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Commission reviews concept for Main Beach Park renovation


Main Beach Park is in the preliminary stages of getting a fresh look that will maintain the “window to the sea” but with updated and repaired fixtures.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday, Nov. 3 heard a concept review for the renovation project for the park, located between marine safety headquarters and Laguna Avenue. 

As commissioners went through the items, there was a consensus for wood or synthetic wood or recycled plastic textured to look like wood for several of the features. Something that would match the vibe of the park and boardwalk, while also withstand the environment and vandalism, Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin suggested. 

The bigger question, several commissioners agreed, is the overall theme. 

Commissioners seemed to favor keeping the marine-styled theme. Although there are a lot of more contemporary designs with an edgier use of materials, Commissioner Steve Kellenberg noted. So they could keep the marine style, or consider something more modern, or even a village theme, he said. 

They could even expand the question into how it connects with the city as a whole, Commissioner Susan Whitin agreed. 

“I would even go further out, what is Laguna Beach trying to say here? Not just the design theme, whether it’s more contemporary or more marine, but what are we trying to say?” Whitin questioned. “Who are we? Are we forward thinking? And how do we tell that story?”

For example, she continued, if they want to present Laguna Beach as a city that recycles, should they purchase all recycled materials for the park? Whitin suggested it could also mean recycling existing fixtures, like sanding and repainting the benches. 

In addition to the marine theme, Whitin asked for a second, more contemporary option to be presented when the project returns to the Planning Commission.

Kellenberg also suggested if there was anything to draw from or collaborate with the recent village entry project and promenade. There could be a unified palette in public spaces, he said, with Whitin and others agreeing.

Although, they want to be careful how far they go with the matching, Dubin warned. 

“We live in a non-planned community, so if everything looks exactly the same then we’re turning the world into Mission Viejo or something,” Dubin said. 

It won’t come down to repetitive fixtures or matching details, Whitin replied, it will still have the character of Laguna Beach. 

Commission reviews concept Main Beach Park

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Main Beach Park 

Main Beach Park as part of a public works Capital Improvement Project. The proposed project will maintain the character of the existing park while improving pedestrian circulation, reducing water usage, and updating old and outdated furnishings, explained Project Director Tom Perez.

In October 2019, City Council directed staff to proceed with the renovation and directed staff to “maintain the window to the sea,” Perez explained. 

Council discussion also included maintaining the boardwalk look and feel, Perez noted.

“The boardwalk remains, that’s kind of the yellow brick road,” Whitin said. “That’s the most dominant feature, all of these are just plug-ins, these are small items.”

The boardwalk also historicizes the park in a good way, she added. 

The council action also required that the renovation: Preserve the majority of grass in the main landscaped areas; improve irrigation to increase efficiency; replace small areas of grass with drought tolerant plants that would not impede views; replace benches to match character of the boardwalk; and preserve existing plaques from benches. 

Additional improvements to be considered include replacement of damaged concrete pavement and updating light fixtures and trash receptacles. 

The scope of this project does not include renovations to the boardwalk (renovated in 2009 and repaired in 2011 from storm damage), playground (replaced in 2013), or basketball courts (resurfaced in 2019).

Trash cans at Main Beach are generally the standard, aggregate concrete containers on the hardscape areas and the plastic containers on the sand. The concrete bins are durable, but are starting to show signs of deterioration and years of built-up grime, Perez said. They are cleaned routinely, he added, but the stains tend to stick after so long. 

The plastic containers are functional, and staff is able to move them around in the sand during the summer.

As a solution, they could replace all aggregate trash cans and options would be between the same concrete style, wood, or synthetic wood. 

At the sand level, staff’s idea is to put wood or metal containers on concrete piers, so they can also survive when sand levels go down. During the busy summer months, staff would still place the portable plastic bins out on the sand.

“Really put them where the people are to ensure the trash is making it into the receptacle,” Perez said.

The current light bollards are unobtrusive and very sturdy, Perez said, but there are some broken beyond repair that need to be replaced.

Staff’s considering keeping the light bollard for all pathway lighting and replacing the damaged fixtures. They looked into upgrading them to LED, but the manufacturer said they can’t replace just the bulb as it would require replacing the entire structure, which would be a costly endeavor. 

Existing overhead lighting is representative of the beach/harbor theme and matches the character of the boardwalk, Perez said. However, they are susceptible to vandalism (staples from flyers, engraved letters/symbols, etc.).

The suggested idea is to replace the wood pole with a concrete pole that simulates wood, Perez explained, like the light standard at the village entrance parking lot with the wood grain texture. Or they could install aluminum posts that are a bit more resistant to vandalism.

