The Laguna Beach City Council has approved a slew of new initiatives and a new long-term approach to assist struggling businesses in the city.
More than a dozen measures — ranging from encouraging residents to “shop local” and landlords to lower rents, to indefinitely extending free parking at a downtown lot — were approved in short order Tuesday night.
The initiatives were the work of a Business Task Force that met for two months.
“We came up with ideas quickly because of the urgency of the situation,” said Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, who led the committee with Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson. “We started with eight members but 30 people showed up to the meetings. We came together in the true spirit of community.”
Rollinger acknowledged “there is no silver bullet” to ensure that businesses survive a global economic downturn.
“We recommended programs we believe will make a difference,” Rollinger said. “The future of the business community is in our hands. We must remember how important it is to keep the business community vital. We are fortunate the have a downtown and must do everything we can to shop, dine and do business in Laguna Beach.”
Hanging planters nixed
One proposal that did not pass muster with the council was a plan to install hanging planters on lampposts.
“Let’s not hang planters,” said Councilwoman Jane Egly. “Every town in trouble is doing that.”
After City Manager Ken Frank noted that hanging planters had previously been up in Laguna Beach for about seven years and proved to be difficult to maintain, the measure was eliminated from the list.
Other measures included:
Authorizing Mayor Kelly Boyd to write to commercial landlords and encourage them to work with tenants regarding rents.
A “Third Thursday’s Hospitality Night” with free parking after 5 p.m., sidewalk sales and entertainment and the closure of the west end of Forest Avenue from Glenneyre Street to South Coast Highway.
Encourage the owners of vacant storefronts to display local artists’ work in their windows.
Extend indefinitely the free parking offered to anyone at the former city employees parking lot on Laguna Canyon Road at Forest Avenue, except for the two summer months when the art festivals are in season. The parking program has been highly successful at drawing employees away from metered parking spots and neighborhoods, Frank said. During the summer, free parking is provided at the Laguna Beach High School parking lot.
Long-term committee appointed
The council also approved a new council-led committee, dubbed the Long-Term Business Assistance Task Force, to meet for six to nine months on longer term strategies to bolster the business community.
Two members each from the Chamber of Commerce, Visitors and Conference Bureau, and the public will also be appointed.
The committee will be co-chaired by Councilwoman Toni Iseman and Pearson, with Mayor Kelly Boyd as an alternate.
Boyd’s ownership of the Marine Room Tavern presented a possible conflict of interest, which was settled when City Atty. Phil Kohn agreed that he should serve as an alternate, not a full member.
Survey to be conducted
The committee’s first order of business will be to conduct a survey of residents on how the business community can better serve them, and also to determine how the visitor population is being served. The committee will also look at city policies that may help or hurt businesses, parking issues, and even the possibility of requiring shop owners to have uniform hours of operation.
“We want to be able to gather information to find out where people are coming from,” Pearson said. She also said that one of her priorities will be “to recruit and retain businesses.”
Dennis Myers, a member of the original task force, was enthusiastic about the survey.
“This is essential,” he said. “We don’t understand the town well in terms of business. The town does not run strategically.”
Pearson said she was astonished by demographic information that was brought to the original task force, including the fact that the city has an average income level 32% higher than the state average, and that the city experienced a 40% turnover in households over the past eight years.
“That means we have a lot of new people in Laguna,” Pearson said.
CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.