Los Angeles Times


Temporary closure aims to create a more walkable city. It may become permanent.

- By Bryce Alderton bryce.alderton@latimes.com

The Laguna Beach City Council has approved plans to temporaril­y close a popular thoroughfa­re as part of a larger effort to create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown.

The council agreed last week to close most of Forest Avenue, from Pacific Coast Highway to Glenneyre Street, in August and September to create gathering spaces known as parklets, or pocket parks.

The plan stems from a desire of city officials and many residents to reduce car congestion while fostering a walkable downtown. The city hired urban planning firm MIG last year to help update the Downtown Specific Plan, which contains policies on traffic circulatio­n, parking, building size and use of space.

City staff and MIG will determine specific dates and expected costs for the street closure and the number and locations of parklets — outdoor spaces that could include seating with plants and sculptures — and report back to the council.

The city will use the temporary closure to assess the viability of closing Forest Avenue permanentl­y.

Council members also want the city and MIG to consider closing a portion of Ocean Avenue and ask business owners if they would like parklets on that street.

The Saturday farmers market held in the Forest Avenue/Laguna Canyon Road lot will need to relocate in September so the city can move a sewer line. Ocean Avenue is a possible spot for the market.

A handful of business owners, including Robert Sarhad of Chantilly Ice Cream, Chris Keller of the Marine Room on Ocean, and Marc Cohen of 230 Forest Avenue and Watermarc restaurant­s, attended the council meeting to lend support for the street closures.

“It’s going to beautify Laguna Beach,” Sarhad told the council.

Keller and Cohen said they would help pay for parklets.

Details need to be worked out before the council decides on any permanent closures. Councilman Kelly Boyd wondered whether restaurant­s could serve alcohol without food to customers inside the parklets.

There’s also the question of how to account for losing 48 parking spaces if Forest Avenue is closed.

Councilwom­an Toni Iseman suggested city staff consult with building owners about opening up their parking lots when not in use and allowing the public to park for a fee determined by the business.

The business owners “would get the money,” Iseman said. “We don’t care how much they charge as long as they let people park there.”

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said offers by Keller and Cohen to pay for parklets revealed a shift in attitude.

“It’s extraordin­arily important [Keller] wants a parklet in front of his place,” Dicterow said. “In the past, business owners did not want these things.... Ultimately, it’s about retaining if not enhancing the charm and character of the downtown. It would be a major quantum leap forward if [closing Forest] turns out to be a success.”

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