Staff recommendations for a scaled-back $14.4 million plan to create an inviting landscaped pathway between City Hall and the Laguna Canyon art festivals seemed to stymie City Council members and the public alike during a presentation Tuesday.
After weighing the scope, budget and design process, the City Council put off several decisions, but gave the go-ahead to recruit a design team to create an inviting park at the canyon entrance to downtown Laguna Beach.
The team, including a project manager, landscape architect, civil engineer and environmental consultant, would be required to seek public input on the concept but also collaborate with the Festival of Arts, which plans a major renovation of grounds that host the annual art exhibition and Pageant of the Masters production.
The Council did move forward on some project related issues, such as deciding to keep a fueling station behind city hall, hiring a professional firm to survey boundaries and asking for a timeline to elicit public feedback.
Left undecided was a project budget as well as the fate of the historic digester building and dilapidated carports, all near City Hall. Nor did the Council decide whether funds intended for the historic restoration of the digester should be redirected to improve the median on Laguna Canyon Road.
Receiving the proposal only five days before didn’t allow enough time to properly consider all of the issues, Council member Steve Dicterow said.
“We are perplexed about this village entrance plan,” confessed Rita Conn, of Let Laguna Vote, which opposed the now defunct entrance plan that called for a $29 revenue bond to help cover its $42 million cost. Wondering at the already too-specific staff proposals for the current concept, she urged the Council not to repeat past mistakes by rushing into any decisions before allowing for ample public input.
The City Council bowed to public opinion last November, eschewing a large park and parking structure and voting instead to proceed with a greatly scaled back plan for a 30-foot-wide landscaped pathway between City Hall and the art festivals. Requiring no debt, as envisioned by the earlier proposal, the approved plan was expected to run about $14.4 million and to come from existing city funds.
No matter the concept, park planners must work around a Coastal Commission policy stipulating that the city replace any parking places it removes in the same vicinity. Some residents contest the rigidity of that policy, suggesting for example, that improved public transport to peripheral parking spaces might satisfy the Commission as a substitute for replacement parking spaces nearby.
Public works project director Wade Brown Tuesday laid out the staff recommendations as well as the proposed $14.4 million budget. The latter included already concluded acquisitions of a $1.4 million Ocean Avenue office building and $5.3 million for undeveloped land at 725 Laguna Canyon Road, along with $1 million to improve it. Other proposed expenditures included $1.5 million to create the landscaped pathway, $1.3 million to renovate the digester, $500,000 to reduce odors at the lift station, $1 million towards relocation of employees and equipment and $2.4 million for design and engineering costs, including a 20 percent contingency.
Brown also outlined a staff proposal to give the historic digester building a $300,000 facelift, instead of the original $1.3 million slated for complete restoration under the rejected plan, and using the $1 million left over to speed up improvements of the Laguna Canyon Road median. But residents and Council members failed to reach a consensus over either point.
“It really is incumbent upon us to try to preserve these old buildings,” said Bonnie Hano, and Mayor Elizabeth Pearson agreed that “saving the digester building is a priority.”
Detective Larry Bammer, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association, pushed for full restoration of the building since the police department uses it to store evidence and property.
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen, who preferred razing the digester to renovating it, said that if restored the building should be put to better use than storing police evidence. Council member Kelly Boyd veered away from the costlier full renovation, but neither did he want to see it go, having “gotten used to looking at it since I was a kid.”
Neither did Brown get an answer on whether to demolish or retain the vine covered, but dilapidated carports. The matter was unresolved.
Council did approve retaining the existing fuel island behind City Hall as it supports the emergency generator for the sewage lift station and allows convenient refueling for police vehicles.
Local resident Johanna Felder pushed for its removal, reminding the Council that the approval for installing a fuel island in the ACT V parking lot in Laguna Canyon some years ago was based on the removal of the one at City Hall, which would also free up seven parking spaces.
As Dicterow pointed out, residents offered some great suggestions, though some were conflicting.
“I don’t want to see it slow down,” said Ruben Flores of the project.
Arnold Hano countered, “Maybe you’re moving too fast.” Audrey Prosser, among others, shared his view, wanting more time to analyze the various options.
Ginger Osborne called the 30-foot-wide pathway too small, supported by other Village Laguna advocates who favored ceding more of the existing surface parking to parkland and hunting elsewhere for the required replacement spaces.
Les Miklosy questioned the project’s priorities, which seemed focused on parking spaces rather than creating a park with paths for pedestrians and bikes. “I think we have the cart before the horse,” he said.
Michael Beanan suggested the project was an opportunity to lay pipes for recycled water and underground vaults to capture storm water.
Tom Halliday struck a chord with Council members when he suggested that the bike pathway be constructed by covering the creek channel, allowing more space for parkland.
Pearson liked the idea, but noted that the county had already nixed similar previous requests. But Whalen suggested pushing harder. “We can’t take no for an answer,” he said. Council member Toni Iseman concurred.