By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach City Council agreed Tuesday to spend more than $1.61 million over the next five years to install and advertise a smart parking system that would allow drivers to find and pay for open parking spaces via a mobile app.
In the project’s first phase, Frogparking plans to install a sensor on all metered parking spaces on streets and public parking lots in downtown. Each sensor will communicate with a solar-powered receiver mounted on nearby light poles, transmitting data within seconds of a space opening up. Sensor-based parking systems have been installed at the city of Beverly Hills, UCLA and the Irvine Spectrum.
Paula Faust, deputy director of public works, said residents and visitors will be able to download an app on their smartphone, search for the name of a restaurant or intersection, and be directed to the nearest parking spot. The app will also allow drivers to pay for their parking space and keep track of the time left on their meter.
“Instead of having to rifle through your purse to find your credit card you can actually just pull out your phone, open the app, and use it to make a mobile payment,” Faust said.
Once drivers park, they’ll also be able to look up trolley arrival times for nearby stops.
One of the city’s goals in working with Frogparking is to improve traffic circulation, particularly during the summer months when visitors cruise the streets for parking spots. Drivers can expect to receive a notification on their phone 10 to 15 minutes before their meter expires, so they know to start making their way back to their car. City staffers hope this information will help encourage drivers to leave spaces more quickly and keep the parking space occupancy rate at about 85 percent to accommodate inbound cars.
Frogparking expects that it will be able to install sensors on 75 percent of the downtown parking spaces by the start of this summer, Faust said.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow questioned Faust over whether city staff expects Frogparking’s smart parking system to survive technological advancements in the years to come.
“Technology is constantly moving forward by quantum leaps. How well is this system platform designed so it can accommodate future technological changes?” Dicterow asked.
Faust said Frogparking earned high marks among competing vendors for its survivability, adding that sensor-based systems represent the majority of smart parking programs being installed now and also what is being presented in the future.
Verizon pitched the city an alternative system based on video cameras that use algorithms to identify free parking spaces. Shohreh Dupuis, assistant city manager and director of public works, said this system would have been problematic because it relies on cameras having good lines of sight, which could be obstructed by the many trees on Laguna Beach streets.
Laguna Beach resident David Raber said he didn’t think it was a good idea for the city to invest more than a million dollars in a smart parking system that encourages drivers to look at their phones when they should be paying attention to the car ahead of them. He was also skeptical that motorists coming down Laguna Canyon Road would be able to reach an open parking space before it’s taken by another car, especially during the summer.
“I’m afraid what we have right now isn’t going to handle the job when we need it the most,” Raber said.
Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, executive director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, said Laguna Beach businesses are optimistic that the smart parking system will help alleviate complaints about the shortage of parking.
“The Chamber is excited to see the mobile parking app was approved and anything that can help residents and visitors find parking more efficiently downtown is a good thing for our businesses,” she said.
The City Council also agreed to spend $55,000 to hire a marketing firm to educate residents and visitors about the smartphone app. That contract will have to come back to council members for approval.