Shaping a Greener, More Pedestrian-Friendly Town

by Ari Grayson, PhD

by Ari Grayson, PhD


Greek philosopher Plato said of his Athens community: “This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”  If true, what does that say about us as Lagunans and the community we all cherish?

Laguna Beach is a community inhabited by incredible people. Our citizens are among the leaders and the best in their field whether in art, music, business, medicine, etc.  Our citizens are intelligent, informed, and engaged. We have diverse perspectives and philosophical beliefs, so listening and respecting differences is imperative.  We cannot move forward if we shut down dialogue by stereotyping and demonizing people with perspectives different than our own.

A Dec. 19, article in The Coastline Pilot quoted Mayor Elizabeth Pearson saying she sought another term because she “…wanted to see the village entrance project move closer to fruition, as the development was one of her primary campaign issues.”  Most of the City Council approved the $45-65 million village entrance project, but after months of organizing and hard work by diverse groups and engaged citizens, the Council listened to citizens’ concerns and the project was canceled.

The question now is how do we shape the future our community deserves?  I will not pretend to hold all the answers nor shall I be so bold as to attempt to speak for anyone but myself. However, I would like to offer some thoughts and perhaps begin to generate real and meaningful conversations about the future of Laguna Beach. Here are two somewhat related ideas and what they could mean for our community:

First ~ A pedestrian mall: Close Forest Avenue between Coast and Glenneyre and create a landscape filled pedestrian sanctuary. Research has indicated that pedestrian malls thrive in destination communities and businesses around these malls prosper. A pedestrian mall in the heart of the village would be pleasant for the eyes, good for the soul, and beneficial for businesses. Approximately 50 parking spaces would be lost, but so much more would be gained by creating a pedestrian mall – benefits that would remain long after the Festival season concludes.

col 2 speakers corner  5.36.29 PMSecond ~ An ultra-Light Rail: Construct an ultra-light rail along Laguna Canyon, a far less intrusive system than light rail. A ULR would include a 6-foot wide elevated system with trains that could move several thousand individuals per hour into and out of the village. (A road lane is 12-feet). A ULR would have 18-20 foot tall posts every 50-60 feet, a mesh panel between the 28” tall guiderails to allow sunlight to reach the vegetation below, and it would run nearly silently through the Canyon with minimal environmental impact.  Building a single carriageway with passing lanes would keep costs low. Instead of parking structures near the Canyon, the system could extend to the Metrolink station in Irvine and utilize existing parking. Visitors from Irvine, Los Angeles and San Diego could leave their vehicle blissfully far from their destination of Laguna and Lagunans could take the ULR to Irvine rather than drive.

Laguna’s Strategic Plan states in part:  “Create environmentally sensitive transportation systems and facilities.”  A ULR system would satisfy the strategic plan and would take approximately three years to complete. A ULR costs $10-12 million per mile, making a connection to the Metrolink $120-144 million. However, the cost would not have to by borne by Lagunans alone. State DOT funds and regional development monies might be available, and Irvine could be asked to share expenses.

To conclude, do we seek creative, new solutions, or do we settle for solutions that are anachronistic and doomed to failure? Let’s make Plato proud by making Laguna cleaner, greener, and better for business. We can do it because that’s the kind of citizens we are.


Ari Grayson earned a PhD from the University of Michigan, specializing in energy efficient design and minoring in environmental psychology; two MS degrees in architectural engineering and building technology; he studied town and city planning at The Technion in Haifa, Israel.  Contact him at

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