By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
The city of Laguna Beach is trying to find a solution to its parking crunch, not only for its annual 6 million tourist visitors, but also for the people who live here.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, staff presented the council with eight potential sites on public and private property that could add up to 1,415 spaces in new or expanded parking structures and cost $100 million or more.
“We have had a number of people reach out to us and say we are thinking of doing something with their property, and depending on what we do there might be opportunities for the city to participate in public-private partnerships,” City Manager John Pietig said.
The eight potential sites included the city’s ACT V property in Laguna Canyon, the Las Brisas restaurant parking lot, expansion on a lot at 331-397 N. Coast Highway labeled the Heisler Landing, the Presbyterian Church lot at 361-363 Third St., expansion of the city-owned Glenneyre parking structure, the Art-A-Fair site at 777 Laguna Canyon Road, the Holiday Inn parking lot at Cleo Street, and a proposal for a two-level parking structure on Cliff Drive.
The city’s cost to develop those 1,415 spaces at all eight locations was estimated at up to $105.5 million, or up to $87,000 per space. Without pursuing all projects at once, Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said the average cost of a parking space in Southern California is lower.
“A reasonable range we have been seeing everywhere is between $30,000 to $50,000 per space,” Dupuis said.
Planners evaluated all eight options based on efficiency, number of spaces provided, cost, and convenience to downtown, availability, joint development and readiness.
The top four sites based on those criteria were Art-A-Fair, Holiday Inn, Heisler Landing and the Presbyterian Church, adding a total of 639 potential parking spots. The Art-A-Fair property, deemed most desirable, would cost $20 to 25 million with potential revenue of up to $1.2 million. It alone could add three levels of parking with a potential addition of 330 stalls, the single-most of any location on the list. It would also keep tourists from congesting and parking in the downtown area, an issue residents voiced to the council.
The proposal, which would supplant one of the town’s three art festivals, was drafted by the property owner, Dupuis said after the meeting. City owned land used for parking abuts the Art-a-Fair lot.
“We want to encourage people not to bring their cars into the downtown,” said resident Ginger Osborne. “People can park free out by the 405/133 intersection and ride into town. Rather than have our parking fees go to pay for debt for a parking garage, I suggest we use the money to better advertise our peripheral parking program.”
Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis outlined how the city could pay for the top four parking structure options. Dupuis said the city’s share of the top four ranked projects could cost up to $47.5 million. The city could issue bonds of up to $35 million based on the future revenue from these four sites, she said. That along with the city’s existing bonding capacity of $10 million, $600,000 in unallocated parking revenue and $6 million already in a city parking fund tallies up to $51 million, she said. “There could be sufficient revenue generated from these four projects to actually pay for their cost.”
Residents at Tuesday’s meeting recognize there is a parking problem, but did not like the price tag or the proposed locations.
“The issue still remains for the residents to buy a parking structure for the visitors,” resident John Thomas said.
Laguna Canyon homeowner Lorraine Auger was adamant that city staff’s most desirable location, the Art-A-Fair property, would end up further clogging traffic on Laguna Canyon Road.
“The citizens already said no, we don’t want that at our entrance,” Auger said. “If we have to, we will lay our bodies down where the tractors would come to haul that place out. It will not happen.”
Several council members reassured residents they are a priority in easing the parking crunch. Council member Rob Zur Schmiede told residents he knows their struggle as he also routinely fights for a parking spot, often in front of his own house.
“If we can help some of our neighborhoods gain control over their parking, they can actually park in front of their house when they come home,” Zur Schmiede said. “There are some very definite resident benefits that can occur.”
Council members postponed taking action on the public parking financial plan until they have more information from staff on the top four sites. They voted to direct city planners to further evaluate the top four parking structure sites on the list, and to explore parking options and alliances at the Boat Canyon shopping center and with Hotel Laguna, an option so recent it did not make the staff’s presentation.
Council member Bob Whalen said another necessary step is an exploratory discussion with staff of the California Coastal Commission, which has regulatory authority within the Coastal Zone and favors improving public access to coastal areas. Any changes to street parking along S. Coast Highway or in Laguna’s residential areas would require Coastal Commission approval.
“We need to direct staff to meet with Coastal Commission to determine parameters for parking treaties to allow us to regain control of our residential areas,” Whalen said.
“We need to be proactive and say we want to build some parking around town in specific locations and put some restrictions on parking. There is good consensus on the council that we need to do it and in a way that benefits the neighborhoods.”
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