By Elizabeth Pearson
After reading a recent column about the Village Entrance wherein my name was mentioned – and a letter on the subject, please note the following:
- In March 1995, the City Council appointed a 21-community member Village Entrance Task Force to recommend a path forward for a Village Entrance. I was on the Task Force as I was a Planning Commissioner. The Recommendations from the Task Force were presented in October 1995.
- In September 2004, the City Council appointed two City Councilmembers to work as a sub-committee to forge a compromise to move the Village Entrance project forward, with me being one of the members. (I was elected to City Council in November 2002).
- By January 18, 2005, the subcommittee had mutually agreed upon 12 points for a Village Entrance Compromise, including moving the corporation yard to Act V, creating a beautiful park and natural pathway, retaining the digester, and building a garage with up to 580 spaces to be no higher than 36-feet high. This Village Entrance compromise was presented at an all-day community workshop on that date and well received.
- On June 8, 2011 the Planning Commission certified the Environmental Impact Report for the Village Entrance with several alternatives and sizes, etc.
- By March 26, 2013, I continued in the direction of the Village Entrance Compromise, but the other councilmember pursued a different direction. On that date, the two councilmembers presented separate plans for a Village Entrance project to the City Council and public. I was not pressured by the Chamber of Commerce to pursue my plan. It was a scaled down version of the original Village Entrance Compromise. The plan had a garage with three stories above ground and the balance of parking was below ground. There would be a total of 585 parking places on the site. The final cost projected by Waller Construction for my plan was about $35.3 million, before financing costs.
- Working with councilmember Bob Whalen, we developed the financing plan that would utilize existing funds in the Parking Fund, a Revenue Bond to be paid for annually with anticipated parking meter revenues (from meters located all over town)—and other non-Laguna taxpayer sources. The Council voted to adopt this plan in June 2013.
- After all the approvals, a councilmember said “let’s get the town to vote on this”. Thus, a group called “Let Laguna Vote” organized to fight the approved Village Entrance project, touting a cost of over $60 million. The group stormed City Hall and put up signs citywide to stop the approved project.
After much thought, I felt that the short time frame prior to a public vote would not be enough time to explain the costs and bond financing structure—nor to show Laguna taxpayers how the project would not be paid for by residents. Also, I felt that it could create a negative battle in town such as we experienced with the Montage Referendum. Thus, after working 18 years for a beautiful gateway Village Entrance for the City which would add 10% more parking to the downtown, I decided not to move forward. There was never a public vote on the Village Entrance project.
I continue to dream of a beautiful Village Entrance that adds parking spaces at this location – just before drivers enter downtown Laguna, thus reducing congestion and the “washing machine” circling effect Larry Nokes often refers to when describing cars circling round-and-round town to find a parking space. It needs to happen and I believe it will.
Elizabeth was a 12-year councilmember and three-time mayor.