First Parklet Hit with Scathing Review

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In May, Chef Alessandro consults with the parklet builder over its progress.
In May, Chef Alessandro consults with the parklet builder over its progress.

After years of attempts to make Forest Avenue a more walker-friendly promenade, the first “parklet” received a wrath of criticism at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The newly built parklet, a semi-enclosed outdoor dining area, takes up two public parking spaces outside Alessa Italian restaurant, 234 Forest Ave., and angles in front of Fresh Produce, a women’s clothing shop next door.

The parklet can serve 20 diners and is the first in a pilot program to bring fewer cars and more pedestrians downtown, part of a greater effort to update policies that manage downtown traffic congestion, circulation, transit, landscaping and development.

“It’s so spectacularly horrible,” said long-time resident Bonnie Hano. “What are those big rods doing up in the air? What is the point of it? I’m afraid we’re never going to get rid of it.”

Resident Paul Bernard said it looked like a cage for a wild animal and was unbefitting of Laguna Beach.

The parklet also abuts the parking spaces on either side. “Had we known in advance, we would have made it narrower so there’s more space to open car doors,” said City Manager John Pietig. “That’s lesson one,” he said. “It’s a trial program.”

With residents criticizing as well as praising the new outdoor patio for nearly 30 minutes, the council directed city staff to inquire about shifting the structure by one parking space and reducing its size and report back.

Council members also said they were not consulted about the structure’s final design. Pietig said plans were signed off by city staff after the council’s approval of the program last June.

“That structure totally blocks my store from the street,” said Ann Krizman, owner of Fresh Produce, a store adjacent to Alessa.

Krizman showed the council photos of examples of other parklets from a city report. “There’s no steel, there’s no high beams, there’s no umbrellas, there’s no big plants,” she said. The first rendering of the design did not obstruct her store, she said, which she has operated for 23 years. “So I asked that it be moved down. It’s going to hurt my business.”

Krizman pointed out that council member Kelly Boyd requested last June that the trial program take place after the summer tourist season. Iseman asked why the program wasn’t scheduled for September, as Boyd requested.

“I don’t know how you could possibly think that by doing it now you were not going against what we said in the minutes,” added Mayor Steve Dicterow.

The merchant’s final application came before the council in October, planner Wendy Young recounted, with expectations for it to open soon after, but delays occurred. Alessandro Pirozzi, owner and chef at Alessa, was one of five downtown business owners asked by the city to participate in the pilot program and the only one to complete the process. The parklet received a temporary 60-day permit and design review approval but the final concept never came before the council, Young confirmed.

The architecturally designed structure cost $10,000, Pirozzi said. “What do people do before or after they have a glass of wine or eat dinner when they come to downtown Laguna? They shop,” said Pirozzi, who also owns Pirozzi in Corona del Mar and Mare restaurant in Laguna Beach.

“It was never my intention to get any business in trouble,” Pirozzi said at the meeting. “The clothes store next door should benefit. It won’t make or break my business. Everybody should have a good time and enjoy themselves.”

Parklet builder Eddie Duruzio, on the job from 7 a.m. to “the wee hours,” said nine of 10 passersby praised the project. “They say, ‘What a wonderful idea…we absolutely love it,” Duruzio said. “I’ve been out there on the front line. I’m hearing real comments from real people.”

Other merchants also aren’t bothered. “It’s not detrimental to our business,” Quicksilver Sports Wear’s manager Alex Bertilsson said last Friday, referring to the benefit of having more people on the street. “And it’s only taking up two parking spaces.”

Chef Alessandro Pirozzi underwrote the new parklet after city officials asked him to participate in a pilot project. Photo by Jody Tiongco
Chef Alessandro Pirozzi underwrote the new parklet after city officials asked him to participate in a pilot project. Photo by Jody Tiongco

From San Francisco to San Diego, parklets have been popping up since 2012, with the first one in Southern California at Lola’s Mexican Cuisine in Long Beach. Anaheim and Santa Ana are also dabbling with the idea.

Promenades historically attract more people, said local Bill Hoffman, Ph.D., an urban planner and social ecologist who leads architectural walking tours.

“Once you get over the parking issue, it would add a sense of excitement downtown,” Hoffman said. “Forest Avenue is not reaching its full potential. Laguna Beach is now a world destination.”

