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Dana Point Answers Laguna’s Problems

By: Roderick Reed
By: Roderick Reed

Parking, congestion, safety issues, lack of sidewalks, short term rentals…. Laguna has growing pains in adjusting to the seemingly increasing invasive tourist population. We are used to hibernating in summer to avoid it all. We spend lots of energy seeking an answer to the problems that some would argue occur anytime the weather is sunny.

Have you been to Dana Point lately? They have done an interesting job of reasserting their downtown. They have encouraged new businesses and restaurants and spent a lot of money and attention to street circulation and sidewalks. Dana Point business owners complained that speeds on the street made it difficult for passers-by to peruse shops and pushed for a more pedestrian-friendly approach. Some new places have opened and it’s beginning to change from the sleepy, old-time Dana Point where you take your grandparents for a walk in the harbor. Dana Point’s plan focuses on revitalization and establishes a framework of public improvement. The city’s plan was swiftly approved by the California Coastal Commission. Now, the project is well underway. The $16 – $19 million price tag for the project will benefit the city for generations.

If Dana Point’s plan is successful, the folks who stay in the major resorts and hotels will be attracted to eat and shop in Dana Point. The St. Regis and the Ritz-Carlton both count on Laguna Beach as an attractive destination for guests, who want to leave the resort grounds, said Heather Johnston, executive director for Dana Point Chamber of Commerce. Laguna locals may be drawn south for easy meter-free parking while shopping. Dana Point would be attractive to visitors from outlying towns and counties as it has a major freeway alongside it.

Dana Point has figured out its future depends on luring away visitors and locals from Laguna Beach. They have devoted time and treasure to assure it.

Laguna may yet become a quiet, sleepy old-time beachside town. Dana Point will serve as the relief valve for Laguna congestion. Our need for sidewalks, crosswalks, complaining and parking lots will be an old turn of the 21st century issue. One could argue we don’t really need all these tourists; thus, the Dana Point plan is great for Laguna Beach. The data seems to indicate that tourists don’t really spend as much money here as we think. Many of them don’t even stay in our hotels and instead opt to rent homes via online services like Airbnb in residential neighborhoods.

If tourists don’t spend much money here, fill our streets with cars and our neighborhoods with short-term renters and crowd us out of summer concerts in Bluebird Park, maybe we don’t need them as much as we think.

Fewer tourists downtown will eventually evolve into lower rents. Now ice cream and T-shirt shops won’t be needed. Resident services and affordable restaurants may take their place. We won’t need to spend money building parking lots. Maybe the day will come when they will remove all the parking meters. You could pull right in front of your favorite downtown destination without fumbling for a quarter or buying an expensive parking sticker. The result may be the emergence of a residential downtown.

Some 10 years from now. We will have a new set of issues. The local “curm-plainers” (a combination of curmudgeons and complainers) will again loudly assert themselves. They will complain about the lack of shoppers. They won’t remember they had opportunity in 2015 to help themselves.

The practical answer is neither of the extremes, the romanticized ‘50s version of Laguna or the challenging 2015 version. We had at least two chances recently to address issues that could help the future. To be fair, when the City Council does aspire to show vision, parklets as an example, were shot down by the curm-plainers before we could even try it. The curm-plainers should take a break and let the city lead and re-emerge if our elected leaders can’t deliver.

Dana Point’s vision and its effect on Laguna Beach could serve as inspiration for those with a vision for problem solving.

Ciao for now.

Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack.


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