Opinion: Positive Change for Laguna

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Why I Support the Downtown Specific Plan

By Tyler Russell McCusker

As Morgan Freeman says in my favorite film Shawshank Redemption: “Andy had to crawl through a river of s**t to come out clean on the other side” (spoiler alert – he escapes). We are crawling through that river right now, and much work is being done to ensure we come out clean.

I’d like to commend our City Council, City Manager John Pietig, Community Development Director Marc Wiener, and everyone else involved in guiding us through the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been tragic at times, particularly the loss of many beloved restaurants and stores, but I believe that a better Laguna will ultimately be the result of it.

Lower Forest Avenue is officially closed to vehicular traffic, a decades-long conversation that finally came to fruition out of necessity. Small restaurants need to be able to serve customers safely, and that can only be done outdoors. Remember that the outdoor dining area is not only for Forest Avenue restaurants; you can get take-out from anywhere downtown, walk to Forest, sit down, and eat it. City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker said the City Council received about 110 emails in support of it and only about 10 emails against, a rare overwhelming victory. And this will not be the ill-fated Park Plaza. Instead, this promenade will be bolstered with beautiful design, arts installations and a revolving stage of music and other programming. We call ourselves “California’s Riviera” and two of our sister cities are Menton, France and St. Ives, England. If we claim to have this European flair, it’s about time we finally have an outdoor square.

But we are not done yet. The next crucial conversation will happen during the June 16 City Council meeting. Council will consider approving elements of the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) that will help our town recover from COVID-19, including relaxing Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and parking requirements for new businesses.

Namely, it’s being proposed that parking be “de-coupled” from use. This means that a new business would no longer have to provide a certain number of parking spots just because it is a restaurant vs. a hair salon, for example. It creates an even playing field for new businesses and will finally allow us to welcome unique, experiential, interesting businesses that we haven’t before seen. Imagine a wine tasting room, a distillery, a speakeasy, a virtual reality experience or an escape room! It is possible to still have Laguna’s classic charm but also revolutionize our business offerings.

Also, the number of parking spots that is required for any businesses would decrease. Business founders in downtown Laguna Beach know what they’re getting into. They know parking is limited. So, it’s up to them whether they want to take that risk. With ridesharing and other future modes of transportation, it’s no longer fair to assume a business can’t succeed without off-street parking spots.

Finally, it’s being proposed that certain new businesses will require an over-the-counter permit, not a CUP. This means, for some, there won’t be months and months of planning commission meetings that can ultimately cause someone to give up on Laguna Beach. Landlords should be able to fill vacancies faster. Restaurants, bars, and other special circumstances will still require a CUP.

The point is we need to be competitive to surrounding cities post COVID-19 in attracting new businesses. Our existing roadblocks stop many dead in their tracks, but these DSP items will give hope to entrepreneurs that Laguna Beach could be the home of their new business.

Now is the time to stand up for our town and shape our future. Please consider sharing your support for the DSP to City Council.

Tyler is general manager of KX FM 104.7 and raising three kids in Laguna.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Good piece, Tyler. I like the idea that necessity forced a decision. I agree the the loss of businesses that were like family is tragic. This town always comes back and it will again.

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