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Promenade “experiment” extended

By BARBARA DIAMOND

Laguna Beach residents and visitors will be able enjoy outdoor activities at the Promenade on Forest, at least until January 2024 and maybe longer.

The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to extend the temporary use permit for outdoor dining and retail display through December and directed staff to solicit proposals for analysis, design, and entitlement for the conversion to a permanent plaza.

“Not many good things come out of COVID – this is one of them,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf.

The experimental Promenade was opened to the public on June 15 as an experiment to test whether restaurants and shops would benefit from the creation of a gathering spot downtown.

It enjoyed immediate success. Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said that 96 percent of the visitors to the Promenade in its first three months  supported the concept.

The majority liked the layout and the look, she said.

Promenade experiment opening

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Promenade on Forest opening on June 15

Open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, the Promenade features six dining decks, 41 tables, retail displays, and public art. Before the state issued its stay-at-home order, musicians performed and artists demonstrated their work.

“It has been so much better than I envisioned,” said Councilman Peter Blake.

However, the loss of 47 parking spaces on the vehicle-free block is a concern to some folks, including Councilwoman Toni Iseman.

She cautioned that the effect of the lost parking could not be evaluated based on the traffic counts last summer, which were reduced by COVID-19.

However city staff said the construction of a parking structure could solve the problem.

While the comments from business owners were positive, concerns were expressed by members of the public about the wisdom of making the Promenade permanent, given the uncertain financial impact of the pandemic.

Promenade experiment summer

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Promenade during the summer

“I question why we have to make it permanent now,” said Michele Monda. “Revenue is down, expenses are up. Pensions are coming up. It’s a bamboozle.”

Staff estimated the cost of the preliminary design and entitlement would range between $325,000 and $400,000.

Dupuis expects to bring a recommendation for a consulting team to the council in April.

The project would analyze the impact of traffic on the surrounding area and needed improvements to mitigate the impacts and address the reduction in parking spaces.

Comprehensive hardscape and landscape improvements would be required. The improvements would include leveling the street, reconstructing sidewalks, new lighting, and permanent umbrellas with heating elements.

If approved by the council, the design would be put out to bid.

The estimated total cost for the project ranges between $2.5 and $3 million, according to the staff. The design would consider vehicular and pedestrian access, pedestrian orientation, neighborhood compatibility, General Plan compliance, and sustainability.

A permanent pedestrian plaza would require a Coastal Development Permit, be appealable to the California Coastal Commission, and subject to evaluation pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, which would determine the level of environmental review.

 

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

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Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

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In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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