Guest column


Perfect Plaza on Wrong Street

Gareth Butler
Gareth Butler

On Tuesday evening, last week, I was ensconced in the snooze fest at the Laguna Beach Council Chambers. I quickly realized why I could never be a politician.

I feel I am a successful businessman because I make things happen, get things done. Not waiting for endless studies paid for by taxpayer’s money resulting in yet more procrastination, yet more dithering, yet more required input before the inevitable decision to vote and delay and delay.

Remember “Vision Laguna”? My daughter was 9 when she, along with her school pals, despite their age came up with wonderful ideas for Laguna of the future. She is now 27 and might well ask whatever happened to that “vision.”

As I view the City of Laguna Beach logo I am wondering how a snail can be tastefully incorporated in it!

Park Plaza was the main topic of the evening. For me, right idea, wrong place! I travel around the world extensively and always love to return to my home of 33 years. Laguna Beach is one of the most precious places on this beautiful planet of ours. But one thing always screams out at me whenever I return. Laguna! You have no soul!

You have all the ingredients for the spectacular place that you are. Beaches, mountains, streets full of character which encourage people to walk in this car-crazy country. I live on one of the most people friendly streets in Laguna, Brooks Street. July 4 and Halloween are legendary there. I see people walking with their dogs, meeting friends, neighbors stopping to chat on a quiet residential street. Time can easily stand still for a few minutes. Quite lovely and truthfully totally normal in other parts of the world.

So why can’t this social interaction migrate downtown? Cars, cars, cars! And the Laguna citizens’ apparent insatiable desire to move unencumbered around our city without any desire to find an alternative way.

Everyone I heard voicing opposition to the Plaza was concerned about their inability to stealthily pass through the heart of Laguna without even the slightest consideration of what benefits they might enjoy should an alternative evolve. Park Plaza was a beginning, but Laguna’s gem would surely, surely be what I would call Laguna Plaza. In any other part of the world, even in this country it would be a “no brainer.” It’s absolutely perfect. Made to order for the citizens of Laguna. A real place where you, me, all of us would love to go; to meet, be entertained, wine and dine in a car free environment. Allowed to move, wander, socialize. Discuss events of the world, the village, the kids, school, sports. Maybe a “speakers corner” as in Hyde Park, London. Food carts, jugglers, musicians. Games, chess, ping pong, dominoes, cards. The possibilities are quite endless, but only if the right atmosphere is created. And it wouldn’t take much.

Laguna must once again become the progressive city it once was. Return downtown to its people, its citizens.

One weekend last summer, I did a personal survey of the people walking on Forest Avenue. Out of 75 people, only one person was from Laguna, which reflects exactly my sentiments.

And yes, that Laguna Plaza should and must be Forest Avenue. Why are the merchants seemingly dictating its future? Loss of parking is minimal. Everyone could find another spot. Everywhere I go, I see pedestrianized areas thronged with people enjoying themselves and yes, spending money in the adjacent stores and restaurants. When people feel relaxed they typically spend more.

I never think about buying a gelato when I’m speeding along Coast Highway. Great examples aren’t far away. The renaissance of downtown Santa Ana is truly amazing. Go there on the First Saturday Art Walk (this Saturday, April 7) and see the transformation. How great if our First (pathetic) Thursdays could be so vibrant. Ask the merchants at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade how pedestrianizing has revolutionized the area.

Will it take a community uprising to take back our downtown? Maybe. I’m in! One thing I shall predict with 100% certainty. One day it will happen. It is inevitable. Unfortunately maybe not in my lifetime.


Gareth Butler is a 33-year resident, who makes his living as a supplier of bamboo to nurseries.


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  1. Very good observation Gareth. No one seems to have the answers. Perhaps we should pay for consultants to figure out the cause(s) of Laguna’s endless snooze fest and then have the good ideas (which there are plenty) and implement them.

  2. Michaell Magrutsche, I do not think you need to pay the outrageous fees that are charged by consultants when you have residents such as Gareth who know and live in the area. It is clear what is needed. People need to get out of their cars and walk. It is the same here in the UK. All pedestrian areas are thriving places, thronged with people shopping, sitting and people watching and having a wonderful time. It seems to me you need the same. Go Gareth Butler.


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