Currently, the lights are a lantern-style and do not meet the city’s requirement to focus the light toward the ground, Perez pointed out. They would need to be replaced with something that focuses the light down, either style as a hanging lantern or a completely different design.

Commissioners also directed staff to further explore LED lighting or possible solar-powered options. 

They also agreed that aluminum should not be used for the light poles or any fixtures. It won’t rust like steel, but it ends up getting popped and pitted from corrosion, Sadler noted. 

“And it just doesn’t look right either,” he added.

Wood or synthetic wood was again the favored style, for both the light poles and the benches. 

Commission reviews concept Main Beach benches tower

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Benches and the lifeguard tower at Main Beach Park 

The current wood benches require continuous maintenance and are painted annually, at a minimum. They look worn despite the frequent maintenance because they are used so often, Perez explained. Commemorative plaques on any benches would be removed and placed on the new bench.

Looking at the condition and style of the pavement, it’s inconsistent throughout Main Beach, Perez noted. 

At the south end of the park there is a stamped pattern that is no longer manufactured. That area is damaged beyond repair and needs to be replaced.

Down on the north end of the park, pavers were installed when the marine safety headquarters was built. They are attractive, durable and in good shape, he noted. Regarding this project, they would be left in place.

In the central area near Laguna Channel, there’s a newer, different stamp pattern that was chosen to mimic what was there before but with not as deep of a groove, which is easier for pedestrians and easier to maintain.

Several commissioners favored the pavers across all of the pavement, so it’s consistent within the park. Dubin and others suggested replacing all of it.

It’s a “patchwork quilt,” Whitin said, and while she agreed about making it consistent, trying to replace everything isn’t in the budget. 

Throughout the park there are walkways that are standard gray pavement, some that have lifted or cracked over time. The proposal is to replace all that concrete with a light style, Perez said. 

The proposed concept is to leave the majority of the pedestrian circulation as is, the exception being the area between Ocean and Forest avenues. 

When the crosswalk at Ocean Avenue was moved recently (as part of the crosswalk enhancement project), the nearby walkway became disjointed.

“You see folks crossing Coast Highway and straight through the grass or people pulling wagons and whatnot,” Perez said.

Staff’s suggestion, after discussing it with police and marine safety, is to create pathways that head straight to the stairs that lead to the sand that would guide people right to the sand and provide a clear path for public safety. 

“The idea would be that those walkways could also be decorative, so something to really make that the entrance into the park and then, in the background, there would be the white tower,” Perez said. 

One thought is to have concrete banding on the outside with the same pavers at the marine safety HQ.

Commission reviews concept modified circulation

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Photo/Art courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

The preliminary modified circulation plan proposed for Main Beach Park 

Regarding the area near Forest Avenue, the idea is to continue working on the design of the promenade and have that area mirror what’s happening on the other side of Coast Highway. 

“It would continue the experience from the promenade to Main Beach,” Perez said. 

Also, in the grassy area between Ocean and Forest avenues, staff is proposing to remove the excess concrete pad and path that are seldom used and replace with plantings. This would enable them to enlarge the planter area around the big tree, whose roots are right up against the concrete and lifting it up.

There was also some discussion about removing other unnecessary walkways and adding landing plazas for the new path that will connect to the crosswalk at Ocean Avenue.

Kellenberg suggested replacing the bike parking that was removed along the perimeter somewhere to encourage mobility to the park, but not on the boardwalk. 

The lawn areas are uneven, so the proposed improvement is regrade, re-sod and include a more efficient irrigation system. A few areas have also been identified as spaces to change to planters, without taking away any usable space.

In the lawn areas, the succulents or certain other shrubs weren’t favored by some of the commissioners. 

“I understand the cost issues related to it, but…they’re coastal tolerant, they tolerate the salt, but they’re not really seaside (plants), there’s no romance in those plants, those are the kind of plants you’d find in parking lots,” Whitin said. “You could do something a little more dramatic, with grasses, for example, it’s low and sweeping and when the wind is blowing you’ve got some action.”

And those other shrubs are a bit fussy and a lot of work to maintain, she added. 

Although the boardwalk is not a part of the project, the existing conduits are planned to be relocated and concealed. 

Commissioners also directed staff to explore every possible option, including what might be available in the future, in order to remove the conduit along the boardwalk. Covering it with a structure will just need attention and maintenance down the road, Dubin noted. 

The marine safety access ramp at the north end of the beach also needs to be replaced. As sand levels go down, there is a huge drop-off, Perez pointed out. Staff is proposing reconstructing it to make it more reliable for city vehicles to cross.


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