Opinion: Village Matters

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Curate and Edit

ann christoph
By Ann Christoph

Curating and editing sounds innocuous, even positive, right? Until we find out that those words apply to the existing trees on lower Forest Avenue. “Curate and edit” is just a nicer way of saying “destruction” of those trees because most of them are proposed to be “edited” out if the city makes the lower Forest Promenade permanent, as shown in the consultant-produced plans.

On May 17, consultants presented two concept designs—both of them removing most of the trees. Important design alternatives were missing that could have kept the existing trees in place and addressed other important concerns.

On June 7, 2002, the Council approved descriptions of the two alternatives the consultant was to prepare, as noted in the staff report:

“The concept plans will include two options for consideration. The first option is a Complete Conversion to a pedestrian promenade that no longer resembles a roadway, while the second is a Simpler version that maintains curbs, gutters and sidewalks similar to what exists today. Both options will include enhanced paving, improved lighting, and improved infrastructure.” 

The “Simpler” second option, which preserved the existing curbs, gutters and sidewalks, was not included in the consultant’s presentation May 17. Instead, there were two versions of the “Complete Conversion” removing not only the curbs, gutters, and sidewalks but, along with them, most of the trees.  

At the previous Promenade workshop on September 22, 2022, city staff and consultants reiterated the council-approved descriptions of the alternatives they would prepare—the “Simpler” version and the “Complete Conversion.”

So why didn’t they present the “Simpler” version? We are left with conjecture, but a letter from city manager Shohreh Dupuis to John Thomas gives clues. She says, “the Simpler concept showed several fatal flaw functionality issues that cannot be addressed as a permanent promenade.” So apparently, there was a “Simpler” version that the public was not allowed to see.

The city manager cites needed repaving to conform to ADA requirements and for utility infrastructure—even though those needs had already been anticipated for any option.

She maintains that the existing trees would block a supposed need for wider sidewalks in front of storefronts. (Why are wider sidewalks needed?) And that additional storm drains would be needed to accommodate the raised decks. (Why are raised decks assumed to continue? Won’t drainage improvements be needed with any option?)

Dupuis objects to railings and ramps needed for decks in the “Simpler” option—even though the city thought enough of the deck solutions to spend $260,000 last month to rebuild decks installed at the beginning of the pandemic-generated street closure.  

Staff and the consultants seem to have overlooked the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) requirement for a rail-type separation of areas serving alcohol from the general public. The two “Complete Conversion” options the consultant presented neglected to deal with such enclosures. Do the restaurants intend to forgo serving alcohol in the outdoor seating areas?

Most baffling of all is her contention that “Keeping trees within the existing sidewalk areas leaves the center of the roadway with little to no shade.” What about the little to no shade that would result from the removal of the existing trees in the “Complete Conversion” options? It will take decades for new trees to match the shady groves in the consultants’ illustrations.

Lastly, Dupuis maintains that the “Cost to construct (the “Simpler”) option would be essentially the same as an option with no curb and gutter and would provide much-reduced level of service.” Doesn’t the public and the council deserve the opportunity to make this evaluation for themselves?

Since the council in a public meeting approved the presentation of both the “Simpler” version and the “Complete Conversion” they should be the ones to change that—and in a meeting where the public has the chance to comment. Changing those approved alternatives outside the public process may violate the Brown Act if council members were involved in eliminating the “Simpler” option from consideration. Who dunnit? Was it staff who changed the criteria? A rogue consultant? Unlikely–both staff and the consultant have every interest in following council directives and keeping their jobs.  

Recall that the May workshop was supposed to have been held March 23, but it was cancelled at the last minute without explanation. Did the consultant prepare a “Simpler” option that was not allowed to be shown? The consultant would have needed more time to produce another plan to replace it—thus the delay to May for the public presentation. 

Most disturbing though is that workshop participants were not allowed to discuss any other alternatives—such as restoring vehicular circulation and parking on lower Forest, enhanced with improvements and amenities. Designs could be done to improve and beautify the area and provide for temporary closing of the street for special events as one option.  

Too much curating and editing going on behind the scenes.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor. She is also a long-time board member of Village Laguna, Inc.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Ann, you ask, “Doesn’t the public and the council deserve the opportunity to make this evaluation for themselves?”

    Sadly this question, or variations of it has become all too familiar to residents under this City administration. Begs a broader question: ” Why are Laguna Beach stakeholders tolerating being so openly discounted and ignored by a City employee?”

  2. Thank you Ann, bringing this to our attention seems both important and valuable. The basic question to me is why do I keep reading how the city and its manager want to harm or destroy our trees? I had the same question when the then assistant city manager wanted to cut down the first of several trees on my dad’s land after he donated what is now the Smith Trail leading over to the fire road on top of south TOW. The reasoning did not make sense. Saying no was easy. My guess is if the residents were asked if they would be ok with cutting down the trees on Forest, the answer would remain a simple NO.

  3. The odd thing is that it appears that whenever the City hires consultants to draft plans for the Forest Promenade or parking structures, the consultants ALWAYS pitch the most lucrative options for themselves. In this case it is removing existing full growth trees on Forest (at a big cost) and replacing them with new trees–also at a big cost. Talk about making money both ways… Given the importance of shade in keeping our beautiful downtown streets cool, it seems a foolish expenditure in our drought-prone environment. Plus, new trees require more water. Not the best decision for a City that boasts of winning its water-wise award again.

  4. Ann spoke about a month ago at a city Council meeting. It was at the very end of the night for the last agenda item. What I did gather was she was supporting the appeal to deny demolition. I was trying to follow her argument for approval but as her theory was already so convoluted and her voice so faint I’m afraid few of us were able to string together what her point was…

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