Letter: Regarding If You Build it Logic Trap


The Indy ran a column June 4 called the “If you build it logic trap.”

It argued “they are coming anyway.” It’s hard to deny that. They will come. Laguna is the very definition of “attractive”—it attracts people.

The argument was that we should plan for that. Again, hard to argue. We should plan for it.

But there is a difference between planning for what is likely to happen and encouraging more of it to happen. That’s the difference. It’s a big difference.

They’re coming anyway. But why go out of our way to entice even more?

You have to figure that if a business builds capacity, the business will do its darndest to see the capacity is utilized. It may not fill up all by itself, but you can bet that there will be a campaign by the business that invested in increased capacity to bring the customers to fill the space that has been created. That means more traffic and congestion.

Laguna is built-out and locked-in—surrounded by the ocean and a sacrosanct greenbelt. It has only three ways in and out of town. Trying to stuff 10 pounds into a five-pound bag seldom works out well.

Widening inbound Laguna Canyon Road (LCR) just makes a wider parking lot out of the road since the jam-up is at the end of the road. And you can’t build a large enough parking structure to accommodate 50,000 visitors on a beautiful sunny summer weekend. A couple of hundred spaces would accommodate about a minute of traffic on LCR. Then what? We’re out millions of dollars and they are still driving around the block.

Aside from the physical impacts from visitors, we know that the revenue the City government collects from visitors falls far short of the additional costs the City government incurs due to the additional demands placed on it due to visitors. Figure the City collects pennies from sales tax—1% of what visitors spend—while the City spends a couple hundred thousand dollars per day to provide public safety and other City services because of all the extra demands on City services from visitors. So, while we’re planning, how about planning on how to get the tourists to pay the City what they cost the City? Otherwise, the residents continue to subsidize every tourist about $4 per visitor per day.

So, they will come, but why encourage more to come?

John Thomas, Laguna Beach


  1. Thanks. And while the writer of the build it column pointed out all the surrounding growth impacts to more tourists coming to Laguna, he failed to mention the most obvious which is the excessive marketing job Visit Laguna and the Chamber of Commerce has done over the last decade or so. And none of their advertising promoted respect for our town, open spaces, trails, beaches, neighborhoods of residents. They spent millions promoting and exposing every inch of our city and not just hotel stays and restaurant dining which is what they say they do. Sadly, we now have to clean up and fix what these organizations did and it’s going to cost us taxpayers way more then they will ever contribute. Visit Laguna, we don’t need to waste any more time or money advertising Laguna Beach. We cannot accommodate the amount of visitors we have now.

  2. And yet we are now destroying parking spaces order to be able to attract more day trippers. If the city doesn’t believe John Thomas’s figures why not get an unbiased accounting firm to examine the tourist revenue versus expenses and then increase taxes to at least balance the costs and revenue. The residents could get get a ID card which would give them reduced tax rate for all purchases made in LB. The city government is willing to spend millions of dollars in their mad rush to attract more tourists and yet when it comes to doing some to benefit the residents they get a fiscally conservative epiphany. The South Laguna Community Garden/Park is but one such example. Something has to change. The residents should not be treated like stupid cash cows with no voice in matters that directly affect our quality of life.

  3. Laguna Beach is operated like a parking lot. Parking fees and vehicle fines fill the City discretionary Parking Fund while our city pays for parking enforcement and city services to support visitors and residents alike. Car parking is a big deal, even bigger than total gross LB sales.

    “But tourists pay for parking and fines” – A big myth in Laguna, parking citations from LBPD tell another story: the people paying parking fees and violations is us.

    Residents were made aware of these facts during the city task force meetings ten years ago, our city has known much earlier. “But hey maaaan that’s just the way Laguna conducts municipal business.” There is a better municipal plan than predatory parking, it’s called Complete Streets Policy and there is enough talent among Laguna Residents to make it happen.

