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.