Meet Me at Park Plaza

People voted with their delightful derrieres this past week and declared the new Park Plaza the coolest downtown place to be - literally. There was no other place to sit outdoors and avoid being irradiated by our merciless heat wave. So with zero fanfare and even less promotion, the City proved that if you build it, they will come - and take a load off. Which people are doing in droves since they discovered this lovely, tree-lined shade corridor with enhanced greenery, Parisian café lights, and a perfect ocean view. It’s oh so tranquil and clean because, well, no cars!

The greatest asset our city has are the interesting and convivial people who live in it. Give us a chance to mingle, and we mingle hard. It’s what makes Halloween on Oak, Sawdust Locals, and Hospitality Nights the absolute best days of the year. Now we will have the opportunity for random, serendipitous encounters every day. As a reminder, you don’t have to eat gyro’s every time. You finally have a place to take that Whole Food salad (or any other takeout), swing by, relax, re-charge, and watch the world go by. Then help our merchants and go spend more money. This is a return to the village atmosphere that was obliterated by our slavish dependence on the car.

Now of course we brace for the usual outrage and torrent of negativity from the many who traffic in fear, and generally decry anything new. They’ll tell us the street is too important for motorists to allow pedestrian use, that we can’t sacrifice the eight parking spots, that it will be a haven for the homeless, that it will be filthy, that we have an adequate park across the street, that locals will never use it (only the dreaded visitors), and finally that the city pissed away $50K on something they could have done better.  

It’s like going to see movie and deciding after the first 30 seconds that it sucks. It’s only a test. It will evolve and improve aesthetically and in utility, especially if made permanent. For that to happen we hope inconvenienced drivers are accommodated with a better left turn option at Laguna St.

For the record, only $9,900 was spent on decor. Every penny of it is in the Plaza, because all the labor was performed by community volunteers. Where did the other $40K go? The first $8,400 went back to the city for lost meter revenue. The rest for set-up, upkeep, a traffic control plan for CalTrans, and approved safety barriers. That meant changing the traffic signs and signals, giving notice to motorists, re-paving the street with slurry seal, etc. It’s how things work to optimize public safety and enjoyment. The good news is that many of these are sunk costs making it far cheaper to maintain and extend the life of the Plaza.

As for the threat of homeless, of course there will be instances of bad behavior in a town as addled as Laguna. But does that mean prohibiting all of our rights to comfortable public space? We have to acquire the tools to coexist and mitigate bad behavior. It’s how we will survive as a species. 

So here’s a plea to the skeptics: please suspend judgment until the conclusion of the trial. Try and be open-minded, come experience it for yourself. You might just like it.   

Billy Fried

Laguna Beach

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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