Council to consider: Promenade on Forest concepts, Lang Park pickleball alternatives, Aliso Creek estuary project, Rivian Main Beach event

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council’s agenda for tonight’s meeting covers a lot of notable items.

At tonight’s meeting (Tuesday, Jan. 23), council will consider and/or hear: Promenade on Forest concepts; Lang Park pickleball alternatives; a presentation on the proposed Aliso Creek estuary project; and a request from Rivian to utilize a portion of Main Beach Park for a public event.

During regular business, council will review and consider the Promenade on Forest concepts.

City staff is suggesting council select the “Forest Stroll” conceptual option to be further studied for design review and other required project entitlements.

Councilmembers are also being asked to provide comments to be considered in future design phases.

Council created the Promenade in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Jan. 12, 2021, councilmembers voted unanimously to extend the outdoor dining and retail display temporary use permit program, including the Promenade on Forest, and directed staff to solicit proposals for analysis, design and entitlement for the conversion to a permanent plaza.

In May 2021, the city contracted with RRM Design for services to make the Promenade on Forest a permanent installation. The program plan was approved by council on June 7, 2022, which acted as a guide to develop the design concepts.

The Planning Commission reviewed concepts for the Promenade on Forest on July 5, 2023, and, after nearly three hours of discussion, commissioners unanimously agreed to recommend the more informal, meandering style “Forest Stroll” design to City Council.

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Rendering by RRM/Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

The entry view from Coast Highway of the recommended Forest Stroll concept for the Promenade design

The concept features a curvilinear core walkway with 10-foot business frontage and an expanded, varied interface zone.

In July, the two conceptual designs presented both included reconstruction of the entire area from storefront to storefront. Improvements will include new pavement, landscaping, improved utility infrastructure, improved lighting, enhanced pavement materials, public art and other improvements to create a versatile community serving space. Each option includes distinct entry points (Coast Highway, Glenneyre Street and the Paseo) identified with specific design elements.

Option A, the “Promenade Walk” design, features a 30-foot-wide core walkway, which is the predominant feature. In this design, the eight-foot frontage is intended to bring people closer to the businesses and encourage people to walk in that area. This concept also offers more landscape area, due in large part to the planters around the trees, he added. The linear core walkway of the first option provides the most flexibility for outdoor events such as community gatherings, farmers’ market, craft fairs, etc. This option also has more planting area because of the large-size planters around the trees.

Entry points are identified with a decorative, non-directional patterned pavement referred to as a “Laguna quilt.” The existing trees within the entry points will be surrounded with sedimentary planter walls with large natural boulders to provide vertical planting and seating. The trees will be located within large planters within the interface zone and frame the core walkway creating individual garden rooms. The garden rooms will have large umbrellas with tables and chairs. The areas with formal outdoor dining will have typical dining tables and chairs.

In Option B, named the “Forest Stroll” design, the core walkway will be 16 feet wide. It highlights an increased frontage zone of 10 feet wide. This option also has an opportunity for a commissioned art piece in the pavement. It also greatly increases the outdoor dining area in the expanded interface zone, which would range between six and 28 feet.

The curved design of the core walkway in the Forest Stroll design allows a better distribution of trees and brings planting and dining opportunities into the middle of the Promenade. The entry points in this concept were also proposed to be identified with the decorative “Laguna quilt” pavement. The existing trees within the entry points will be configured the same as option A. The core area will consist of decorative pavement such as brick or cobblestone that will identify the frontage, interface and core walkway areas. The curvilinear design of the second option allows for more random tree placement, creates additional pockets of informal space, maximizes outdoor dining, allows for a larger secondary stage area and will provide more tree canopy.

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The curved core walkway begins at the Glenneyre Street enhanced crosswalk and ends at the main stage near the Coast Highway entry. The end of the core walkway will be identified with a commissioned public art paving design. The Promenade will have trees randomly placed within both tree wells and sedimentary planter walls. The random distribution of trees will result in a large forest canopy throughout the Promenade. The curved core walkway creates expanded interface zones which allow for increased outdoor dining areas and a larger secondary performance area that does not encroach into the core walkway.

In addition to deciding on the Promenade Walk versus Forest Stroll concepts, the City Council must consider whether to retain the existing curb and gutter. The assumption was that this concept would work with a simpler design and would be less costly, however work on the idea revealed there would not be a significant cost savings and that functionality of a permanent promenade would be limited.

The original direction was to create two concepts, one featuring a complete redesign and the other to preserve the curbs, gutters and sidewalks. RRM started to develop the second concept and staff started to see “some very serious issues with it,” staff noted at the July meeting.

The most notable issues included drainage, aesthetics, narrow walkways and lack of infrastructure to support a permanent Promenade. For example, in order to keep the curbs, gutters and sidewalks, the platforms and handrails would still be required for the outdoor dining placed on the platforms, but at the first public outreach meeting there was a lot of commentary to get rid of the “corrals.” The decks also impact drainage and so that issue would continue since they would be constricted by keeping the curbs. Keeping the curbs would also mean including a mid-block crossing that would need to be raised for ADA accessibility.

RRM continued drafting a concept which maintained curbs and gutters but brought them in towards the middle of the street leaving room for vehicles in the event the Promenade ever needed to be opened to traffic. This option addressed several of the concerns, however, it had limited functionality, would not reduce costs or construction impacts, and the scope of work was similar to the complete redesign concepts.

The first item council will consider during regular business are Lang Park pickleball alternatives.

