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Flex Style Pricing Envisioned for Parking Meters

Higher parking rates may be among the first changes to affect locals and tourists, if Laguna Beach’s City Council endorses a parking management plan slated for review on Tuesday.

The latest draft of the 168-page plan lays out the vision of Irvine-based RBF Consulting, who examined parking in downtown and along Laguna Canyon Road with an eye toward maximizing use of the existing spots.

The team came up with a “toolbox” of parking strategies involving management, supply, pricing and zoning to be rolled out in the next five years. Taken individually, the consultants estimate that their recommendations might improve parking conditions by up to 15 percent, but they claim that implementing the combined strategies during the peak art-festival season could result in a 20 to 30 percent improvement in efficiency, equivalent to creating over 400 new parking spaces.

City Manager John Pietig recommends moving ahead to start imposing dynamic pricing at parking meters, an inexpensive way to increase turnover in the most desirable locations while promoting greater occupancy in the peripheral lots.

The experts recommend charging the highest rate for on-street spaces in the heart of downtown, with lower rates for metered spots further from the town center and the lowest rates in off-street and peripheral lots. They also recommend charging more during the summer months, to extend paid parking hours to 8 p.m. instead of the current 7 p.m., and replacing coin-operated meters with credit card enabled ones.

On-street metered spaces now charge $1 an hour while drivers pay $2 an hour in off-street parking lots downtown.

The plan originated as one of the city’s special projects, moved forward by a Planning Commission subcommittee of members Norm Grossman and Linda Dietrich along with hired experts.

Combining current assessments of usage with an analysis of data collected through 13 previous studies over 18 years, the consultants evaluated the downtown area between Legion Street and Cliff Drive and Laguna Canyon Road to Laguna College of Art & Design. They also reached out to the public, holding interviews with people affected and leading three public workshops to describe their process and solicit feedback.

Downtown and along Laguna Canyon Road, 1,547 spaces exist, with another 430 made available in the canyon and Laguna College of Art & Design parking lots in summer. Occupancy during the summer, regardless of location or day of the week, holds steady at 80 to 100 percent downtown, while the data shows that the canyon area rarely reaches capacity, with the exception of weekend on-street parking there. Dynamic pricing could encourage some summer motorists to eschew the pricey downtown spots in favor of cheaper parking in the canyon during the summer.

In addition to using dynamic pricing, the consultants came up other strategies to reduce the time it takes a driver to find a parking spot and to encourage park and walk or ride options.

For example, they suggest improved signage that will not only let motorists know where parking is and how much it costs, but whether or not lots are full. Use of a mobile application for finding available parking could enhance this process, they suggest.

Tourists will be more apt to take advantage of the cheaper peripheral lots if they can be assured of reliable and frequent shuttle service to their final destination, the consultants noted. Improved walkability serves a similar purpose. To that end, the plan envisions sidewalk additions and improvements, and potentially a Class 1 bikeway along Laguna Canyon Road.

More complex measures involve a shared curbside valet service downtown; encouraging businesses open only during the day to allow others use of their parking lots at night; converting Ocean Avenue to a one-way street with diagonal parking from Beach Street to S. Coast Highway; and lowering minimum parking requirements needed for conditional use permits.

Administratively, Bob Matson’s team proposed a variety of efficiencies and even recommended that the city consider a reorganization, so that instead of the current scenario where four different departments regulate parking matters, all aspects of parking control either come under one department, or at least come under the oversight of a parking management director.

Each strategy should be monitored for effectiveness over time and adjusted to reflect any change in conditions, the consultants urged.

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