More Parking, Fewer Problems? Laguna residents not so sure

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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. 

Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf and Mayor Bob Whalen listen to public comment on how to address Laguna’s ongoing parking issues. Photo/Clara Beard

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.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Laguna has plenty of parking, it hosts too many cars.

    Increasing parking supply will simply invite more car traffic to fill those spaces. The Parking and Transportation Demand Management Plan features eighteen parking lots with eleven new parking structures, the visitor’s car is worth less than the parking space it occupies. Laguna Beach should instead concentrate on a new mobility policy to reduce the mode-share of automobiles, not increase their parking occupancy.

  2. Less cars, more feet, more bikes!!!!
    Has ANYONE from the city committees been to Europe or any other town outside car centric California?
    Big ugly parking structures placed around town with the current streets and roadways will most definitely make a three month summer problem even WORSE!
    Skinny streets, actual bike and foot paths( even Dana Point has that…) and let’s REDUCE the increase of cars( ride share autos make Coast more dangerous are NOT the answer).
    Walk people!!!
    Park

  3. Thanks to those that offered input and expressed concerns. The comprehensive PTDMP shows us clearly how high the stakes are if we allow city leaders to turn our coastal city into convenient access and parking for masses of visitor cars, people and congestion. Most residents I talk with or listen to publicly do not want this for our town.

    IMO- Parking structure promoters Mayor Whalen and MPT Kempf must start listening to their resident constituents. The identified parking opportunities recommended in their plan (especially the Presbyterian Church proposal!) should each be thoroughly reviewed by voting stakeholders with the highest level of scrutiny and all immediate and long-term costs justified and benefits established and supported by taxpayers/residents before any council approval.

    I hope current city leaders are listening.

  4. Hey! Wait One Cotton Pickin’ Minute: Isn’t this issue one of the items that The Wunderkind Rounagh ran on? What’s his prescription? He said HE has the experience, right? OK, go for it Sir.

  5. Why are we even considering the Presbyterian parking structure deal when we don’t have a complete city-wide parking plan? Why should taxpayers suffer up to $155M in costs for a site we’ll never own and may not even need?

  6. So what’s the goal of the parking plan?

    Is it to supply more parking for existing visitors or open the town up for more?

    How many more? What’s the magic number?

    Or is there no number – the sky’s the limit?

    When will enough be enough?

  7. $155,000,000 over 53 years to build a parking garage on the Presbyterian Church lot? Only to give the parking structure back to the church at the end of the lease term? Oh, and no parking on Sunday until noon? Oh, and next to the preschool playground? Oh, and bring more traffic, noise, pollution into the center of town? Residents say No to this very bad negotiation. Stop!

  8. While a number of recommended strategies and solutions deserve further consideration and support, massive parking structures at either South Laguna locations are environmentally destructive and unsustainable. These locations should be removed from the plan.

    The proposed 4 story Aliso Beach Parking Structure is antithetical to decades of City commitments of staff and funds together with multiple regional agencies and community investment to restore the Aliso Estuary – a federally listed site for endangered Tidewater goby recovery and a designated Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for Southern Steelhead Trout.

    Numerous community groups have provided start-up funding, agency testimony and thousands of community hours to support the efforts of Laguna Ocean Foundation’s science-based restoration program. Additional funding of $300,000 from the Coastal Conservancy and collaboration with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project has produced an Aliso Creek Estuary Restoration Program currently in the Phase II process of implementation to “Bring the Lagoon Back to Laguna.”

    Land use policies are determined by “highest and best use” considerations. California has lost 90% of its coastal wetlands due to commercial development, marinas, parking lots and more. Restoration of the Aliso Estuary is the highest and best use of this, a rare natural resource and a key component for sea life recovery. The inland Aliso Beach coastal wetland is also mapped as a part of Laguna’s State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) and Water Quality Environmentally Sensitive Area (WQESA). Aliso Point is a federally designated South Laguna Marine Life Refuge (1968).

    Fred Lang Park is a popular recreational site for South Laguna residents and visitors. The proposed multi-level underground parking structure will require significant removal of hundreds of thousands of yards of soil to increase the traffic and air pollution in South Laguna. Massive concrete retention walls and parking areas will dramatically increase Laguna Beach’s carbon footprint to undermine the City’s climate protection plan.

    Mature trees will have to be removed, and it will be impossible to re-create the play areas, beautiful undulating park landscape, and play field surrounded by informal plantings with a flat rooftop lawn area.

    The Draft Parking Plan offers a number of useful strategies and solutions. For instance, requiring hotels, restaurants and City employees to park at Act V and take shuttle services will free-up parking opportunities throughout the city. Employees can be paid to ride the shuttle to their respective work site.

    Sustainable solutions, however, must be justified by accurate data. The Draft Plan’s limited data analysis remains inaccurate and inadequate for actual use patterns. Peripheral parking schemes to accommodate downtown businesses relegate sensitive habitats and popular recreational areas as “vacant land” rather than valuable community assets.

    Recommended Actions
    The Draft Plan is seeking significant alterations to the character, culture and quality of life for South Laguna residents while advancing a negative, congested, urbanized experience for visitors with a lack of meaningful baseline data. Surrounding beaches, coves and reefs are compact areas with high ecological value and dangerous surf conditions unsuitable for increased tourism. The area’s attributes make the proposed parking structures an unsustainable introduction of urban blight to South Laguna’s compact low-profile setting.

    To improve transparency and accuracy, the SLCA recommends a series of workshops to refine parking and transportation plans with local knowledge to identify affordable, short-term solutions and “low hanging fruit.” The plan must identify, numerically:

    What is adequate parking?
    What is sustainable physically, environmentally and financially?
    Can the Draft Plan survive a basic CEQA review?

    In summary, the Draft Plan, while offering a number of useful low impact recommendations, presents out-of-scale parking options and is a distraction of valuable community resources to address significant discrepancies.

  9. Nancee Swensson, could you please explain your math: “$155,000,000 over 53 years to build a parking garage on the Presbyterian Church lot?”

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