Laguna Beach renews plans for Village Entrance parking structure

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A stair and elevator tower could be built inside the Historic Digester Building to serve the proposed parking structure in the Village Entrance. File Photo

Laguna Beach will solicit designs and environmental review of a plan for a 327-space parking structure in the Village Entrance, nearly seven years after city leaders rejected a proposal to build a structure on the same site.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted Tuesday to restart the lengthy process of planning for a  structure by appropriating $1.15 million from the parking fund. A preliminary estimate by city-contract Walker Consultants pegs the estimated financing costs for a structure at $14.2 million.

Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, and Councilmember Sue Kempf approved moving forward with the parking structure’s design and an initial study of potential environmental impacts. Councilmember Toni Iseman was opposed and Councilmember Peter Blake abstained.

Whalen and Dicterow are both up for reelection on Nov. 3.

Tuesday’s vote follows a Labor Day weekend where thousands of beachgoers streamed into town to escape triple-digit temperatures across the region. Whalen characterized the structure as a necessary step to mitigate the traffic and parking shortage created by visitors that are negatively impacting residents’ lifestyles.

“We have over six million visitors a year,” Whalen said. “We’re managing the existing crowds. We’re not looking to attract more. Other people are going to say we’re going to attract more, I disagree with that.”

Whalen spiked Walker Consultants’ recommendation for a 384-space parking structure because it would have exceeded the Downtown Specific Plan’s 36-foot height limit.

Dicterow said a Village Entrance would be the first piece in a larger puzzle to solve Laguna Beach’s traffic and parking issues— a puzzle that won’t be solved if city officials don’t take action.

“Orange County’s population keeps on increasing and to think that it’s not going to continue is ridiculous…,” he said. “We have to recognize, whether you like day-trippers or not, they’re going to come. So we have to deal with it.”

Councilmember Toni Iseman said the council majority’s decision to move forward with a parking structure will become an election issue because it won’t do anything to solve parking shortages around Urth Cafe, the soon-to-be remodeled Coast Inn, Woods Cove, and Aliso Beach.

“The irony of this is we have an item coming up really about global warming and the goal would be to get people out of their cars and into mass transit as soon as possible,” she said.

Dicterow split sharply with Iseman over the idea that public transit is a real short-term solution.

“Whether we like it or not cars rule,” he said. “It might not always be like that in the future. I hope that it’s not. But for now, cars rule.”

One of the central arguments voiced by residents opposed to building the structure is that it constitutes a giveaway to downtown property and business owners who aren’t required to provide sufficient off-street parking to customers. The city’s consultants claims that the structure could annually generate $822,000 per year that would help pay for the debt. However, it would be Laguna Beach taxpayers who would ultimately be responsible for the repayment of any bond issued by City Hall.

Laguna Beach resident John Thomas pointed out that downtown commercial landlords generate $50 million in rent per year. He proposed collecting between 55 and 90 cents per square foot per year from commercial landlords to help fund the parking spaces that will support their tenants.

“If the landlords and owners of the commercial buildings who would benefit from additional parking won’t pay a nickel per square foot per month on the space they own why should residents pay millions?” Thomas said.

Other opponents have argued that it seems financially irresponsible for the city to tear up a portion of the $11.3 million improvements to the Village Entrance that were just completed in May, especially when the city has been forced to cut its budget due to the pandemic.

Laguna Beach resident Susan Osborne said she’s dismayed that the efforts of the City Council appear to be more focused on tourism development than on preserving the town for residents.

“We will never be able to accommodate everybody who wants to come here,” Osborne said. “These parking spaces are only a drop in the bucket. It’s like one hour of traffic coming out of southbound 133 on a summer afternoon.”

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  1. Where are the quotes from all the residents that spoke in support of the structure? This is a very one-sided article. Also, John Thomas’ “facts” need to be checked. The writer seems to be attempting to appease the Laguna Residents First and Village Laguna supporters by giving them a platform without sharing the other side. What a shame.

  2. Liberate Laguna candidates like to spend our money lavishly on developer’s wishlists, like this ridiculous parking structure. But if citizens need a trolly for their kids these same politicians tell us we can’t afford it and it’s just “free stuff”

    The fact that businesses and developers want this idiotic parking lot, but want the everyday citizens of Laguna to pay for it tells you everything you need to know.

    This November please vote for Laguna and her citizens, the developers will get over it.

  3. The City Council is a joke. They just reduced parking requirements downtown to encourage development, now they want to build a parking structure?

    A stairway through the digester building? These people are CRAZY. How is that going to look next to an ugly multi story parking structure that will be used as beach parking?

  4. Parking structures are generally just plain ugly eye sores…and putting a height restricted parking structure at the village entrance will only compromise the potential aesthetic that special site could have. A functional parking structure could be built at the site of the Act 5 parking lot – completely out of site – provided with a continuously running parking shuttle into town. Despoiling the village entrance with a parking structure is just plain short-sighted and not in the best interests of assuring that all design in Laguna Beach is always looking for the best practical/aesthetic solution.

  5. The notion that as residents we can exclude visitors to our town is nonsensical. We are a Beach town with millions of people living within an hour’s drive.

    The notion of residents first has a nasty elitist ring to it. The beaches belong to all. We cannot and should not prevent access to them. The I’m in the boat Jack, push off brigade are morally wrong. It’s the equivalent of making Laguna a gated community, to keep away the inland riff-raff – it’s not vision I can endorse.

  6. Elitism, Mr. Evans, is asking residents to pay for something that they haven’t been able to vote on. It is wonderful to share the beauty of our Laguna home, but just like having visitors to your individual home, you want visitors with good manners: Pick up their trash; stay out of parking in your driveway or neighborhood (unless invited); being mindful of neighbors and keeping their voices and music down. As for the parking structure, have any of you bothered to read the City Report from the 9/8/20, Agenda Item #14 City Council Meeting? Of the 327 parking spaces in the Option #2 Parking Structure—245 are already reserved!—80 for City Vehicles; 100 for City Staff; and, 65 for Pageant/Theatre staff. This leaves 82 spaces for daytime visitors and residents to use. Does that sound like a good use of your money? With that amount of spaces reserved, it makes you wonder who this new parking structure is really for.


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