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Visitors’ Kiosk Ok’d

After quickly needing to find a new home, the Laguna Beach Visitors’ Bureau wants to set up a one-man kiosk in a downtown alley reinvented as Forest Lane, taking up residence alongside a people-populated beach-scene mural.

Sharing space as the guest of Coast Sotheby’s Realty on Forest Avenue for three years, that spell of good fortune closed up when HOM Real Estate Group became an affiliate of Sotheby’s International Realty and decided to consolidate its offices. The Visitors’ Bureau found itself needing a new home by summer’s end.

Now, the official tourist greeters of Laguna Beach (lagunabeachinfo.com) want to park their kiosk under the wall-size mural painted by local artist Sandra Jones Campbell.  The short block also offers two viewing benches that have become a hang-out for homeless people.

Even though resident Joanne Sutch commented to the council that she’d like to see the viewing area remain intact, the benches, said City Manager John Pietig, will be removed.

“There’s been some challenges associated with it,” Pietig said at last week’s council meeting.  “At this point, we’re not proposing to put them (the benches) there and maybe it will help us keep it cleaner as well.”

The kiosk request was tentatively approved by the City Council and will proceed to the planning commission for design review.  A temporary use permit, valid for a minimum of three years, and coastal permit are required.

With six million annual visitors to Laguna Beach, executive director Judy Bijlani said the visitors’ bureau is only responsible for the 6 percent who stay overnight.  She said, however, that she’d like to make day-trippers bigger contributors to the city’s treasury.

A high-traffic location allows the bureau to “go after those people and try to help them be contributors to our economic base,” she said. “We want to take that 94 percent and convert them to perhaps dining purchases, shopping purchases and overnight stays to contribute to the tax base.”

The look of the kiosk, particularly the proposed orange roof, will continue to get the critical eye for “Laguna character” as it passes through the city’s planning commission.  “Mustard would be lovely,” said council member Toni Iseman. “You still get a pop with mustard but it wouldn’t look like something you might see in another town.  Orange is a color we see in our suburbs.”

Any condiment color will do, said Bijlani.  “We need to do something to attract attention to it so people will see it set back in there,” she said.  “So we can certainly look at all those colors, mustard, ketchup, whatever you would like.”  Directional signs near the sidewalk were also discussed.

After approval, the wheeled eight-by-six-foot kiosk will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, weather permitting.  A possible future location near the Main Beach boardwalk and “closer to the action” was mentioned by the council, which Bijlani said would be the ideal tourist-tromping position.

Pietig said the playground restrooms at Main Beach are on the docket for upgrading and space might be available there in the future.  That location would face California Coastal Commission scrutiny but might pass due to its service to beach-going visitors, he said.

But local scrutiny could prevail.  “I was here when Main Beach Park was created,” said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger.  The original plans, she said, included buildings. “This community went berserk,” Rollinger said.  “I think it would be a huge mistake.” Those plans were ultimately red-lined as disrupting Laguna’s showcase “window to the sea.”

Bijlani noted that the visitors’ bureau also provides information on protecting Laguna Beach’s tidepools, as well as on local art galleries, entertainment and public transportation.  The bureau is also looking for a more permanent location.

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