LAGUNA BEACH : First Phase OKd for Forest Alley Project

A drive to spruce up Forest Alley got another boost when the Laguna Beach City Council approved preliminary plans for the first phase of the renovation.

That portion of the project, endorsed with a 4-0 vote last week, would tackle the alley's drainage, paving and lighting problems at a cost of between $81,000 and $110,000. Mayor Lida Lenney was absent.

The council also asked the city staff to explore funding plans for a second stage of work that would focus on the aesthetics of the passageway by doing things such as installing tables and chairs and adding decorative tile, plants and artwork.

The heavily traveled 600-foot stretch of pavement runs from Beach Street to Coast Highway between Ocean and Forest avenues. In all, proponents say, the project could cost $250,000.

A representative from the SWA Group in Laguna Beach, which is designing the project, presented a slide slow for the council, showing a variety of ways to redecorate the walkway.

"This is an opportunity to recapture space for public use," Susan Whitin said.

Other possibilities for beautifying the walkway could include adding an archway of lights over the alley and replacing manhole covers with underlit laminated glass, she said.

While the effort to embellish the alley has been fueled by volunteer support and community enthusiasm, some business owners feel the first phase should be the last.

They say it is not good business to tempt pedestrians into an alley when sales are generated by people walking past window displays at the front of stores.

"I don't think we should encourage people to walk from Beach to the ocean," said Dwight Anderson, owner of the Renaissance Cafe on Forest Avenue. "I don't think that makes any sense."

While proponents say their fund-raising efforts will help support the project, it is not yet clear where the money will come from to complete the renovation. This year's budget allows $80,000 for the project, all of which is expected to be consumed by the first phase of work.

At the council meeting last week, Village Laguna President Johanna Felder challenged the city to pledge half of the funds needed.

"This is a city project which in better times would have been funded by the city," she said.

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