Residents of Laguna should be grateful that J.J. Gasparotti has focused three recent columns on the reality that the City of Laguna Beach is spending between $20-30 million per year more on visitors than the visitors provide the city in revenue. The six million plus visitors each year have the right to enjoy Laguna, but residents should not pay our city government an average of $1,000 per person to take care of the visitors.
How can this unacceptable situation be remedied? The key must be to implement user charges—policies that directly link visitors to revenue streams for the city. In a recent guest column, I suggested converting every Laguna street within six (or more) blocks inland of PCH into pay parking, with residents receiving hang tags that allow them and their visitors to park for free. Everyone else who comes into town would pay for parking, as a way for the city to recoup at least some of the costs they generate.
Gasparotti sensibly shifted from his early ideas about costly parking structures to the idea of using sensor technology to read every license plate that comes into town and charging all those that are not residents or just passing through. Sensor technology works on Orange County’s toll roads and is used with great positive effect in places like Stockholm and London. The London system charges everyone (except residents) who drives into a large “congestion zone” with a substantial daily fee that is automatically deducted from an account associated with the license plate number. In London, the main goal was to reduce the number of vehicles in London’s core, and it has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in private cars entering the zone and a 25 percent reduction in time on the road. But it also generates significant net income—about $250 million per year.
If utilized in Laguna, the main goal would be to capture revenue from visitors. Laguna has the mixed blessing of existing with only three access points into town. Using technology to track everyone coming in and staying for longer than a just-passing-through period would be substantially simpler than London’s system.
Like my suggestion about striping many residential streets for pay parking by visitors, the sensor solution has costs and some issues. There is no elegant solution. But if our City Council continues to do nothing (or even worse, to spend money to attract more visitors), the number of visitors will keep increasing and our subsidy to visitors will become even more massive. Let’s discuss solutions and then act.
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