Opinion: Positive Change for Laguna

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Embracing New Ways

By Nia Evans

This time ten years ago, I was a senior at Laguna Beach High School. We had just wrapped our Spring musical production “Anything Goes,” now eagerly awaiting graduation. If you were to tell my 18-year-old self that in ten years I would be living in Laguna amidst a global pandemic, glued to a City Council Meeting via Zoom, I would not believe you. This pandemic has upended our sense of normalcy.

As a community, we are faced with what has the potential to be one of the toughest summers yet. The Pageant of the Masters won’t have a show for the first time since WWII, we are witnessing the closing of some of our favorite retailers and restaurants, and we can’t go down to the beach whenever we feel for a quick dip and a few chapters of a good book. Thankfully, on Tuesday, City Council voted unanimously to open our beaches for active use. There was also a lengthy discussion covering the Economic Recovery and Business Development Plan with over an hour and a half of public comment.

If you have not read the Development Plan, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with it. The plan includes many thoughtful ideas that could contribute to rebuilding our downtown economy post-pandemic. How do we know for sure? Well, we don’t. However, the fear of failure should not stop our city leadership from making brave and bold decisions. It’s time to take chances, be creative, think outside the box, and be willing to fail. Closing down Lower Forest Avenue to vehicle traffic and creating a pedestrian promenade this summer is one of these innovative approaches I support. This will allow a socially-distanced dining experience for our downtown restaurants, among other benefits to the spirit of downtown. At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Sue Kempf said this is just about the only thing the council can do to allow these very small, tight-quartered restaurants to survive in an era of social distance. But it’s merely one solution proposed by the working group. 

Another item City Council voted to move forward is a study to determine the viability of a parking structure downtown. There is a rendering created by Planning Commissioner Jorg Dubin that combines a structure with the historic digester, finally creating a middle ground of opinion that we need. A structure would replace parking spots lost to the Village Entrance remodel, could reduce traffic circulation downtown, and, most importantly, give visitors a place to start their Laguna Beach journey and explore our downtown on foot. Other items in the plan include bolstering the Think Laguna First campaign, implementing a Cultural Arts Invigoration Task Force to work with the arts community, and grant opportunities for artists.

In the spirit of embracing new ways, it is safe to say we will be attending more city council meetings by Zoom in the coming months. I hope that as a community we can work to familiarize ourselves with this way of city governing. Although there may be a learning curve to be civically involved via Zoom, the benefits and the potential for involvement by those currently cut out of the process far outweigh the cost. Zoom meetings allow parents of young children to be involved without childcare limitations. Families are able to participate from the comfort of their own home which makes the marathon meetings more accessible (and tolerable) for all.

Change is never easy. This pandemic will force us as a community to pivot.

“Remember, it’s always the darkest just before they turn on the lights” – “Anything Goes”

Nia is a Laguna Beach native and project coordinator at Laguna Creative Ventures.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article written by Nia Evans. I am glad she is mentioning the city is “PIVOTING” and encourages readers to do the same or think in the same way to advance into the near future.

  2. Thank you for your opinions Ms. Evans. Re: May 12th CC Meeting. The City Council received 72 emails and 43 call-ins on Item #14 Economic Recovery and Business Development Plan. This plan was considered controversial due to the lack of transparency it was developed under by City staff and a selected small group of business owners and the lack of advance notice provided for the public to fully understand its contents and long term financial impacts to LB residents. This is called due-diligence and government bodies are supposed to operate under this procedure. The plan included little or no details or finance information for the City Council to make responsible decisions on behalf of their constituents. Instead they used the Covid19 crisis to ignore basic government policy and the voices of many residents concerned about our towns financial stability to push this development plan through. This only deepens the lack of transparency and trust accusations that plague our local public officials. Sadly, it appears that Laguna Beach may have pivoted quite far from its peaceful and honest beginnings.

    Speaking of transparency, Re: “Nia is a Laguna Beach native and project coordinator at Laguna Creative Ventures.” For readers that are not aware, you are an employee of LCV owned by Mr. Mo Honarker of the Laguna Beach Company which has proposed several large development projects in our city. In addition, Mr. Honarker contributed $22,000 to the Political Action Group Liberate Laguna in 2018 supporting Sue Kempf and Peter Blake for council seats which appear to be pro-development. I believe that most of the guest writers on this “Positive Change” column are considered pro-development advocates and/or have some connection with Mr. Honarker. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Again thank you for your input on the hot topic issues or town is addressing. MJ Abraham

  3. The Working Group that developed the Economic Recovery and Business Development Plan seems to have overlooked the vast majority of restaurants, merchants and businesses that are suffering in town.

    Closure of Lower Forest may help a handful of restaurants there but will also make it difficult for the 29 retail, service and other businesses in that block and it will be quite expensive: up to a quarter of a million dollars.

    Alternatively, a weekly night market from 5-9 p.m. would support these restaurants for far less cost, ensure the peak summer meter revenue on 46 spaces would be collected, and allow residents to pick up food curbside as well as pick up their purchases conveniently the majority of the time.

    Since residents weren’t included—other than Chamber of Commerce business owners/residents–it’s hard to muster support for what looks like a trial run for a permanent pedestrian plaza. Studies have shown overall business declines 15%–not promising for merchants long-term.

    Daytrippers comprise 95% of Laguna’s 6.3 million visitors so it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a parking structure downtown would reduce traffic there, much less pay for itself. The Act V parking lot —the one that complies with the City’s General Plan and has 239 spaces—diverts traffic before it can arrive. At any rate, the issue is: do residents want to buy a parking structure for visitors?

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