City Seeks a Bird’s Eye View From Experts


As Laguna Beach moves forward on initiatives to ease congestion, increase mobility, and aesthetically enhance its downtown, the City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to investigate retaining an urban planning expert to provide an overarching analysis of the city’s various concurrent projects to ensure they mesh.

Separately, they also unanimously approved the hire of Irvine’s RBF Consulting to research ways to improve Laguna Canyon Road for motor vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Council member Bob Whalen placed both items on the agenda, making good on concerns he raised in January.

Referring to the Laguna Canyon Road analysis, Whalen cited access to funding for eventual improvements as a compelling reason to sign on the consultants, since it is easier to make a convincing argument for grant money by presenting potential funders with a solid plan.

Other city projects that may play into this analysis include a planned pathway between the ACT V parking lot and Laguna College of Art & Design, conceptual plans for bike and pedestrian paths, undergrounding of utility poles, improvement of the median close to town and the possible installation of a traffic signal between Canyon Acres and El Toro roads.

Council member Steve Dicterow expressed hope that RBF would recruit consultants of similar caliber to the task as they did for their recent work on a parking management plan.

The council approved RBF’s fee of $45,000, allowing for change orders up to $50,000 for the project.

Council member Toni Iseman will form a subcommittee with Whalen to work with city staff and the consultants to recommend specific Laguna Canyon Road improvements for the council’s consideration.

Making a separate case for engaging the right firm to assess the city’s numerous inter-related projects, Whalen pointed out the multiple policy and planning efforts currently in the works. These include updating the Downtown Specific Plan, Laguna Canyon Road improvements, a village entrance park and parking structure, development of a transportation and mobility plan, evaluation of the transit system, and efforts to comply with a state mandate to make streets accessible to cyclists, pedestrians and autos. The city would benefit greatly from an outside consultant taking a macro view to ensure they compliment each other, Whalen said.

Both Whalen and Iseman had expressed strong support for hiring an urban planning expert to examine the myriad city projects during a council retreat in January. That idea was echoed again by Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson in March, during a joint Planning Commission-City Council session.

The Council voted unanimously to authorize Whalen to work with city staff and Planning Commission members, possibly Anne Johnson and Robert Zur Schmiede, to investigate the credentials of possible candidates and make recommendations.

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