In general, I love the baseball motif,” said committee member Nia Evans. “It’s super cute and I love all the little details throughout.”

It’s a fun concept, committee members agreed, many voicing their approval of the baseball elements.

“The design looks so inviting,” Greiner said.

Committee moves forward with proposed rendering Riddle playground

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A draft rendering of a new play structure proposed for Riddle Field

Although the colors of the structure in the draft renderings are green and yellow, those aren’t final. Committee members discussed a few potential color schemes, including red/blue like Little League or incorporating one color from each of the local middle schools. Several agreed that black would be too hot for the play structure. Evans suggested having one subtle color and one “pop” of a brighter color.

There are numerous colors to choose from, Braun noted. The project, including color scheme, is still very conceptual and details can be worked out later, she emphasized. It still has several review processes to go through, including City Council.

Kempler also reminded the committee about including the educational signage.

At previous meetings, committee members wanted a display or storyboard or signage noting the field’s historic baseball background.

A draft of the wording was read at the December 6 meeting, although final wording will be worked out down the road, the general idea will mention: Jack Norworth, best known for co-authoring the iconic anthem “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” who started the LB Little League in 1952 (oldest in Orange County) and lived in Laguna Beach in the 1940s and 1950s; longtime Laguna resident and civil leader, Arnold Hano, who wrote “A Day in the Bleachers,” which has been continuously in print since 1955 and gives readers a fan’s firsthand account of the opening game of the 1954 World Series, centered around Willie Mays’ famous catch and throw; Major League Baseball player Damon Berryhill, who played at Riddle Field; and the park’s history, including when it was dedicated in 1963 to Mayor Jesse Riddle.

This week, Kemper reiterated that the plaque will be a wonderful addition to the park.

Ultimately, the committee voted 5-0 to move forward with the initial plans for the playground.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

 

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