As summer tourists begin to dissipate in September, big changes will be coming to the large downtown parking lot that welcomes visitors to and from the festivals’ grounds—an area known to locals as the Village Entrance.
After more than four decades of discussing visions for the lackluster entrance, the Laguna Beach City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday, Aug. 7, to award an $8.4 million construction contract to C.S. Legacy Construction for the Village Entrance project, which now has a price tag of $11.1 million.
The city had initially budgeted $8.4 million total for the project. An additional $2.5 million will be transferred from the city’s parking fund to cover the shortfall.
Groundbreaking is slated for Sept. 4, and officials aim to complete the project by June 2020.
The project site, across from City Hall near the intersection of Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue, is currently used by the city for parking, storage, facilities and a sewer lift station.
The new Village Entrance design will incorporate landscaped multi-use pathways, improved lighting, new bridges, and repaved parking lots. Other elements include a new vehicle bridge aligned with the traffic signal at the Festival of Arts, new buildings for police support services and Marine Safety storage, the planting of 120 new trees, and the addition of 52 bicycle racks. The council also voted to spend up to $436,358 to upgrade the fencing along the drainage channel.
As for the sewer digester building, the council agreed to allocate just over $100,000 to repaint and patch the exterior. The building has been a topic of contention at recent city meetings, with some residents upset that city leaders decided to put off a full historical restoration of the architecturally unique building, which operated from 1935 to 1983.
The majority of the council opposed spending over $433,000 for a more intensive level of restoration for the digester building, which would have included reinstalling the outside spiral staircase, as they felt the public will want a full historical restoration down the road and it would be a waste to spend now just to redo it later.
Council member Steve Dicterow was the lone dissenter on Tuesday’s vote, saying the roughly 30 percent increase in the project’s cost over a seven-month period was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Dicterow wondered if a public-private partnership could eventually be struck, perhaps with the new owner of the Art-A-Fair site, Mo Honarkar. Dicterow said Honarkar has “ambitious plans” for the property, which sits north of the Village Entrance site.
“I feel we’re just spreading ourselves too thin, to spend this much money on this project,” Dicterow said.
Council member Toni Iseman countered that waiting around for a potential private partnership would result in another 10-year delay. “It’s time to move forward on this,” she said.
Some residents agreed with Dicterow on the price tag, like Michael Morris, who said the council needs to analyze their needs versus their wants.
“I’m utterly shocked that we’re now at the precipice of a $10.8 million project when I think this thing started life as a couple of million dollars-effort,” Morris said. “Clearly we cannot afford this as a city. In November, you’re going to ask the citizens to tax themselves by an additional 12.9 percent on sales tax…how can you ask us to tax ourselves additionally for 25 years, when we’re just spending money left and right on the Village Entrance far beyond what was originally intended?”
City consultants told the council that the project’s price has jumped due to fluctuating oil and labor costs and potential tariffs. C.S. Legacy Construction’s bid was the cheapest option of the three submitted.
“I don’t think it is going to get any cheaper if we wait to get a bid out on this again,” said Mayor Kelly Boyd. “It’s time we get it done.”
After construction starts in September, the first phase of the project will focus on the west side of the channel until May 2019. Parking lots would then be restored for the summer season. The second phase of construction will begin in September 2019 and will focus on the east side of the channel and behind City Hall. The project could be completed as soon as May 2020.