Officials, residents discuss walking tour results

About 30 residents and business owners joined planning commissioners inside City Council chambers Wednesday night to discuss results from a Jan. 12 walking tour of the city, which focused on the Downtown Specific Plan.

Laguna Beach Planning Commission chairman Norm Grossman led the meeting, where public input was not only warranted, but encouraged. Several attendees said the downtown area needs to be "enlivened," while a handful of community members called the gas station at the corner of Broadway Street and Coast Highway unsightly and called for another use of that location.

The message was that downtown needs an identity and plan, many said.

"[Downtown] is not that bad, but everyone wants to make it better," said David Rubel, a business owner on Forest Avenue who has lived in Laguna for 22 years.

"I came here because I wanted to live and work downtown," Rubel said. "I'm fortunate to be downtown, but things get tired and things need refurbishing."

Rubel commented on the difficult task of keeping the sidewalk in front of his business clean. He said dogs soil the sidewalk with feces or urine. His business is also next to a bakery. If a customer spills coffee or food, it could sit there either until it rains or the sidewalk is cleaned by an outside company, which Rubel said washes the ground once a month.

About 50 residents and members of the City Council and Planning Commission went on the January walking tour. Results from the tour were placed into six categories, which the public commented on during Wednesday's meeting. The categories were: Forest Avenue (downtown commercial district), Ocean Avenue (resident-serving district), the Broadway-Coast Highway intersection, the Broadway downtown commercial district, the Village Entrance (civic art district – businesses along Laguna Canyon Road), and the entire downtown area.

Within each category, residents and business owners identified as many as 20 specific items to address, from reducing traffic to encouraging pedestrians along Forest Avenue, to better landscaping on private corner lots near the Broadway-Coast Highway intersection.

Talk also centered on the Festival of Arts district along Laguna Canyon Road, home to the annual Pageant of the Masters each summer.

One resident wondered why the Festival of Arts area was only used for a couple months during the summer.

Fred Sattler, president of the Festival of Arts' board of directors, replied that the area is not conducive to major outdoor events.

Another concern brought up was enlivening the downtown area while keeping the charm.

Grossman said the Planning Commission will meet on alternate weeks (the first and third Wednesdays) to address the Downtown Specific Plan. Commissioners hold their regular meetings on the second and fourth Wednesdays.

He also said the Planning Commission will hold a workshop on downtown parking on March 20. The planning commission is conducting a study of downtown parking, with results hopefully available by March, Grossman said.

Ken Sadler, a recent appointee to the Planning Commission, attended both the meeting and walking tour. He said strict height limitations have hampered development in downtown.

Sadler suggested more residential use mixed with commercial.

"[The mixture] could appeal to people who are willing to put up with a little more noise," Sadler said.

At least two people during the meeting praised Laguna College of Art + Design's plans for increased student housing as a positive step for development in Laguna Canyon. On Tuesday the City Council approved the proposal from Mark Orgill to convert 2,000 square feet of a Laguna Canyon building that would be used for student housing and a restaurant.


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