Letter: Avoiding Laguna Restaurant Closures

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In my letter last week, I wrote that as many as 16 of our full service restaurants might permanently shutter in the next year. Is there a way to stave off this tsunami of devastating closures? The situation is far too fluid (pun intended) to ensure the complete success of any one effort. However, here are some things that collectively might serve to stem the tide (did it again).

  1. Remove as many barriers to entry into the market as possible. The COVID crisis has already made the revised Downtown Specific plan outdated. Bold additional action by the Planning Commission and the City Council to further incentivize businesses to open in Laguna is needed, and needed now.
  2. Landlords need to come to the new reality that they must become partners with their tenants if they want to keep their spaces occupied. The City could encourage this new thinking with positive incentives for Landlords who work cooperatively to encourage occupancy (think TIF incentives or Mills Act for commercial properties) and punitive fines for spaces that remain vacant for extended periods.
  3. Creative marketing of the City in general needs to be enhanced. Those efforts could include:
  1. Discounts at Laguna restaurants, galleries and shops for hotel guests only, with enhanced packages for hotel guests who stay on off nights such as Thursday or Monday.
  2. Docent or self-guided walking tours of Laguna Beach gardens and historic structures.
  3. Back-of-the-house tours of the Pageant of the Masters.
  4. City or Chamber issued discount cards for all residents to use at local restaurants and stores during slow days or the off season.
  1. Build the new parking structure to enhance the experience of everyone coming into the downtown area, including locals. Low rate bond funding is there for the taking.
  2. Folks trying desperately to preserve what remains of the quaint “look and feel” of the town they remember must realize that right now those efforts greatly impair the work of an energized and forward thinking City Council. After ensuring the safety of its citizens, a city’s top priority must rightfully be preserving the economic health of the community itself. The Council has wisely realized that only bold creative action will allow Laguna Beach to have even a chance at a viable future. For the benefit of all they should be allowed to do this work.

Daniel Rosenthal, Laguna Beach

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