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SOUNDING OFF: Closing Forest Ave. would perk up downtown

Kudos to Tom Ahern of Latitude 33 Bookshop for recommending what so many of us desire: a more lively, dynamic, pedestrian-friendly downtown.

A while back I wrote a letter proposing something that has been talked about for years: closing Forest Avenue from Coast Highway to Glenneyre Street to traffic, and replacing the unsightly “parking lot" with cobblestone streets, alfresco dining, public benches, planters and a cool vibe for artists to perform (a la Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica).

This would encourage people to congregate and interact "” day and night. Every European town has a square to serve that purpose "” isn’t that what a town is for? Cities from Boulder, Colo., to Cape Town in South Africa have recently taken the initiative to create pedestrian-only streets.

Many letters were sent to the local papers expressing support for the idea. I then e-mailed the mayor to gauge her reaction, and she said it could never happen until the proposed Village Entrance parking structure was completed to displace the lost parking on Forest.

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Additionally, she said traffic impact studies would need to be commissioned. Translation: more needless and expensive bureaucracy.

Sometimes the ivory tower experts get it wrong (can anyone say Iraq?), and the best study is trial "” on a limited basis, of course. That’s what Huntington Beach did when they closed downtown to traffic on weekends.

And it’s been a resounding success! On the issue of parking displacement, I recently attended a Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau breakfast where Ken Frank made a presentation on city developments.

When asked the status of the Village Entrance parking structure, Frank said it will take another three years of planning and approvals, and probably two more years of construction after.

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Five more years? Is Frank Gehry designing it? This project has been on the books forever, and it is long overdue. What a shame we can’t get it together faster.

But is the closing of Forest really contingent on satellite parking?

Haven’t we Lagunans learned to adapt? How is it that everyone can make it downtown on Hospitality night "” many more than would ever come on a normal night. Everyone should take stock this year when they frolic with friends and family down Forest Ave and imagine it could be like this every day.

So much about urban planning in California has subordinated the human experience to the automobile. It’s what makes Los Angeles so sterile. It’s what makes Laguna unique, and why it continues to be a destination long after summer has come and gone. But we can do it even better. What’s it gonna take to get the Council behind an idea the residents seems to support?


BILLY FRIED lives in Laguna Beach.


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