The Laguna Beach Planning Commission recently recommended the City Council approve a long-awaited redesign of Laguna Canyon Road from State Route 73 to El Toro Road to improve road safety.
One of Caltrans’ primary goals for the project is to extend southbound merge lane on Laguna Canyon Road in front of the Anneliese School because it doesn’t meet Caltrans safety standards. To accomplish this, Caltrans plans to remove the turn pocket that allows southbound vehicles to make a left turn into the Anneliese parking lot.
Instead, parents and staff arriving from the north and east will enter the school via a newly constructed two-lane driveway off of El Toro Road. The driveway will be built on a parcel owned by the County of Orange and will ultimately require county officials’ review and approval.
“I think this is a good project. It wasn’t that long ago that we were reviewing this and it comes back,” said Ken Sadler, chair of the Planning Commission. “It just seems as if a lot of our comments and concerns have been incorporated into this project. It seems as though it was a collaborative effort with a lot of entities involved.”
The Commission voted 4-0, Commissioner Anne Johnson was absent, to recommend the Laguna Canyon redesign for approval by the City Council.
The intersection will also be re-striped to allow northbound traffic on Laguna Canyon to make a U-turn at El Toro Road. Northbound traffic currently has to drive all the way up to the Nix Nature Center to legally complete this maneuver.
Currently, there are no bike lanes on Laguna Canyon Road between Route 73 and El Toro. The proposed project will widen the pavement to include an eight-foot-wide shoulder that will function as a bike lane and shoulder for vehicles to pull into for emergencies.
Lastly, the project would underground all utility lines between El Toro Road and Route 73, removing 13 utility poles and 4 guy poles. City leaders have prioritized undergrounding lines in Laguna Canyon to prevent future wildfires and traffic obstacles during evacuations.
Planning Commissioner Susan McLintok Whitin praised Caltrans for designing a project that showcased Laguna Canyon Road as a scenic highway. One of her suggestions to improve the design was to remove some of the bike lanes and no parking signs that have been installed every 200 feet.
“It’s kind of well-known among traffic engineers that there is an overload point where you just don’t pay attention anymore to what’s out there because there’s too much to read and look at,” Whitin said.
In other business, the Planning Commission recommended the City Council approve the remodel and parking program for the former Ewart’s Mens Wear building at 357 S. Coast Hwy.
Building owner Kavita Reddy currently operates the Buy Hand jewelry and gift shop at the location. The plan is to restore the building’s exterior to how it originally looked in 1949 and host a new 58-seat restaurant. A tenant has not been named and would need to seek its own conditional use permit from city officials.
The Ewart’s building is historically significant because it was designed by architect Charles Hunter who designed over 60 houses in Laguna Beach, Skenderian said. In exchange for placing the commercial building on the city’s historic register—which would essentially preclude any denser development in perpetuity—the future restaurant operator would not have to provide any onsite parking spaces.
As part of the building’s renovation, a new recessed patio with four dining tables would be added to the south end of the building. Customers would dine within yards of Maine Beach Park’s playground and boardwalk.
Planning commissioners Steven Goldman and Whitin said the restaurant patio would be a nice addition to El Paseo. Both commissioners said they’d like to see El Paso closed to traffic for a future pedestrian-friendly plaza.