By Tasmin McGill
The struggle to find parking has long since been an issue for the residents and visitors of Laguna Beach. While the view of the Main Beach is pleasant, the circling drivers downtown searching to find parking makes the visit less enjoyable. In January 2022, Mayor Bob Whelan and Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf formed the Parking Master Plan Subcommittee to conduct a study to find a solution to a problem that continuously plagues Laguna Beach.
Senior Planner Anthony Viera and Fehr & Peers City consultant Steve Brown presented the findings of the third report during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. While long and in-depth, residents who attended the meeting online and in person still have concerns about whether the recommendations are feasible and if they will truly help the congestion experienced during their peak traffic season.
Viera pointed to three recommendations based on the report’s results that include ways to target parking infrastructure, enhance the demand for transportation, and update parking codes.
“To address the issue as comprehensively and as efficiently as possible, it was apparent that no one solution could solve the problem,” Viera said. “We can look to the wildfire mitigation and fire safety report as an example of a plan that looked at a complex problem and derived a series of actionable items to mitigate that issue.”
These recommendations and plans of action derive from input from community members. The poll that was administered saw that both residents and businesses believed parking to be an issue and, ultimately, support the idea of developing a master plan to address it.
Some potential solutions addressed in the report include building parking structures and incentivizing rideshare opportunities.
However, with these goals in mind, how to put them into action is a point of contention for residents and community members. Are more parking spots really the answer to congested streets?
According to resident Billy Fried, this action plan seems like it could potentially contribute to the problem rather than help solve it.
“We’re just going to bring more cars in. And it’s a very sort of the 1970s thinking to a 21st-century problem when so many cities now around the planet are working to reduce the number of cars in downtown,” Fried said. “We seem to be inviting more by coming up with parking.”
For Fried, focusing on electric and manual bicycles and investing in bike rental kiosks in Downtown Laguna, neighborhoods, and parks is a better solution.
One undeniable reason Laguna Beach stands out is its rich history, pedestrian-friendly location and art and culture community. Viera knows that the town’s authenticity cannot be replicated in other master-planned communities and wants to ensure that it stays intact.
“This has allowed us to benefit from a charming pedestrian oriented environment that really did develop organically with a light touch over time,” Viera said.
While Laguna welcomes visitors to experience what the city has to offer, the traffic that comes with that has brought on challenges and causes for concern. One of the reasons for the development of this Subcommittee was to address the decrease in quality of life for residents. As the parking lots closest to downtown and the beach fill to capacity, residents see visitors parking on residential streets.
Other challenges include the high land cost and the lack of land in Laguna for parking structures. And, as mentioned during public comment, the reliance on personal vehicles.
A way to combat people’s reliance on their personal vehicles would be to encourage utilizing rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft. And while that could be beneficial, it could contribute to the problem rather than solve it. Services like Lyft require places to pull over to let passengers out, which could still pose a problem. And it is also likely that drivers will circle the area waiting for calls causing traffic rather than decreasing it.
Traffic in Laguna is notorious and expected by frequent visitors and residents of the city. Although this report has issues, residents view it as a good start.
“I want to thank you for providing the report because I think it’s important to all of us to understand all the options available to address parking concerns in our city, whether we agree with them or not,” Laguna Beach resident MJ Abraham said.