Laguna Beach’s City Council decided to reopen the long-debated gateway proposal for Laguna Canyon, starting with a committee review of the Village Entrance project by two council members rather than a workshop open to the public.
Council member Verna Rollinger objected to Tuesday’s decision, saying the entire process should be open to the public.
A public workshop on the topic was scheduled for Dec. 13 but council member Elizabeth Pearson suggested that she and Mayor Toni Iseman form a committee to review the decades-long, $20-million controversial project in advance. They would then make recommendations before opening the subject up to the public again.
Over 20 years, the proposed project opposite the Festival of Arts’ grounds and adjacent to City Hall has morphed many times, pared down from a multi-level, 650-space, pay-parking garage to a 462-space parking structure with office, retail and residential units, a park and walkways to town. The second iteration of a voluminous environmental impact report maps out several alternatives.
“We’re the most familiar with the background and why it’s gotten to where it’s gotten today,” said Pearson, adding that she worked on the subject for 14 years and Iseman for seven. “We represent a lot of people who have an interest in the Village Entrance with different points of view.”
Rollinger dissented saying decisions over the project should be weighed in a public forum. “I want to make sure no options are foreclosed,” she said.
Pearson said the public has been involved since the idea began to gel. “We’re just taking what the planning commission has analyzed to the next level,” she said.
Iseman assured Rollinger that consensus on a Village Entrance is not yet forthcoming. “There will be a park and a walking path and that we will increase parking and we will make it prettier. The devil’s in the details,” Iseman said.
“And we’re most familiar with the details,” Pearson added.
To offset costs, the City Council in 2008 added the option of partnering with a private developer to build the project. In earlier discussions, Pearson pointed out the impending need for more parking due to new housing in development off of Laguna Canyon Road. “This projected increase in housing that will impact Laguna Beach was not included or studied in our most recent parking studies,” she pointed out.
Iseman said the committee will look at parking studies, environmental reports, previous public input and planning commission recommendations, as well as the amount of money available to proceed.
Council member Kelly Boyd reiterated concerns about money for the project. “That’s going to be all important when the decision is made, I think we all realize that, especially with the economy the way it is today.”
Even so, capital improvement projects have been completed by the city in recent years at lower-than-expected construction costs, according to city records. Iseman previously pointed out that project development is desirable at a time when construction companies are eager for work and will trim their profit margins to win bids.
Pearson and Iseman will present their recommendations next February, allowing them the additional requested time for review. The previously scheduled Dec. 13 workshop was tabled until Iseman and Pearson make their recommendations.