Staff is recommending council:

Direct staff to reduce the hours of operation of the Lang Park pickleball courts in accordance with the following schedule, effective March 1: Monday: closed, Tuesday: 8 a.m.-12 p.m., Wednesday: 8 a.m.-dusk, Thursday: 8 a.m.-12 p.m., Friday: 8 a.m.-dusk, Saturday: 8 a.m.-dusk, Sunday: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Direct staff to encourage and promote use of quiet paddles and balls at Lang Park and mandate their use in city-sponsored pickleball classes.

Direct staff to purchase an initial order of 50 quiet pickleball paddles to sell at-cost to pickleball players to encourage use of the paddles at Lang Park.

If, in addition to the mitigation measures at Lang Park proposed, City Council would like to pursue alternate locations for pickleball play, select one or more potential sites for pickleball play and direct staff to proceed with environmental analysis of pickleball courts at selected locations, and appropriate $80,000 from the general fund balance to perform the necessary analysis.

Alternatively, council can also determine that the Lang Park court is not suitable for pickleball play and direct staff to resurface the court for tennis play only, effective March 1 or as soon as practicable. They can also select one or more potential sites for relocation of Lang Park pickleball play and direct staff to proceed with environmental analysis of pickleball courts at selected locations, and appropriate $80,000 from the general fund balance to perform necessary analysis.

On October 24, council unanimously agreed to direct staff on parallel pickleball plans for the future of the courts at Lang Park. Councilmembers voted 5-0 to direct staff to start the process of possibly relocating the Lang pickleball courts, including converting one tennis court at Alta Laguna Park, by conducting the necessary studies; while also researching additional sound attenuation solutions and quieter equipment that could be installed at the current Lang courts.

The item was brought forth under councilmember requests, with Councilmember George Weiss proposing to remove and relocate the Lang Park pickleball courts.

There have been concerns raised about noise from residents of the adjoining apartments, Weiss explained at the meeting. In hindsight, they should not have placed pickleball courts so close to the residential area, he said.

There was some back and forth about what to do before they decided on pursuing both plans. There’s no simple solution, councilmembers agreed.

The Lang Park pickleball courts have been in place since 2017. In response to recent resident feedback, the city took measures to assess and reduce the sound impacts related to pickleball play.

A noise study was conducted both before and after installing noise attenuation fencing. The levels after the fencing was installed were below the standards in the municipal code.

In a noise assessment conducted in August by LSA Associates, experts concluded that when comparing the noise levels before and after a barrier was installed the noise levels were reduced conservatively at the adjacent sensitive receptors where pickleball activities are most audible. However, they also noted that “pickleball play has the potential to be above either or both standards with harder paddle hits, more cheering and/or all three courts being used” at the same time. Noise monitoring results show that “noise attributed to pickleball play either approaches the noise standards or, on occasion, is slightly above the noise standards for short periods of time.”

The LSA report notes that “the repeated impulsive noise of the paddle hitting the ball is perceived by the human ear to be more intrusive than the more constant traffic noise,” Weiss pointed out at the October meeting. Also, the use of all three courts at the same time, along with player participation noise, could exceed the city’s maximum instantaneous noise level standard.

The last item during regular business is a presentation from Laguna Ocean Foundation about the proposed Aliso Creek estuary project and related policy direction on the issue.

If councilmembers desire additional review of the project, staff is recommending council instruct LOF to submit a concept review application to initiate the development review process.

Council can also direct staff to agendize an Aliso Creek Estuary update on a future council meeting following the Planning Commission’s review of the concept application.

Staff is also suggesting the council waive applicable application fees (estimated $13,825).

The plan envisions a restored estuary, a remodeled city park with a multi-modal transportation hub and a remodeled children’s playground.

According to the staff report, LOF estimates the construction will cost approximately $15 million in today’s dollars and will be funded by grants to be secured at a future date. The full scope and cost of the project will be determined after further refinement. Staff emphasized that they making no representation as to the likelihood of LOF’s success obtaining the requisite project funding.

On the consent calendar, council will consider a request from Rivian to utilize a portion of Main Beach Park for a half day public event on March 7.

According to the staff report, Rivian, the electric vehicle manufacturer that recently rehabilitated the Downtown South Coast Theater, is planning to host its worldwide product launch event at the Rivian Theater in March. The company has requested the use of a portion of Main Beach Park to support the product launch, providing an opportunity for the public to participate.

Staff notes in the report that while it has not been the city’s typical practice to authorize public space for business or exhibition events, city code does allow the council to consider and approve such events (for example, the Craft Guild and Main Beach Volleyball Tournament).

Rivian has requested to utilize the grass area in front of the Main Beach lifeguard tower for showcasing its vehicles. They are slated to be on display during from 3:45 p.m. until sunset. There are no plans to use amplified sound or additional lighting during the event.

The council agenda is available online here. The closed session will begin at 4 p.m., followed by the regular meeting at 5 p.m.

Members of the public may speak in person in council chambers.

To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call 669.900.9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 91641723096#. If you have issues getting into the Zoom meeting or raising your virtual hand to comment, you may text the city clerk at 310.722.5051.

The meeting can be watched live on Cox channel 852 or on the city’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.net/agendas.

Comments may be submitted on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda in writing via mail to the City Clerk at: 505 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, Calif. 92651, by email to amckay@lagunabeachcity.net, or by using this interactive form. Comments were emailed to the City Clerk no later than 3 p.m. on January 22 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order for them to be submitted to the members of the City Council the day prior the meeting, which provides them sufficient time to review the comments.

You may continue to provide written comments up to 12 p.m. today (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. today, councilmembers may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

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