Michael McFadden, owner of Rock Martin Jewelry on Forest Avenue, wrote a strong letter of opposition to the trial street closures voted in by Council recently. He asked whose idea it was. It was many people, including Mayor Whalen and Councilman Dicterow, who were voted in by citizens to lead our city into the future. They want to inject some vitality and life into a town center that suffers from a lack of open, pedestrian space for people to meet, greet, congregate, and yes, shop. They are hoping it will help revive an area that is moribund 9 months a year.
Michael wrote that every time there has been a closure the local businesses suffered. The only closures I’m aware of happened years ago (three times in ’09 and seven times in 2010) by the Chamber of Commerce. They closed the street from 3 to 10 p.m. and threw a party that the community – and the restaurants who put seating outside – loved. That a few merchants like McFadden complained to Council that it was “a disaster” seems disingenuous to me since Rock Martin closes at 5 p.m.!
McFadden contends “the focus on Forest Avenue has to be the stores” because “we pay extremely high rents here.” That is not a city or community problem, but one you need to consider with your landlords. Progressive cities like Portland and Long Beach long ago recognized that streets are valuable public spaces and belong to the taxpayers, and their use is not confined to the automobile. Portland calls it City Repair, where neighborhood intersections are re-imagined as gathering places with tea houses, pop-up libraries, street art, and parklets. It’s made Portland one of the most livable cities in the world.
Rock Martin has had a terrific run in town – 43 years at its present location. But the world has changed, and removing 40 parking spaces and the ever-present gridlock of Forest Avenue and replacing it with a people-centric town square might just improve retail sales, as it has done in many other places.
How will people find their way to downtown without those parking spaces? The same way they do it on Hospitality Night, the Patriots Day Parade, and any given day of summer: resourcefulness and shoe leather. Only now we have more options for parking and riding our free trolleys and bicycles. It’s why many people venture to Laguna in the first place. To get out of their cars and be in a human-scaled place with energy, conviviality and community.
Creating a Forest Pedestrian Plaza could bring more people than ever to Rock Martin. So let’s be open-minded and support the test instead of being dismissive and sniping. Thank you!
Billy Fried, Laguna Beach