The Village Entrance has been a polarizing issue for as long as I can remember. Yet the current rush to a solution cannot be justified by how long we have been evaluating options. I do not believe the current proposal is a prudent decision for a variety of reasons. It is difficult to digest all that is included in this proposal, yet with the positive vote of just three of our City Council members, the proposal will move ahead without the bulk of Laguna Beach’s population knowing what they are taking on.
From my perspective, there are a number of issues that need to be understood and agreed to by all residents before we move ahead.
As I understand it, the primary objectives of the proposed plan are to provide additional parking, and to beautify our village entrance. I agree with both of those objectives, but question whether the solution is the optimal use of scarce city funds.
The proposal will net approximately 200 additional parking spaces, and a potentially beautiful park along Laguna Canyon between Forest Avenue and Art A Fair. I’ve heard figures of as high $65 million to achieve this. In addition, it will require five years of construction, meaning excavation, noise, air pollution, traffic congestion, etc. I question whether it will be completed on time, or on budget. The current budget debacle with the new Newport Beach City Hall is not an isolated incident. Additionally, the proposed budget would require a bond issue, which we would be paying back for 25 years. Given the question marks surrounding the economy and our history of natural disasters, the burden of interest payments on bonds may be more than we can handle.
As much as I love the beautiful parks we have in Laguna Beach, do we really need a large and expensive park so far from the beach or heavily populated residential neighborhoods? My fear is, that both the new park and the massive parking structure will be used two and a half months a year, and be virtually empty the balance of the year. I foresee a need for an increased police presence, which will also tax the city’s resources.
I would much prefer to see us do something we can afford now, and continually improve it over the years as budgets permit. For example, improving the entire parcel from City Hall to the Art A Fair with well thought-out landscaping, parking, walking and bike paths; credit card parking meters that can vary parking rates based on seasonal supply and demand; and well thought-out lighting would be a significant upgrade to what we have now, both in terms of parking capacity and aesthetics without going into the prolonged construction and extended debt of the current proposal. We have already seen that our tourists want to be close to Coast Highway and the beach. No amount of spending is going to change that behavior.
At the very least I would propose we allow residents to vote on alternatives. We’ve had votes on much smaller issues than this. Let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish, by not putting it to a vote because of the cost of a special election. I honestly don’t believe a majority of our residents would vote to spend approximately $300,000 per additional parking space, when there are so many other issues that that money could be spent on.
A City Council vote of 3 to 2 does not justify moving ahead from a common sense standpoint. Let’s vote.
Jon Firestone, Laguna Beach