Who Gets the Job Creating a Vision for Laguna?

The decision about which urban planner will help shape the guidelines for future development downtown and along Laguna Canyon Road comes down to the wire tonight when the City Council is expected to choose one of two finalists: San Diego-based MIG or Los Angeles-based Sargent Town Planning.

The two firms, along with one other, presented their proposals at a public forum in April. Each team made a case for their ability to assist residents and planners in determining a vision for the city that would inform the planning parameters. At that time, a vocal majority among public participants favored Sargent. Even so, a selection committee, after reference checks and follow up meetings, ultimately decided to back MIG, according to the agenda bill for Tuesday’s Council meeting.

The committee’s consideration also took into account an expanded scope for the project. The urban planning consultants initially focused on updating the existing Downtown Specific Plan, which guides development standards between Cliff Drive and Legion Street. But that changed in the aftermath of heated controversy over recent revelations about the apparent lack of well-defined planning standards along Laguna Canyon Road.

The Council then added a review of zoning and land-use standards along Laguna Canyon Road to the urban consultant’s job. The revised proposals from MIG and Sargent are included in the agenda bill’s staff report on the city’s web site.

The selection committee, comprised of Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen, Council member Steve Dicterow, planning commissioners Robert Zur Schmiede and Anne Johnson, along with city staff, determined that both firms were equal to the task. But they favored MIG as “the best fit,” the report says, citing their visual presentations – such as a 3-D computer-modeling program to illustrate alternate planning scenarios, their public outreach program, and the involvement of key team members in previous and ongoing city projects.

Notably, MIG’s team includes transit experts Bob Matson and Rick Williams, who both worked with Irvine’s RBF to draft the city’s parking management plan. That plan informed recent decisions to raise meter rates, emphasize peripheral lots with trolley links and improve signage. RBF also leads a study underway to improve traffic circulation and bike and pedestrian access along Laguna Canyon Road, as well as a citywide project to address the mobility needs of pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and bus riders.

Meanwhile, Sargent’s ace in the hole at the forum in April was their team partner Andres Duany, principal of the planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk, who earned applause by saying that most planning should center on avoiding actions that could erode Laguna’s character. Planners must figure out “what can go wrong with a place like this and vaccinate it” against those possibilities, he said.

Tuesday’s Council meeting will reveal how the public and the other Council members respond to the committee’s recommendation of MIG over Sargent. They may view MIG’s synergy with RBF as trumping Sargent’s initial crowd appeal, or they may yet prefer the fresh outlook of a new team.



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