By Tasmin McGill, Guest Contributor
Many of us have experienced driving continuous circles around Laguna Beach’s downtown in search of parking. The need for additional parking spaces is long overdue in the eyes of most residents, employees and out-of-town visitors. To satisfy these needs, the City Council Parking Master Plan Subcommittee discussed proposed recommendations to address parking concerns during the June 13 city council meeting.
A few of those recommendations include updating parking regulations, increasing the price of parking permits and building at least one new parking structure downtown. City staff said implementing these plans will hopefully provide more positive experiences for residents and visitors alike.
“When parking is difficult to find, the amount of time that vehicles spend on the roads goes up, and that does affect traffic congestion,” Principal Planner Anthony Viera said. “So it is important that we pursue strategies to mitigate the traffic impact.”
While Laguna Beach is recognized as a destination globally, nationally and locally for its beaches and historical buildings, these exact reasons have significantly contributed to its traffic congestion, especially in the summer months.
“The city’s roadway capacity has remained mostly static due to physical constraints,” Veira said.
While people come for the views and high quality of life that Laguna Beach exudes, the lack of parking can dampen the experience.
“Both residents and visitors who are inconvenienced by the lack of available parking in convenient locations may respond to that experience by reducing their patronage of local shops and restaurants,” Veira said during the city council meeting on Tuesday.
To confront these issues, the subcommittee developed a series of goals, including prioritizing making local amenities more accessible and ultimately improving residents’ quality of life. As well as addressing seasonal surges in parking demand, they discussed developing future bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and increasing parking permit prices for the first time in 20 years.
“We heard through our public meetings quite a bit of resident input on those permits and the desire to have the validity of those permits for residents expanded to new lots,” Transit and Community Services Director Michael Litschi said.
However, even with these goals in mind, implementing the proposed recommendations has caused hesitation among residents, who question how it will affect their way of life.
As voiced earlier this year when parking plans were discussed earlier this year, residents fear that more parking will bring more problems.
Kurt Wiese, a 30-year resident of Laguna, urged city council members to vote “no” on additional parking infrastructures.
“Building additional parking in Laguna Beach will not improve residents’ quality of life. It will degrade it,” Wiese said in an email to council members. “A parking garage on 3rd street will not make parking available for my neighborhood. It will just increase congestion and make it more difficult to travel through town.”
Veira said that once the city’s parking needs are addressed, other issues, such as incorporating pedestrian and bicycle-friendly roads and walkways, can take precedence.
“Addressing the city’s parking needs could free up the right of way for other uses. If the city council so desires such as wider sidewalks, traffic-calming measures, landscaping and protected bicycle lanes, and a pedestrian mobility plan and bicycle master plan could be viable next steps if the needed right of way to accommodate these improved bike and pedestrian facilities does become more available,” Viera said.
The City Council voted unanimously to approve the parking master plan, and all suggested recommendations after hearing the report.