  4. It’s one thing to be forcibly held hostage, and no ransom offered.
    Compelling residents to subsidize and support their own physical incarceration, confined and restrained basically year round via property and local sales taxes, with no way out of what’s become a prison, is insult to injury.
    If memory serves, 20 years ago when the additional 2% was being considered and then added to our TOT (stealthily described via a “Business Improvement District” moniker), bringing it up to 12% for hotels/motels, etc., former LBCC Wayne Baglin balked, was wary, pointed out “Watch what you wish for.”
    Instead, that Council approved the increase with the (then) LB Visitor’s Bureau getting 1%—which varies from year to year but has put well over $1 million/year into their coffers each subsequent cycle, no questions asked, with no public oversight or accountability. Like drinking and driving in your youth, it did seem simple: Commerce would underwrite visitor impacts, pay to play.
    What has basically been their mantra ever since? “Come to Laguna Beach: A Year Round Destination Resort!” “Laguna Beach: The Southern Jewel of the OC Riviera!”
    Well, the good news is that their marketing campaign has been successful……..the bad news? The same.
    Traffic and gridlock abound. Where once upon a time we had backups north and south, in the Canyon only on holiday weekends, those jams are daily, weekday, off-season. 3 arteries now de facto parking lots.
    If you are a renter/leasee (demographic analyses indicate 40+% of us are) with no off-street parking, good luck if you need to leave your precious space: It won’t be there when you return, you end up parking far, far away from your unit, the one you pay a lot of $$$ for.
    Homeowners are also affected: Your out-of-town friends don’t want to fight to get to your house and there’s no parking out front anyway if you’re within 1/4 mile of PCH.
    Creating a hostile environs is classic “Law Of Unintended Consequences,” how feeble-minded, myopic leadership thought that being “Open For Business” (as the promo ads bannered year-after-year) was a great idea.
    The long term impact is that City Hall is “Closed For Residents.”
    Spiffy, slick, expensive marketing campaigns are bringing more than those dreaded “909-ers.” As Jimmy Durante exasperatingly uttered: “Everybody wants get into the act!”
    Now Laguna is not only under siege daily, but being transformed into what benefits the mercantile. Those thousands of us remaining? An afterthought, portrayed as hysterical whiners and cowardly, in fear of change.
    No, we’re not. We just know WHY we moved here (I did 50 years ago), and it wasn’t to milk Laguna’s beauty, it was a kind of psychological sanctuary, as much a place of the heart, of the spiritual mind and body.
    Apparently, all of the accusing, pro-development pressuring carpetbaggers like to ignore that.
    As for those yearly parking permits the City coerces and pressures us into purchasing? Residents should only pay a token fee, like $10 for administrative overhead. We’re getting gouged, pocketbooks plundered, punished without respite, with no redress or remedy on the horizon.
    As Ollie said to Stanley: “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”

  5. John, I know you consider yourself an analytics guru, but you predicate all of your “cost per visitor” on the unproved fallacy that we have 6.2 million visitors a year. Have you ever stopped once to verify this claim, or does it fit too neatly with your narrative? Do you even know where it originated? From your arch nemesis, our tourist bureau Visit Laguna. They hired a research firm who specializes in tourist boards. These boards raise money based on the number of visitors who come to their towns. So it’s in the best interest of this firm to inflate the numbers. I’m in no way faulting Visit Laguna. Their livelihood depends on visitors. But I do fault the research methodology, because 16,438 people parking, getting out of their cars and taking an action every single day for 365 days a year is simply preposterous. Look around. We don’t have that kind of parking, and for a good part of the winter, we are a ghost town.

    Back in 2019 I asked the research firm for their methodology, and this is what the owner told me:

    “The estimation of visitor volume is pretty straight-forward, and is based on the relative incidence of travelers seen in market throughout the year. Our surveyors randomly approached persons at locations around the city and surveyed them—keeping track of the incidence of each type of visitor (by place of stay). We know with a good deal of certainty how many hotel guests stayed in the destination, as we know the hotel inventory (available rooms), citywide occupancy rate for the year and from our survey the average length of stay and average people staying in a rented hotel room. This is used as the base from which the day trip visitor volume number is estimated. Again, based on the number of hotel guests we would expect to be in the city on any given day—relative to the number of day trippers we tracked in the survey. Volume estimates for persons staying in private homes is estimated using the occupied number of units and average number of guests estimated from a random telephone survey of homes in the city.”

    “Relative incidence of visitors seen around town.” Key word, relative. Conclusion – totally qualitative with no basis in fact.

    They estimate day trip volume from random street surveys and random telephone surveys of residents intertwined with hotel stays? Does this in any way resemble quantifiable research? Sounds like gobbledegook to me, and I’m no data scientist. He never did share his data with me, despite repeated requests. Laguna at best has a few thousand guest rooms. Even if they run at full capacity the entire year, that still leaves 13-14,000 days trippers every single day who park and take an action, whether to shop, stroll, dine, or sunbathe. There’s just no way.

    But this canard has been repeated so often and used as a cudgel by anti tourist evangelists like John that I doubt it will ever be questioned or vetted. It’s just too convenient.


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