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Sit, walk, eat — Laguna’s Park Avenue plaza is now open

Justin Thai and his wife, Debbie, regularly drive from their Tustin home to Laguna Beach for the Greek food at Adonis Restaurant.

They've needed to search across South Coast Highway at Main Beach Park for a spot to eat their takeout, but as of last weekend, they have a new, albeit temporary, place to sit and enjoy their food — the 200 block of Park Avenue.

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On Saturday the city, in partnership with Transition Laguna Beach, the Laguna Beach Beautification Council and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, opened the area to the public as a pedestrian gathering space called Park Plaza.

The 5,200-square-foot plaza offers tables and chairs, including clusters of low, pod-style seats, along with shrubs such as rosemary and lantana and box trees including magnolia and jacaranda. Overhead, strings of lights are attached to the ficus trees that line each side of the street.

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Representatives of Transition Laguna Beach, the Beautification Council and the Chamber of Commerce proposed the plaza as a way to create a convivial community center where locals and visitors can relax, interact and eat.

"We're all for it," Justin Thai said late Sunday afternoon. "There are zero areas to congregate. Now families can come out here, have lunch and go back to the beach."

At another table, one woman sat reading a book while La Mirada resident George Garcia and girlfriend Andrea Flores ate ice cream while sitting on one of the curved benches.

"It's nice to have the sunset," Garcia said.

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The City Council approved the plaza last month, and the Planning Commission on Oct. 4 granted the organizers a temporary use permit.

Adonis Restaurant management gave its support, after initial trepidation. The restaurant is on Park Avenue.

"At first I was scared about the homeless because they might [urinate] beside the door … and I was going to lose drive-through customers" who call ahead to place an order for pickup, Adonis manager Mozart Gadar said. "But it will balance. I will lose the drive-through [customers] but at the same time will get customers who walk through."

Gadar said another benefit of the plaza is that the alignment of that section of Park Avenue provides a wider view of Main Beach than Forest Avenue.

"Why do people come here?" Gadar said. "To see the water."

Some residents at the Sept. 12 City Council meeting said closing the 200 block of Park Avenue would cause circulation problems by taking away a shortcut to get to Top of the World and other neighborhoods.

The area will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through Dec. 1, with the option to extend the plaza through Jan. 2, according to a city staff report.

"The chamber wanted there to be two phases so that the project could be completed Dec. 1 if there is some kind of negative impact on local businesses," Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson wrote in an email.

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A staff report prepared for the Planning Commission's Oct. 4 meeting indicated Jan. 7 as the last day, but Johnson said time to remove the furniture, plants and lights was taken into account.

The three organizations selected the furniture and plants; the city will reimburse them, according to Johnson.The city will empty containers for trash and recyclables. Gadar volunteered to pick up trash and clean tables.

Eight metered parking spaces are not in use because of the plaza.

In coming days, the city will add a security camera, enabling police to monitor the plaza area, Johnson said.

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

UPDATES:

2:40 p.m.: This article was updated with information about city reimbursement for furniture and plants in the plaza.

This article was originally published at 7:10 a.m.

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