H.L. Mencken said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” Unfortunately, this may prove true if residents don’t vigorously speak out against the Presbyterian parking structure deal being pitched this month by Laguna’s self-appointed parking committee of Mayor Whalen and Pro Tem Sue Kempf – who are seeking the support of our two newly elected Council members – Alex Rounagi and Mark Orgill.
How can anyone justify building this proposed Third Street parking project which could cost taxpayers up to $55.6M once the structure and its leased land revert in 53 years to the Presbyterian church, which will own it free and clear?
During that tenure, we will have to split the meter revenue with the church while paying for all operational costs, taxes and insurance.
This location will further clog downtown with even more traffic. And if closing Third Street was a nightmare six years ago, the street’s closures for this multi-story project will take even longer.
With this deal, the church has exclusive rights to the structure on Sundays until 12:30 p.m., during the largest influx of tourists.
If a parking structure is really needed (which is still being debated), there’s a much more logical and fiscally responsible solution: build a parking structure on city-owned land for around $12M, use it full-time, retain all profits and own it in perpetuity.
But given our Council’s track record for lack of transparency and autocratic decision-making, that’s not how this may play out.
For example, two years ago, the Council ignored and straight-armed dozens of residents who protested against the $2.7M acquisition of the unusable Ti Amo property in South Laguna. The Council bought the site anyway without an appraisal or feasibility study. Now the City is desperate to unload it in a down market.
Another example: Forest Avenue was shut done by fiat of the Council without proper public notification or residents’ input, and without an explanation of the operational costs and need for a parking structure – all expenses now to be foisted on residents, not the businesses who benefit most from the street’s closure.
Is the public up for blithely accepting similar blindsided treatment to the tune of $55.6M when cheaper solutions are readily available? I encourage you to speak up at Council meetings, write letters to the editor, post on Nextdoor and write your Council members. Oppose this project before we’re stuck with it and wind up with what we don’t deserve.
Jerome Pudwill, Laguna BeachView Our User Comment Policy