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Consensus Builds on Canyon Planning

Norm Grossman, who survived dissent over his re-appointment to the Planning Commission last week, tries out a smart meter, whose new features may help solve parking problems downtown. Photo by Edgar Obrand

Norm Grossman, who survived dissent over his re-appointment to the Planning Commission last week, tries out a smart meter, whose new features may help solve parking problems downtown. Photo by Edgar Obrand

The necessity of revisiting development guidelines along Laguna Canyon Road emerged as a dominant topic of a joint meeting between the City Council, Planning Commission and the Design Review Board this past Saturday.

City officials also signed off on new parking signs directing motorists to peripheral lots and discussed staffing demands, code enforcement and tweaking the planning process for remodels and pool projects to head off potential view disputes.

As data shows that motorists fill street parking first, Deputy City Manager Ben Siegel said staff worked with signage consultants to route drivers towards underused lots, particularly at Pavilions market and Mission Hospital.

New signs should be installed by the end of June before meter rate hikes take effect July 1, which will boost rates to $2 an hour on weekends and weekdays after 5 p.m. on most downtown streets, Siegel said. Better signage should spur more motorists to take advantage of cheaper rates in off street and peripheral lots.

Officials agreed on using a white letter “P” on a green circle with orange trim to effectively brand public parking across the city and to discontinue use of legacy lot names, such as Lumberyard or ACT V, which lack meaning for visitors, Siegel said.

Visit Laguna will provide maps using the same symbols as well as geo-codes to keep the message consistent, he said. As part of the branding effort, consultants suggested that lot attendants wear the same t-shirts, a move also endorsed by the Council.

The controversy over Louis Longi’s artists’ work/live project in Laguna Canyon alongside newer proposals for permanent supportive housing for the homeless and a large storage facility, prompted discussion of an overall canyon development plan.

And applicants of such large projects should be required to also provide three-dimensional models to help officials better evaluate the projects, said Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson. “I think this would shorten the process in the long run,” she said.

Community Development Director John Montgomery was asked to draft language for such a requirement.

Real estate broker and former planning commissioner Bob Chapman, one of only a few residents who attended the meeting, expressed support for revisiting plans governing canyon development that overlap with inconsistent uses.

Steve Dicterow agreed.

“Timing is a conundrum,” pointed out City Manager John Pietig. With new parking measures going into effect and an analysis of mobility on Laguna Canyon Road in the works, he suggested allowing both to come to fruition before moving forward on an overarching plan for the canyon.

“It really makes sense to me to look at the whole canyon as a planning area,” said Mayor Elizaebeth Pearson.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said the already hired urban design firm could step in to assist, especially by holding public workshops for input.

Johnson reported that finishing general plan revisions of policies on landscape and scenic highways will be delayed, waiting on results of the Laguna Canyon Road analysis now being done, as well as other projects that may affect it.

Rising city staffing needs also surfaced since the building division experienced a 20 percent increase in requests for inspections, permits and plan checking. Adding personnel would mean cut backs in other areas, said Pietig. Hiring retirees as part-time contractors could help pick up some slack, he said, but stricter laws preventing public pensioners from double-dipping constrains hiring past employees.

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