Council approves Park Plaza in theory

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on Tuesday supported the concept of closing lower Park Avenue to create a pedestrian plaza – but not for a while, and in opposition to the negative opinions of many residents. 

City Manager John Pietig was directed to move ahead on the design of semi-permanent and/or permanent Park Plaza, incorporate a Park Plaza element in the Downtown Specific Plan currently being revised and move forward simultaneously with associated traffic improvements. 

The proposed improvements on highway intersections from Broadway to Legion Street were contained in an agenda item that preceded the “evaluation of the temporary plaza concept” and approved by council. 

“We need to look at the other improvements before we make this [plaza] permanent,” said Councilman Bob Whalen.

According to a report presented by Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson, a majority of residents surveyed about the plaza or who sent emails to the city opposed the closure of the block.

“A majority of emails – the vast majority – didn’t want the street closed down,” said Mayor Kelly Boyd. “That little street does get used as a shortcut off Coast Highway.”

Speakers at the meeting were split.

“I have been making that left-hand turn for 19 years,” said Craig Coffin. “It is a special corridor up to Mystic Hills. We have a beautiful park across the street and I am opposed [to the plaza] until we have a transportation study.”

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Park Plaza during the temporary trial

Loss of vehicular access is potentially significant, impactful and must be addressed by a traffic circulation study performed by a professional analyst, said Robin K. Hall.

“Traffic circulation will be altered significantly,” she said.

Councilman Steve Dicterow, who lives in North Laguna and has an office on the corner of Glenneyre and Forest Avenue, suggested folks in town should become more familiar with city streets.

He suggested getting off the highway and taking less traveled streets, starting with Aster, if they don’t want to cope with traffic on the highway from Cliff Drive to Forest Avenue.

From Aster, drivers could turn right on Rosa Bonheur, take a left onto Lower Cliff Drive, another left onto Beach and then take either a left turn on Broadway to Forest Avenue and up the Third Street hill or turn right on Broadway, left on Beach Street, right onto Forest and left onto Park.

Supporters of a permanent plaza waved a printed leaflet when a member of the audience or council spoke favorably of the plaza. 

“I went there every three or four days and I saw residents and visitors really enjoying it,” said George Weiss, whose comments caused a flutter of leaflets. ”I want to make it permanent.”

Speakers Billy Fried, Ruben Flores and Chris Prelitz were leaders in the coalition put together by Transition Laguna Beach, the Chamber of Commerce and the Laguna Beach Beautification Council, that came up last year with the idea of Park Plaza. 

The goal was to bring residents downtown in the non-summer months and entice visitors to stay longer, a benefit to local merchants, and to foster connectivity.

“The country is divided, the city is divided – the plaza helps build community,” said Prelitz on Tuesday.

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