Mary A. Castillo
Before dawn cracked, workers and volunteers were out clearing the
streets of Downtown Laguna. Yellow tape and orange fencing went up
along Forest Avenue, Third Street, Mermaid and Glenneyre Street.
Soon the streets would be lined by spectators and filled with
bicyclists ready to be the first participants in the Laguna Beach
Rotary Grand Prix.
The race started at 7 a.m. and in the beginning most the of the
Downtown shops were closed. But as the day progressed and visitors
strolled along Forest Avenue some merchants became frustrated that
regular customers had a hard time getting Downtown and the race
didn’t seem to bring in many new customers.
The streets were closed off until about 4 p.m.
Many residents also became annoyed that traveling through town
became a nightmare as traffic backed up along the side streets. A pop
warner football game at the high school didn’t help drivers on Park
Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Doris Higgins said the crowd at the event
was well mannered, but some residents got “pretty testy.”
“Some citizens didn’t know about it. How they missed it I don’t
know because it was in all the papers.”
She said traffic began to back up at about 11:30 p.m. because of
some soccer and football games.
But controversy was the furthest thing from Roger Worthington’s
mind when he entered the category 30-plus race. The Capistrano Beach
resident, who said he participates in more than 50 races a year, said
the course was extremely challenging.
“On paper it looks simple, but after 50 minutes it’s exhausting.
It puts the racer’s abilities in lung capacity, endurance, speed and
bike handling to the test.”
He also said the race was well organized and volunteers were
cheerful, but aggressive when they had to be, keeping people from
wandering onto the course.
“It brought excitement to Downtown. Very few folks in America have
seen high-speed criterium. It’s difficult to be the first when
organizing an event of this size. They meet a lot of resistance, but
they’re building something for the future. In a year or two this
could be a nationally renowned event. I think it has potential.”
Labor Power Racing team member Roger Worthington agreed about the
benefits of the race and said it showcased the city and demonstrated
that it is 100% behind sports in general.
“It was a very positive and beautiful event. The volunteers did a
wonderful job and the city was obviously behind it. It was a pleasure
to be part of it and I hope it continues in the future.”
The future is just what Pacific Gallery owner Steven Hough is
worried about. He said he and other merchants are furious about what
the event did to business that day.
“My first point of contention is that we’ve been in this location
for 12 years and pay $5,500 rent per month and no one was notified by
“I learned about it Friday, the day before the event. I talked to
people up and down this street and no one knew until Friday.”
“The Rotary walked around with their fliers and passed it out to
employees,” he said. “We get so much propaganda and people walking in
from charities asking for a hand out, we just throw those fliers out.
We see it as junk mail.”
Hough clarified that he and most merchants are supportive of
charities and aren’t against the race or raising money for Meals on
“The point is that none of the merchants new about it,” he said.
“We think the city could find other places for a bike race. We just
don’t want to close Forest Avenue.”
“Our business did zero business on Saturday,” he said. “In all 12
years of business we’ve never had a zero Saturday.
Business owner Laura Downing said she too was not adequately
“I had no idea what we were in for until the day before.”
Downing said her clothing shop did about one-third the business of
what it would normally would do on a Saturday. “And that’s a generous
figure,” she said.
“I have no problems with the Grand Prix, but I don’t like it to
cut into my business hours.”
Scandia Bakery and Coffee Shop owner, Ben Tabrizi, agreed that the
event wasn’t good for business but said he supports it anyway.
“It wasn’t hyped up and a lot of people didn’t know about it. We
found out because our delivery guy couldn’t drive on the street
Saturday,” he said. “But it was a nice event, something new. I’m all
Mayor Wayne Baglin said he sympathizes with merchants and
residents, but at the same time, he sees potential for the event.
“By looking at the quality of riders it was a world-class event,”
Mayor Wayne Baglin said. “In that respect I gave it an A-plus. For
its impact on the community in terms of traffic and circulation I
gave it an F. For its impact on the commercial district, it gets very
close to an F.”
“I’ve never seen more stores vacant on Forest Avenue and Coast
Highway. There was no parking, no way to get in and out. People just
wanted to get out of Laguna Beach.
“If they request a future event there will need to be dramatic
changes to mitigate access and business impact,” he said.
Co-chair of the Grand Prix steering committee Bill Parrish said
the Rotary did try to get the word to owners earlier in the week.
“The merchants were contacted in person Wednesday and Thursday,”
he said. “I personally walked almost half of Forest Avenue. We didn’t
always talk to the manager or owner. A whole team of Rotarians walked
through Downtown with packets that contained a free sandwich ticket,
a brochure, a letter from me and a memo from the city.”
Fellow co-chair Patrick Fetzer said more publicity would have
helped bring in more people and inform residents, but he said they
did there part to remind everyone.
“The merchants didn’t hear us when we said that it was going to
happen right on your street. all they heard was a request for a
hand-out or a donated prize,” Fetzer said.
“We knew it would upset some people but so many racers and
families were excited to be there,” he said. “There were over 200
kids in the kids’ race, and it was so cool watching them enjoy the
spotlight and get medals. I hope the parents don’t take it for
Directory of Community Services Pat Berry said he felt the day
went smoothly and he was impressed with the concern of Rotarians in
making sure everything got back to normal.
As far as notification to business owners, he said the event was
on the City Council agenda as part of the sign ordinance approved
Sept. 10 and that the event itself was approved in December 2001. He
added that there had been also been a survey about the event.
One thing all parties seem to agree on is that if the Grand Prix
is to happen again next year, some changes must be made. Whether it
be a day change, revised traffic control or improved communication,
more can be done, in nearly everyone’s eyes, to make the event run
smoothly for all.
Baglin suggested a signature system when they notify business
owners and managers. He also suggested bigger signs at entrances to
town and above major streets two weeks ahead of the event.
“In their ad they may want to put a warning about traffic,” Baglin
said. “Sponsors and the Rotary are responsible to get advertising
paid for. The city’s responsibility is to authorize street closures.
If they can’t assure us they can mitigate these problems in the
future, we can’t authorize it.”
Parish said the steering committee is open to making changes where
“This was a major learning process and we’re entering a different
dimension [of fund-raising] for a good reason,” he said.
Sgt. Higgins gave a pragmatic suggestion for easing traffic.
“If they apply to do it again next year, I hope they check about
high school and soccer games. Otherwise it was a fantastic event.”
* ALICIA LOPEZ contributed to this story.