Proposed Park Plaza approved

By BARBARA DIAMOND

City officials agreed on Tuesday to temporarily ban vehicles for six weeks from Lower Park Avenue, a link from South Coast Highway to Laguna Avenue and Glenneyre Street 

The short block will be converted to a pedestrian-only plaza from Oct 21 to Dec1 and maybe even longer, depending on the success of trial period proposed by Transition Laguna, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Beautification Council. 

“This has been years in the making,” said spokesman Billy Fried. “The thrust of the idea is to make downtown a more convivial destination for locals, which can only help area merchants. So it’s a win-win.”

“Imagine a busy soccer mom shuttling her kids through town and having to make a stop at the post office or drug store. Maybe the kids want an ice cream and she’d like to take a load off for a moment. 

“They purchase food and settle into a seat at the Plaza. The kids can play and safely walk around. In the process, mom sees someone from the book club who tells her about new club and she make a connection to join it.”

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering courtesy Billy Fried

Rendering of proposed Park Plaza

Fried said the plaza would transform downtown. Not everyone agreed that was a good idea.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” said Susan Elliott. “I drive home that way. It’s better than turning at Cliff (Drive). And soccer moms won’t sit there – there will be too many tourists.”

Council meeting regular and founder of Laguna Beach Chat, Michael Morris, also found fault with the proposal.  

“I use that turnoff,” said Morris. “Other [left turn] options on Legion and Cleo have no dedicated arrows. I think three-car turning lanes will create a backup and have an adverse effect.” 

Realtor and former planning Commissioner Bob Chapman said blocking vehicles on South Coast Highway from turning onto Lower Park Avenue presented challenges. 

“We should look at the plaza as potentially permanent---or why do it at all?” said Chapman.

Police Chief Laura Farinella supported the concept.

“I consider the proposal a positive,” she said. 

The plan was to furnish the plaza with leased tables and chair and decorated with potted plants, obtained through Beautification Council member Ruben Flores, provided City Manager John Pietig is convinced that the cost is competitive.

Councilman Bob Whalen asked staff to investigate whether purchasing the equipment would be cheaper.

The city had previously budgeted $50,000 for the plaza. Another $25,100 would be required if the council approves extending the required temporary Use Permit to Jan 2. 

Organizers must apply to the Planning Commission for the TUP. Staff indicated that the hearing could be held Oct 4.