Laguna Beach approves 5-year plan for parking rate hikes

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Summer-like conditions are enough to congest Laguna’s downtown, shown here at Cliff Drive. Photo by Marilynn Young.

Laguna Beach moved forward Tuesday with raising public parking lot and meter rates to nudge motorists to free up spaces and raise funds for essential city services.

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved the new parking rate structure to be rolled out over the next five years. The last time Laguna Beach saw the cost of public parking increase was in 2014.

Starting in summer 2022, a 10% annual increase will occur in all parking zones during the summer months only.

During non-summer months, an increase of $1 per hour for all meters and lots, except for meters along Cliff Drive in Heisler Park, which will remain at $2.50 per hour. All-day flat-rate lots will increase by $1 per day.

No increase was proposed for peripheral parking lots, including the Act V in Laguna Canyon.

“I think this is a fair balance,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “It gives us the opportunity to do what we need to do to provide a good visitor experience.”

Whalen added that it’s a reality that Laguna Beach needs more revenue to continue funding law enforcement, emergency medical services, and public works at the level residents and visitors expect.

Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said the city’s goal is to achieve a parking occupancy rate of 85%, which should help relieve some of the traffic congestion seen in Downtown Laguna during the summer. City staffers believe they have structured the new parking rates in a way that doesn’t impede affordable coastal access, which is mandated by the Coastal Act.

In July, the California Coastal Commission upheld an appeal of Laguna Beach’s coastal development permit for the rate hikes because the proposed rates would create a “disproportionate impact to unserved communities.” The Commission also expressed concern about raising parking rates because of the city’s suspension of trolley service, which beachgoers use to get to and from peripheral parking lots.

After some tweaks, city staffers offered a new proposal that might earn state officials’ support.

Councilmember Sue Kempf suggested the City Council pursue a master parking plan that could include opportunities for negotiating with property owners for public use of lots already built, creating pocket parking lots, and new parking structures. Past city councils’ decision not to build parking structures has delayed necessary action to accommodate the annual 6.5 million visitors seen in town, she said.

“If you never build any parking, you’re never going to get away from this,” Kempf said.

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