Laguna Beach OKs Temporary Outdoor Dining, Forest Avenue Promenade

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Downtown Laguna Beach. File Photo

Laguna Beach restaurants and merchants can now apply for temporary use permits for additional outdoor seating, merchandise displays, and signage under a business recovery plan approved Tuesday by the Laguna Beach City Council to blunt the coronavirus’ economic fallout.

Business owners can apply to the Community Development Department for outdoor seating and retail displays that will be valid through Sept. 7— an end date that could potentially be pushed back by a future vote of the councilmembers. Dining tables must be spaced at least six feet apart and cannot block entrances, exits, fire hydrants, drive aisles, or handicapped access.

Temporary banners will be allowed for 30 days and temporary signs, including sandwich boards, will be allowed for 60 days to business owners who apply for temporary use permits, according to a city staff report.

“I’m in complete support of granting the [temporary use permits],” said Diane DeBilzan, gallery director of DeBilzan Galleries on Forest Avenue. “Creating additional space for pedestrians, dining, and entertainment will bring life back into Forest Avenue that is needed.”

In addition to the citywide initiatives, the City Council also approved a nearly $250,000 plan to create the Promenade on Forest, a temporary dining and entertainment plaza on lower Forest Avenue between Coast Highway and Glenneyre Street. The Promenade is slated to open June 15 and will be available for public access daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

City leaders revisited the idea of creating a pedestrian mall on Forest Avenue earlier this month to encourage foot traffic at downtown retailers and restaurants. Business owners have desperately called for a downtown shake-up to prevent more storefronts from closing in the wake of state and county orders designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

City officials contracted the Laguna Beach-based landscape design firm SWA Group and event production company Choura Events to create a space where shoppers will want to linger. The two firms stand to respectively earn $25,000 and $145,703 for their roles in the project. Choura will supply the rental furniture, lighting, and labor to install the Promenade.

Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said the domed shape of Forest Avenue pushed city staffers to create flat surfaces by installing six wooden dining and retail decks where tables and chairs can be arranged. She expects the three dining decks to host 16 tables divided among them.

Patrons of restaurants on lower Forest Avenue will be able to purchase and consume alcohol while sitting on the dining decks. People cannot drink alcohol purchased outside of the Promenade.

To bring some live entertainment to the outdoor space, a performance deck will display a projector screen to showcase local musicians and other cultural arts performers. The performance deck will eventually transition to hosting a solo live performer.

Chef Greg Daniels of Harley Laguna Beach endorsed the Promenade even though his restaurant sits around the corner at Glenneyre and Mermaid streets.

“I feel the downtown and the entire community will benefit from this,” Daniels said.

The Promenade’s critics have highlighted that it will block access to about 40 metered parking spaces during high-demand summer months, create traffic congestion on Ocean Avenue and Broadway Street, and encourage people to gather at a time they’re supposed to social distance.

Laguna Beach resident Michele Monda asked if the taxpayers could have obtained a better price by purchasing the furniture than renting it. She also argued city staffers were capable of crafting a design for the Promenade in-house, rather than incurring the cost of a consultant.

Laguna Beach Rich Harkey encouraged the City Council to not govern by fear of what could happen.

“If something needs to happen, let’s be nimble about it,” he said. “Let’s be a progressive city and get in front of it.”

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