Laguna Beach outlines roadmap to a permanent promenade

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Tile encrusted bollards at the Promenade on Forest Avenue, which has been used for outdoor seating. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved a roadmap Tuesday to collect public input and ultimately consider making the Promenade a permanent fixture on Forest Avenue.

Through next summer, city leaders plan to host at least three community meetings to craft a vision for the City’s historic main street. Councilmembers directed city staffers to hold off on holding the first meeting until late September.

The earliest the plan would come to a Planning Commission hearing is May 2023, according to a staff presentation. If the outreach timeline remains on schedule, the plan could head to the City Council’s agenda for final approval by November 2023. The Coastal Commission would also need to green-light the project before it can break ground.

Amid the pandemic’s health restrictions, Laguna Beach saw residents and visitors embrace the Promenade, Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said. A city-commissioned resident survey found 83% of respondents supported converting Lower Forest Avenue to a permanent pedestrian plaza.

“I think it’s pretty clear that we’re on the path for a permanent promenade and we ought to look at the options. But I think we ought to continue to get community input in envisioning and develop the best plan we can develop,” Whalen said.

The City will create a program that requires restaurants to pay for publicly-owned hardscape under their dining decks restaurants. In return, the City will design decks that should be more attractive.

City consultant RRM Design Group’s initial interviews of planning commissioners, councilmembers, and business owners showed there is widespread support to create an improved, uniform lighting system on Forest Avenue, Laguna Beach capital program manager Tom Perez said.

City staffers will zero in on upgrading a breezeway next to Bushard’s Pharmacy to provide a wheelchair-accessible path to and from Lot 3 and the public restroom. Multiple spaces for live entertainment that include power and audio-visual connections are also on the City’s wish list.

Alessa diners sit during the lunch hour on the Promenade at Forest Avenue on March 17, 2021. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Chef Alesandro Pirozzi, owner of Alessa, encouraged his fellow Laguna Beach residents to find common ground on creating a beautiful promenade. His Forest Avenue restaurant was among those boosted by the City Council’s decision to install outdoor dining decks during the pandemic.

“Laguna Beach has 23,000 residents but every time I listen to a meeting for the last 15 years it’s always like a group of people going against a group of people. I don’t think it should be like this. I think it should be a city that is unanimous and work together for something good,” Pirozzi.

Unanimity already appears out of reach as Laguna Nursery owner Ruben Flores and fellow tree advocates sounded the alarm Tuesday on the city staff’s goal of promoting “random placement of trees” as part of the renovation. In 2020, many residents complained about plans to remove 30-year-old trees along Forest Avenue as part of the so-called Downtown Action Plan.

Councilmember Toni Iseman said it’s important that visitors driving down Coast Highway be able to see an inviting promenade that encourages them to turn around and park. She also recalled conversations with merchants who talked about their inability to conduct business over the sound of amplified music from the stage.

“Perhaps the stage needs to be something that gets moved from time to time,” she said. “Maybe the stage doesn’t matter if you’ve got an ice cream store and there’s music outside but if you’re selling jewelry or something it’s really important to have a good conversation. These little details will impact whether to not these stores are successful.”

Whalen encouraged city staffers to provide opportunities to submit written feedback in case they’re unable to attend the community meetings.

“We all know what will happen. Maybe we get 30 or 40 people but there’s a lot more people who have views about it,” he said.

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  1. In our view, mature trees should be prioritized asan important part of the Promenade. We agree with Ruben Flores that “randomly placed trees” will condemn the Promenade to aesthetic and environmental failure.

    Trygve Sletteland & Sonia Madeira de Ley
    255 Cypress Dr. #15
    Laguna Beach

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