Laguna Beach city staffers are examining parking solutions that would create a temporary commercial loading zone on or near Ocean Avenue and South Coast Highway, following public uproar over the closure of World Newsstand after several parklets were installed.
However, city staffers are standing their ground despite calls to remove parklets that were installed in street parking spaces to help restaurants offer outdoor dining during the pandemic.
“We are addressing the loading zone parking needs so parklets can stay in place,” City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Public Works Director Mark McAvoy told the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday that he’s assessing a possible re-striping of a white passenger loading zone in front of Wild Taco on South Coast Highway. He’s also looking at using two 10-minute parking spaces across the street from the Newsstand to create a commercial loading zone.
During the pandemic, restaurants were allowed to apply for temporary use permits to build parklets. The permits are set to expire in December. Laguna Beach reserves the right to revoke these permits and can decide to remove parklets, Community Development Director Marc Weiner said Tuesday.
“I do think we need to expedite whatever we’re going to do on the loading zone,” Mayor Bob Whalen said Tuesday.
Heidi Miller, owner of the World Newsstand, said Monday that the closure would be permanent unless city officials remove the parklet in front of the Newsstand. Since the parklet’s installation, her drive-up traffic for magazines and newspapers largely disappeared.
“All of my local residents, that’s what they used to pull in and pull out,” Miller said. “It’s serving only one use but it’s taking away a use from dozens of other businesses.”
The loading zone was previously used by box trucks dropping off orders at restaurants, UPS and FedEx couriers, and drivers for food delivery services. Now truck drivers park in the middle of the street or circle the block to find a parking space.
Additionally, the city built a parklet in front of a new restaurant still under construction at the former home of Ocean and Main, 222 Ocean Ave. Miller said removing a parking spot to provide extra seating to a closed restaurant doesn’t make sense.
“I’m probably in favor of removing the parklet in front of Ocean and Main [restaurant],” Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf said Monday.
Councilmember Peter Blake said he doubts that repurposing parking spaces for outdoor dining would drive a retailer like the Newsstand out of business.
“I can’t help but think that a retailer in 2021, who is so compromised that a parking space, two, four, five or ten [spaces] is going to make a difference between them staying open or not,” he said. “I just can’t imagine [that].”
He added that city leaders should consider the negative impacts on recovering restaurants and bars, including the Marine Room and Wild Taco.
“How can someone talk about a magazine stand when we’re talking about restaurants? How many people does a restaurant employ? How many residents and tourists do they serve?” Blake questioned.
Miller fired back Wednesday at Blake’s comments during the council meeting.
“What does he know about running a Newsstand? It’s a complicated business but fun! It’s not only the parking spots lost, but most importantly, losing the yellow zone,” Miller wrote in a text message.