The Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously to approve a temporary use request for a parklet on 305 Forest Avenue – the future home of Tango, an Argentinian fusion restaurant coming to Laguna Beach in late September.
Tango requested a double parklet, which would use 234 square feet of space in front of the business. The restaurant can seat around 25 patrons inside, and the parklet will give Tango 16 extra seats.
In his presentation to council, Laguna Beach Community Development Director Marc Weiner said approximately 100 spaces have been used for downtown outdoor dining since the pandemic, including the Promenade. Right now, the city has about 1,600 public parking spaces downtown. Private parking is around an additional 1,600 spaces.
Opinions were mixed when it came to the effect the parklets have on existing tenants. Some Forest Avenue retailers voiced concern about how the decrease in parking spaces since the pandemic due to the rise of outdoor dining and parklets has negatively affected their businesses.
Marc Whitney, a retail tenant on Forest Avenue, said he was against the project because the lack of downtown parking deters potential customers to visit their stores. Whitney was among multiple retailers who took issue with outdoor dining/parklet space.
“No one has ever checked what’s happening on the ground, with the retail tenants,” he told councilmembers during public comment. “I’ve taken two days to check with every retail tenant on Forest Avenue and on Beach. Unanimously, everybody is suffering. Two tenants, who have been on Forest for decades, have told me they’ve never defaulted on their retail leases, but now they’re in danger of doing so. We’ve done our bit to save the restaurants, but now we’re in trouble with the retail.”
Diane Armitage, a local restaurant reviewer, told city council that Tango was a restaurant that Laguna should want to keep, given its highly-ranked chef and fine dining.
“Let’s give new restaurants and chefs in Laguna a visibility chance, especially those who aren’t allowed to put tables and chairs on the sidewalk, those who don’t have a built-in patio or a nearby parking lot. I think we would all agree that the footprint can easily include a small Tango parklet.”
Councilmember Mark Orgill said it’s hard to want to approve Tango’s parklet without a formal policy, which Weiner explained would be flushed out version of the current program, with details on parklets, and drafted by November.
“I would like to see the policy flushed out and gather some more data,” Orgill said.
Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf agreed and mentioned having a new parking master plan in place would eventually alleviate some of the issues raised during public comment.
“We should have an overall strategy on where we think the parklets should go and what makes sense,” Kempf said. “I would love to have the parklet there. I think it’s going to be a great restaurant and you’ll do quite well there. But what are we going to do when there’s another restaurant that comes up and wants one too? We need to figure out an overall plan for it.”
After some discussion, the council agreed to approve the motion, with the addition of asking city staff to work with area retail owners on where short-term parking spaces are needed and expediting the parking master plan to ease further the possible negative effects of current and future parklets.
The restaurant’s annual fee to the city for the parklet space would be $18,540, plus a $540 maintenance fee.
In May 2020, the city approved a Promenade on Forest temporary use permit outdoor dining program, and a couple of months later, went on to approve parklets as part of that program.
In January of 2021, the council extended the Promenade for three years in association with Assembly Bill 61, which allowed cities to do so and waive parking requirements. The extension runs through Jan. 1, 2024.
On May 16, the council voted to extend the outdoor dining and parklet program another three years, until Jan 1. 2027.