Opinion: Anatomy of a Parking Crisis


By Michael Morris

It is common knowledge that our downtown has a parking crisis. Except during odd hours, one can rarely find parking that’s convenient to one’s needs. City council and Planning Commission realize this, yet seem to find endless justifications for virtually every intensification of use proposed by landlords or business proprietors.

Witness the recent proposal by the new proprietors of the former White House restaurant. While requesting authorization for 59% more seats, they exploit historic parking reduction rules in conjunction with grandfathered credits to reduce their 62 parking space requirement to zero physical spaces. Similarly, Slice Pizza manipulated the system in two ways: by first convincing the Heritage Committee to upgrade the historical rating of their building from “C’ to “E” class (exceptional), and then exploiting the enhanced historic parking reduction of “E” class buildings to receive a 65.2% total reduction on parking required. So, despite intensifying the use of the building, the existing 13 spaces provided and shared with the office building adjacent plus three previously acquired “in-lieu” spots are deemed sufficient. The operators of that space made a minimal investment in enhancing the historicity of the building to qualify for the upgraded historical rating; certainly far less than the cost of providing actual parking spaces for their customers. And least we overlook the all time winner in the “Great Laguna Parking Give-away”, the Heisler Building is a textbook case. Based on the number of restaurant/bar seats authorized for its spaces, that facility should provide 170 parking spaces. In actuality, it provides zero physical parking spaces, preferring instead, to put the parking burden it creates onto its neighbors.

There are so many ways to manipulate the system and intensify use without providing needed parking spaces: grandfathered spaces. The historic parking reduction. Sidewalk cafe parking credits. Shared Parking. Joint use of parking spaces. Valet parking. In-lieu fees.

By hiring experienced consultants and with patience and money, virtually any use-type can get approvals. The common complaint of “it takes so long to get approvals” is actually enlightening in that it says more about the over-reach by applicants than the cumbersome or bureaucratic ineptitude of city government. And in the end, when residents find that the parking requirements system has been manipulated to an intolerable level, building owners and business operators hope to have the public finance a parking structure. That would constitute a win/win for them and a lose/lose for resident taxpayers.

If commercial building owners and business operators want a parking structure, they can create an assessment district and contribute a tiny percentage of their gross rent revenue to pay for it just like residents pay to underground their own utilities. The cost to building owners would be trivial; it could be as little as 2% of net rental income. Parking structures that benefit commercial building owners should be paid for by commercial building owners. In the meantime, abuse of the parking “credits” system and exploitation of the Heritage roles should receive close scrutiny and overhaul.

The Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative will rein-in these abuses of the parking credits system. Please look to lagunaresidentsfirst.com to read the specifics about how the ballot initiative seeks to bring sanity back to Laguna’s parking system.

Michael, a Laguna homeowner, is a founder and former Treasurer of Laguna Residents First PAC. He previously served a one-year term on the Orange County Grand Jury and as an appointed trustee to the Orange County Vector Control District.

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  1. Thank you for outlining this parking credit manipulation so well and driving the parking issues home. Helps to understand what’s really going on in our town. Thanks.

  2. Parking crisis? Really? Jeez Michael you make living here look so dire. Settle down. Been to any real cities lately? Downtown Lagu is a cinch. I’ve never had a problem. Don’t like it? Take a shuttle or ride a bike. Thank god those places didn’t have to succumb to outdated parking restrictions that would neuter downtown. Thank you city government for keeping our city alive.

  3. Your comment is an excellent insight into a seldom verbalized part of the problem. You said: “The common complaint of “it takes so long to get approvals” is actually enlightening in that it says more about the over-reach by applicants than the cumbersome or bureaucratic ineptitude of city government.”

  4. Thank you for highlighting what the developers/restauranteurs are doing to get around the parking requirements. Once again this is mostly for the benefit of tourists/visitors. Shameful that Sam Goldstein didn’t have to provide one new parking spot for that vastly increased number of seats yet he’s saying the the Ballot Initiative is unfair. Yeah – unfair to people scamming the system like him. Why would he want residents to have a vote in whether or not he should provide parking spaces? This should not be allowed to go on yet our Liberate Laguna Forward Councilmembers are all for it. Thank you for making residents aware of what their agenda is.

  5. Let me get this straight. Under your LRF initiative, the remodeled White House and Slice would need to go to a city-wide vote? That dramatically expands the number of projects that would be subject to a city-wide vote. I surmise that is the case as you use those two examples of why we need the LRF initiative. This is a boondoggle in the making.

