By David N. Young
Los Angeles has the miracle mile, Las Vegas has the “strip” and Catalina Island has “Crescent Ave.” These areas where tourists are found in incredible concentration and whereby proximity can mean business.
Ideas that could eventually have a major impact on the future of Catalina, and proximity to Crescent Avenue were tossed around during a special council planning meeting Tuesday.
It was a lively discussion that ranged from outdoor dining to dog routes, music and more as the council aired their ideas but took no action on the proposals.
Much of the early discussion centered around outdoor dining on Crescent Ave, with some council members expressing opposition and others more open to it.
While Mayor Anni Marshall said she was opposed to “commercial” establishments having outdoor dining, she is now and has been a major proponent of outdoor tables in “public” spaces.
Cinde MacGugan Cassidy, mayor pro-tem, said the city needs to “make a decision” and move on. If the council doesn’t want it, “we need to put the issue to rest.” Whatever decision is made, she said it should be fair to everyone.
Oley Olsen seemed to be opened minded about it, saying while he understands there are problems with it, “if it can be safely done,” outdoor dining “adds to the community.”
Council member Richard Hernandez said there are issues with “public safety” and outdoor dining that concerns him. In the event of a fire or other emergencies, tables and chairs could obstruct firefighters and other first responders.
Newly elected member Pam Albers could not attend the special session.
If the Council does eventually agree to take any action, they will have to overcome unwavering opposition from Fire Chief Mike Krug, who repeatedly warned the Council about the dangers posed by outdoor dining on Crescent Ave.
“This is easy for me,” said Krug, pointing to a folder of research that he said was gathered the last time the council discussed the issue in 2014. “We did a mock-up (of an outdoor dining scenario). It went south quickly,” he said. Citing a number of city codes that would be at risk, Krug told the Council sternly that “I can’t even see why we continue to have this discussion.”
Local businessman Jack Tucey, who owns several establishments in Avalon, was less than impressed, saying in essence that he felt like if the city and the fire department would sit at the table together, he felt like some reasonable accommodation could be found.
“This is a tourist town,” he said, citing Belmont Shore, saying if they can find a reasonable accommodation, so could Catalina. “With certain restrictions, we could work it out to attract business,” he said.
Krug said the Fire Department “can and does support” special events and other opportunities.
MacGugan-Cassidy then spoke about “pocket parks” in Long Beach and said perhaps Catalina could consider similar ideas that could work in Avalon.
Olsen said Avalon could consider special days “when it (outdoor dining) makes sense.”
Interim City Manager Denise Radde said city staff would take the points of the discussion and attempt to work out policies to reach some reasonable accommodation.
Longer term, the council seemed interested in having Community Services Director Dan Huncke work with a design firm to come back with some design specifications for Crescent Avenue to include some new concepts as part of a “Recreation Master Plan.”
Public Works Director Bob Greenlaw took the discussion a bit further, saying the previous city where he worked experienced a profound benefit from “outdoor dining.” He explained that targeted areas of the city were “activated” with outdoor dining experienced exponential growth.
Greenlaw suggested “activating” areas beyond Crescent Avenue with outdoor dining to expand areas where tourists gather, generating more income for the city. Greenlaw said his department is also working with a design firm and they too, will come back with ideas for the council to consider.
In other discussions during the special session;
• Discussed ‘dog routes’ and other considerations involving “service dogs” versus “emotional support dogs” on Crescent Avenue and other areas of Catalina as officials expressed concern that so many dog owners were “totally abusing” the system.
Existing laws and restrictions would potentially “set the Sheriff’s Department up to fail” if they mandated stronger enforcement.
• Enjoyed a lively discussion about street vendors, performers and pop up food booths on Crescent Avenue saying it was a delicate balance protecting the interest of merchants on front street that “pay three times the rent” of other merchants and temporary vendors or performers, whose cost of business is much less if on a temporary basis.
• Heard Kelly Skoos passionately ask the council to find some space for artists and art association members to sell their work to the tourists. “People really want to buy things that are made here on Catalina,” she said, adding that artists can’t afford the high rents and other costs associated with doing business on Crescent Avenue.
• Listened to a debate, mostly between Marshal and MacGugan-Cassidy, about whether Avalon needs more or less music and the conditions under which it can be played.