The city of Irvine is in negotiations with home-builder Five Point Communities to invest millions of dollars in construction of the Great Park in exchange for doubling the amount of homes already agreed upon to to 9,800 from 4,900, the Los Angeles Times reported on Oct. 18.
According to the chief executive of Five Point, more than 28,000 people toured the first phase during the opening weekend. So whether we like it or not my friends, the tourists are coming! The only logical response to this, as opposed to wishing the tourists away, is to try to more smartly manage the influx. And as I have said before, building an archaic parking structure at our village entrance is not a smart way to do this.
Capital improvements are crucial at this point in time for the future of Laguna Beach. We must think clearly and with long-term vision on how to deal with the issues facing us: namely, parking and traffic. Improvements are worthwhile if they add to everyone’s convenience and serve to enhance our distinctive character and charm. Enhanced shuttles to clustered parking on the city’s periphery (everyone loves the trolleys!) and maximizing existing resources are two smart ideas that should be implemented. We should focus on decreasing the amount of cars that circulate downtown (30 percent of which is driving around looking for a parking place) and increase pedestrian traffic by making our streets more pedestrian friendly.
So how do we pay for these enhancements? We have to borrow the money through municipal bonds. Laguna has no citywide debt, which means we have the capacity to borrow money and are highly credit worthy, i.e. we can get good rates. We also have several options for financing improvements with visitors, not residents, paying the lion’s share of the debt. One of these options is to increase parking rates and assure that monies from the parking fund go to repaying the debt and not to City Hall to balance the budget. It’s tourists that are impacting our town and instead of fighting this, we need to harness it.
Each year, more tourists visit our town and the negative impact in regards to traffic, parking and congestion keep increasing. An urban planner with fresh ideas is what we need to make Laguna more beautiful, more convenient and more distinctively charming. Coordinating a multi-level effort in which the town as a whole is considered is critical to our future. We need solid advice along these lines, and then we need to cultivate a working consensus on how best to get the ball rolling.
New homes are being built in Irvine as we speak and we need to be prepared for their impact on our town so that we can all continue to enjoy our little slice of heaven without unduly putting a huge financial burden on the residents.
Michele Hall, Laguna Beach
The writer is president of Laguna Beach Republicans.