Opinion: Positive Change for Laguna 

Billy Fried

Your City Council is making good things happen. I know this because of the volume of haranguing from the usual suspects apoplectic over everything they do. Like a permanent Forest Avenue Promenade, which is finally coming to fruition after three years of waiting, and taking control of Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road, a dream most of us traffic and circulation junkies have harbored for years but have always been stymied by a city manager afraid to take our destiny into our hands. Something that Corona del Mar and Dana Point had no such qualms doing. 

Let’s first give a deserved shout-out to Rivian for the greatest immediate upgrade to our quality of life. You’ve gifted us our new town center. Your twice-weekly free movie screenings, with popcorn, soft drinks and absolutely no Cal Worthington-style hustle (it’s actually a violation of their permit to discuss price), are cheaper admission than the 25 cents they charged in 1937, when they opened. Is any other product or service cheaper now than it was 80 years ago? 

Not only is Rivian screening adventure sports films via our local Coast Film Festival, but they are also lending their facility for use by nonprofits and staging mega events like the three-day run of our legendary band Honk, accompanied by a screening of our beloved MacGillivray-Freeman iconic surf film, “Five Summer Stories.” These folks were playing at the highest level despite having been disbanded for years, and you could feel the love they have for their songbook and each other. Plus, we were treated to the ever-entertaining banter between Honk’s Beth and Steve Wood and filmmaker besties Barbara and Greg MacGillivray. They are Laguna treasures, and what a treat to hear stories from the golden age of surf films, back when Lincoln was President.  

Now, about that wonderful and long-delayed disassembly of the cattle pen known as the temporary promenade and its transformation into a gorgeous, permanent pedestrian promenade in the center of town. Something as beautiful as we are. We’re finally moving forward despite the tired claim that City Council is railroading the design without enough public input. As Steve Jobs said, “The public doesn’t know what it wants.” Let’s get on with it already. It’s a promenade, for god’s sake. Not heart transplant technology. A combination of planters, pavers and seating. And some local art. Of course it will look nice. All the elements are already there. It all comes down to activation, anyway. What will we do to bring it to life (and linger)? My hope is that, besides outdoor dining, there will be several food and coffee carts for those who don’t want to sit for an entire meal. And buskers to entertain us. And a weeknight farmers market. And fairy lighting at night to make us all look even prettier. And plenty of public seating (couches, please). And then, boy will we come. Because the greatest appeal will be the random collisions with friends old and new, and the community alchemy that follows.  

And finally, yes, the most important piece of the puzzle to improve our already magnificent quality of life is to fix our aging and antiquated transportation grid that, like every other city, was never designed for this many cars. 

The only way to accomplish this is to become masters of our own traffic destiny – buying our two main arteries for $1 from CalTrans and reimagining them in a multitude of ways to ease the burden of traffic and make our town less congested, more bikeable, walkable, transit-able, and ultimately easeful for us residents. Only through a multi-modal transportation plan can we incentivize visitors to park outside of town and use an abundant public system that we devise. And yes, that includes parking structures outside of our downtown core. 

We need young visionaries on council who embrace the idea of a carless downtown, people who have experienced progressive transportation grids in other places and how they have successfully reduced congestion, and imagine a future with less cars, more clean air, and quieter streets. Oh wait, we have Alex Rounaghi. And soon, perhaps Hallie Jones. 

We have the most scenic and delightful town to ride a trolley, a bike, or just stroll. So let’s encourage it by making them safer and more accessible. Put Coast Highway on a road diet and slow cars down. Make Glenneyre flow better with a series of roundabouts. Finally, underground the power lines on Laguna Canyon Road, and make a shared bike and express transit lane. Plus strategic roundabouts to make traffic flow, instead of slow. 

Thank you, council, for putting your efforts into this. It’s always the number one issue in resident surveys. You were elected by the majority of this town to take charge and take action to improve our quality of life, which includes everything from arts, entertainment and enhanced services to public safety, functioning infrastructure, and action to reduce both climate and congestion impacts. The stuff we care most about and have the least temperament or competency to address. This is how good governance rolls.

Billy is the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an outdoor adventure company, and Executive Director of KXFM, Laguna’s Community Radio. Opinions are his. Email: [email protected].

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