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.”Firebrand Media LLC wants comments that advance the discussion, and we need your help to accomplish this mission. Debate and disagreement are welcomed on our platforms but do it with respect. We won't censor comments we disagree with. Viewpoints from across the political spectrum are welcome here. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, our community is not obliged to host all comments shared on its website or social media pages, including:
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