Laguna Beach brings in design firm as it looks at future of Promenade on Forest

A few locals gather on the Promenade on Forest in downtown Laguna Beach, which opened to the public in June 2020.
A few locals gather on the Promenade on Forest in downtown Laguna Beach, which opened to the public in June 2020.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach City Council has awarded a contract for preliminary engineering and entitlements for the Promenade on Forest Avenue.

The proposal brought to the Tuesday meeting was unanimously approved, with conditions, after substantial public input and a lengthy discussion. The city awarded the contract to RRM Design Firm, which will be paid $376,990 for its services.

Five proposals were submitted. An evaluation committee reviewed the proposals. The other proposals came from Gensler, Psomas, Stantec Consulting Services Inc. and SWA.

Thomas Perez, a capital program manager for the city, said that the firm will be asked to draft a programming plan.

It is expected to address areas such as the space allotted to restaurants and retail businesses, as well as places to gather and those designated for live performances.

A staff report for the project noted that the programming plan would need to consider a wide array of activities and events, including musical performances and dancing, farmers markets and art shows.

Two conceptual alternatives are to be provided, one of which would involve extensive improvements such as leveling the street, new lighting and landscaping, reconstructed sidewalks and decorative pavement.

“We feel [the draft programming plan] would be approximately a two-month effort, and then the entitlement would be an additional 10 months, assuming no unforeseen issues arise during that process, and so we anticipate the completion in obtaining all of the necessary entitlements by June of 2022,” Perez said.

Perez added that stakeholder meetings and three community meetings would be conducted to get public input as the draft programming plan is prepared, and then that plan would be brought back to council.

Once the conceptual design alternatives are prepared, those also would return for council’s consideration.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted to continue the Promenade on Forest as it exists through January 2024 on Tuesday night. Citywide temporary use permits for outdoor dining and retail displays have also been extended through the end of this year.

Councilman George Weiss noted some of the improvements for how he would like the Promenade to function.

“I want the Promenade to feel like it’s not designed as a commercial endeavor,” Weiss said.

“I mentioned I want it to be family-friendly so that families can go there. There should be space set aside that’s designated for kids between 2 and 12, furniture in that space, kid-friendly in size and scale, attractions that engage kids in science, arts and music.”

Both Councilwoman Toni Iseman and Weiss cast their votes of approval with conditions. Attached to the council’s approval were the conditions that the project examine the issues of cost-bearing, design, parking and traffic.

“This is going to happen,” Iseman said. “I just hope that we look at it critically and make decisions that just make it better.”

In supporting the project, Mayor Bob Whalen indicated that he wants to continue to improve upon the Promenade, rather than largely replicate its current version.

“I agree with George,” Whalen said. “I think we need to really think about the programming of it. I love the idea about energizing certain spots for kids, and all of that is going to come out of this process.”

Multiple council members mentioned that the restaurants could be asked to contribute for the continued use of outdoor dining decks.

“We did that to kind of get the town going, and so I think we can offset our loss in parking revenue by charging a leasing fee to the restaurants,” Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf said. “They kind of know this is coming. They knew they aren’t going to get this benefit forever.”

Councilman Peter Blake said that he believes the Promenade is centered around dining, adding that he also felt restaurants would be happy to pay for the additional seating. He responded to critics of the Promenade in throwing his support behind it again.

“One of the things about COVID, which we’re all saying, ‘Well, this is just because of COVID,’” Blake said.

“No, actually, COVID has finally given us an opportunity to take this risk that we’ve wanted to take for so many years, and now that we’ve had a chance to dine outdoors, we find that this is the way we want to eat.”

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