Pirozzi is donating 100 percent of the proceeds collected from his outdoor diners to local charities, he said, including the Laguna Beach Library, Laguna Beach Community Clinic and the Friendship Shelter. The plants and design were donated by Ruben Flores of Laguna Nursery.

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  1. Article in today’s WSJ about why government sucks, no one ever gets fired. As described in the above article, two people in the LB govt. admit to failing in their job. why not? no consequences between failure and success.

  2. I think it is a great idea, and as someone who shops at Fresh Produce, it will not impede my ability to shop there–it may also expose them to new shoppers who notice them while enjoying the parklet. We are all so resistant to change, but I think this is a good one!

  3. Ah, change – the hardest thing of all for many locals to accept, even if it’s two parking spaces’ worth of experimentation. Before throwing hissy fits, can we not just admit that this is a rather intriguing idea? Before you denigrate it, can we please just see where it takes us? Everyone is so overly concerned about their own interests (Krizman) and opinions (Hano) and can’t imagine anything other than the mediocre way things have always been done. Mr. Pirozzi has it right: “Everyone should enjoy themselves and have a good time.” Breathe a deep breath, everyone, and just see what happens. It might even be good!

  4. I can’t wait to take my wife there for dinner. What a wonderful idea. Kudos to the Council for some innovation. A great direction for Laguna.

  5. Not sure why our city is trying to re-invent the wheel, when perfectly good examples already exist in a dozen other local cities. All one needs to do is visit one the successful models, snap a picture of it, and copy it here. And we don’t need a six month study and a half dozen council meetings to make it happen. I’d love to see these cool parklets go in before I die of old age,,, along with a village entrance and a skate park.

  6. Yep. All involved stumbled on this one. Just WHO at the city ok’d that horrendous I-beam construct? And PARKLETS are not extensions of existing businesses. Parklets are open, free spaces for all to enjoy, a resting space for shoppers and eaters. Who didn’t do their homework on this?????

  7. The problem I see is that staff didn’t follow council orders. No excuse for that. Start asking staff about the L.B. unfunded pension liabilities and see where that gets you.

  8. I hate it. How much did the restaurant pay to have it there- not to build it. I prefer parking spaces. It makes it more difficult to park and shop downtown.

  9. First of all the I-beams have to go. Bad design. Secondly when you say pilot program the city means more to come. It has been in the works for years to change Forest Ave into a pedestrian center closed off to traffic. This is just one step closer to reaching that goal. I would be all for that except for losing those parking spaces but most of all what it would do to traffic in our town. Does anyone remember what happened when they closed 3rd St?

  10. Parkletts serve as public space, they function as a nook for community gathering, instead we got a jail cage for $10,000 that screams at street users DO NOT ENTER.

    Any artist in this town could have done better with much much less. Back to the drawing board.

  11. Is the Planner Wendy Young? Or Wendy Jung?

    The parklet size is definitely too wide, but I don’t mind the height. It definitely makes it more visible to passing traffic and the girth makes it appear safer than something thin n’ pretty. Definitely need a few updates to design, but I’m a fan of the idea.

  12. What’s really going to happen when some mother wants to change the baby’s diaper parked in a car next to one of these “parklets”,
    or if a beach goer parks near one of these and their car alarm activates.
    They maybe a good idea for a street fair or temporary structure or protection from an earthquake but not a stray driver or bird … Hey why not designate a park for food vending trucks to use and one of these for seating areas? Or we could use them for tailgating parties on the Fourth of July …can we have them for the public homeowners private use since the tax payers paid for the study? Maybe we could use them for block parties?

  13. The idea of Parklets in downtown Laguna Beach is an excellent well known successful concept in other cities nationwide! The concept was wisely approved by City Council but has been poorly implemented at the direction of City Staff. Five permits were offered and only Allesandro Pirrozi of ALESSA restaurant was willing to pay for the cost of implementing this innovative concept for improvement of urban design. I will enjoy the parklet experience to support Alessa and the charitable gift back to our community.
    I have been a regular shopper at Fresh Produce and was most disappointed to hear the store owner complain during public comment. Local business owners will prosper working as a team to support one another..
    Alessa is one of the best restaurants in our downtown and the owner should be applauded for his willingness to take on the challenge.


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