Since nearly everyone I know is weighing in on the proposed new village entrance, so will I. But first a note on my qualifications: I am a property developer. I know how to build parking structures and I know about soil problems. My opinion about such matters is educated.
I am told the new village entrance is really a new parking structure to be built on an existing parking lot and that it will include a small park.
I am told the improvements will cost about $50 million and the net increase in parking spots will be about 200 spaces (more than what exist today). This means each additional parking place will cost $250,000. This amount is insanely high.
As for concerns about soil and groundwater issues, they are real. The site is a classic cut-and-fill situation. t was created well over four generations ago, meaning it was haphazard. Laguna Canyon was a river-stream 20,000 years before Laguna Canyon Road existed and that river-stream still exists. Now, it is underground and very expensive columns must be built to support the parking structure as they must reach bedrock far below. The chance of running into unforeseen problems is very high because one literally does not know what will be found once digging begins.
Thirdly, the complaints about the proposed park are, in my opinion, real. It is small, poorly situated and inconvenient for locals. At best, it would be a marginal improvement to the city.
However, the people who want a grand village entrance also have a valid point of view. The current Laguna Canyon entrance is abysmal and not worthy of Laguna Beach standards (actually, there is no real entrance). Further, the city does need more parking. The downtown streets are jammed.
Let me make a suggestion: run a design competition. Let the world of land planners and architects know about it. Tell them about the underground river and the bad soil conditions. Tell them about the need for more parking, and that there are many alternatives to provide it. Tell them their ideas must also contain itemized cost projections. But most important, tell them their design must create a sense of “arrival” into Laguna.
The competition should occur in three phases. The first would be to broadcast the competition to architects of the world and have them make tentative design proposals. The second would be a selection of the five best ideas; the city then would pay each finalist a sum, say $100,000 each, to detail their ideas and apply real-world costing information (it is very expensive to provide this detail, which is why the finalists should be paid). Third, select a winner and build it. This is standard design-competition fare; its methodology is neither new nor controversial (although the results might be).
If this methodology is chosen, it will excite the entire architectural world. Laguna Beach is a special place. World-class architects will want their names associated with this special place. Local architects could team-up with them or submit their own ideas. Methods for creating more parking would be generated that are practical and efficient. For example, in Tokyo, where I have spent a lot of time, parking is extraordinarily precious and the Tokyo has its own issues with bad soil and water conditions. That city has solutions that could be applied to Laguna and which are beautiful.
Finally, some sort of “entry statement” could be created that will knock our socks off.
Currently, there are warring factions within our fair city that are unbecoming and unnecessary. The factions are fighting over one proposal that, to my eyes, is way too costly, unpractical, and worst, boring.
Why not stand back, open up the process to world-class competition and built something spectacular instead? By doing it, we lose nothing and could gain everything every faction wants.
In the meantime, tone down the rhetoric. We’re all friends here.
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach. He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.