  6. A boondoggle is allowing a broken system which has been gamed by sophisticated developers and proprietors to continue; when continuing only makes a terrible problem worse. Only a Chamber of Commerce shill would see requiring businesses to mitigate their effects in terms of traffic or parking as an unfair “boondoggle”.

    In a reasonable world, the proprietors of both examples you highlight would have sought CUPs for restaurants with the same number of already generous exemptions (I believe that WH already had 90 seats with NO parking requirement). But of course, knowing that the system can be so easily exploited, the new proprietor wanted in excess of 140 seats without providing a single physical parking space. None for customers, and even more outrageous, none for employees (forcing them to make the long walk up into the adjoining neighborhoods at all hours).

    Under the LRF Initiative, wise landlords or proprietors wouldn’t constantly shoot for the moon. They’d seek CUPs for restaurants with the same number of already granted, grandfathered or historically exempted seats (the Ballot Initiative honors previously granted exemptions). Or, what about this radical idea: Proprietors who want to expand the intensity of their proposed restaurants, ACTUALLY PROVIDE PHYSICAL PARKING SPACES for the extra seats they are proposing. What a completely novel idea. Mitigating your business’s effects on neighborhood parking problems.

    Developers/landlords and certain “intense use” business proprietors hate the idea of curbing the give-aways that thus far have so easily been granted to them. It must look mighty oppressive that a proposed ordinance (the LRF Ballot Initiative) removes their reliance on City Hall/tax-payer handouts.

  7. For anyone who travels to great cities or resort towns, it’s clear that parking and overcrowding is always a problem. These towns were simply not designed to accommodate the 21st century population surge. And thank god for that, or downtown Laguna would be one giant parking lot. Thankfully, urban planners designed the streets for pedestrians. And cities like Paris are reducing the impact of cars by converting more and more streets to bicycles only. Our city is doing many proactive things to increase parking and mobility, and at the same time making downtown more enjoyable by helping new retail concepts thrive. If you look at demographics, the incoming generation of consumers are not buying cars and choose among the many crowd sourcing options for transportation. They also can’t afford to buy houses, and buy most of their goods online, What they do spend money on is destination dining. That’s why Laguna is doing itself well to help would-be restauranteurs get into business by reducing the draconian parking and zoning requirements. Don’t most of us cherish a vibrant dining scene? Lack of parking will simply force us to adapt new modes of transportation around town, which is long overdue. It will reduce congestion and parking shortages, as well as quiet our neighborhoods, clean the air, and reduce our carbon footprint. That’s where the world is going. That a small group of disgruntled elitist complain all the time about tourists and want to make it impossible to improve our aging infrastructure is, well, so Laguna. Thankfully, despite their weekly diatribes, true townies recognize you can have progress while still protect your legacy of small scale buildings and historic homes. And also let elected officials to do their jobs, whether they voted for them or not. Not trying to hijack a democratic system because your candidates didn’t win enough seats.

  8. It was a simple question. Would the WH re-development or Slice have needed a city-wide vote under your initiative? In the past, LRF said only big, large scale developments like the Montage, etc. would trigger your vote. WH and Slice are not the Montage. Citizens should know the initiatives exact purpose, if it is not for big developments as you have said in the past.

  9. In great planning disasters almost everybody looses something. Parking requirements afford motorists convenience but most folks don’t recognize parking requirements are a planning disaster because the costs for parking are hidden, the harm they cause are diffused through the local economy.

    Urban intensification or Smart Growth or Complete Streets is urban planning theory to increase density with transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use. It appears the City has taken that step to remove urban erosion caused by traffic and congestion – a step agreeable with residents as stated in the Resident Surveys of 2012 2021 and the Vision 2030 Plan. But were the City’s actions genuine?

    Under the new Ballot Initiative the in-lieu parking fee remains intact, meaning instead of providing project parking, a builder can collect fees to build a parking structure elsewhere. It seems that with either the City’s latest plan or the Ballot Initiative, in-lieu parking guarantees that parking requirements remain intact, with or without the Ballot Initiative.

    Paradoxically urban projects have been built without bathrooms but not without on-site parking requirements. A change in priorities is in order there and for Laguna Beach. If Laguna adopted Complete Streets Policy in 2008, we would have a real guiding tool for urban planning and a Ballot Initiative would be unnecessary. Genuine Smart Growth removes the cost burden of parking requirements- a benefit shared by everyone.


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