Laguna Beach officials debate making outdoor dining promenade permanent

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Last June, lower Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach became a temporary pedestrian plaza called "Promenade on Forest." It has allowed restaurants to provide outdoor dining, which has been a lifeline during the pandemic.

"They've done such a beautiful job. They've brought artwork into it; they've brought the plants, everything is really beautiful," said resident Meagan Kenny.

Last month, the city council extended the temporary approval and took steps to making the promenade by requesting preliminary design proposals. Mayor Bob Whalen says the city's talked about doing something similar for years, pre-COVID.

"There was a big debate about oh, it's a traffic street, we lose parking and you know, people were kind of split on it I'm sure," said Mayor Whalen.

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After California lifted the regional stay-at-home orders, Orange County is back in the purple tier, allowing restaurants to resume outdoor dining but leaving many other restrictions in place.

Parking is still a hot topic, and Eyewitness News has been told the city council is actively looking for solutions. While the promenade seems to be benefiting restaurants, some of the other retail stores haven't been so lucky. Like Violet Boutique, where the longtime owner is struggling to pay rent.

"Personally, I am not seeing any difference. Not only that, but a decrease in my sales," said Violet Sarhad.

She's not completely against a permanent promenade. She says it's just too soon to make a decision before knowing what summer tourism may bring.

"To see maybe one season without COVID. That way, I will see the impact on my business," she said.

To do it right, the mayor says the conversion could cost up to $3 million -- a price tag that has some residents wondering if they should wait for the economy to improve.

"We're not just firing off and saying go do it. We'll take a look at the financial side, but in order to get there, you've least a year of design, engineering and entitlement process," said Whalen.

The city will get preliminary designs back in April, which is when they could decide if they want to go through with the project. If they give plans for a permanent promenade the green light, construction wouldn't start until about fall 2022.
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