Opinion: Downtown Parking – Myths Versus Reality

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By Michael Morris
Several of Laguna Beach’s elected leaders, paid staff, and appointed committee and commission members, appear confused when it comes to their approach to our city’s parking issues. On the one hand, they treat parking as if we have it in abundance. On the other, they propose complex parking solutions that will cost taxpayers millions.

Laguna Beach’s updated Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) has significantly reduced the parking required be provided by downtown commercial building owners for the benefit of their tenants and tenants’ customers. The decision to reduce the long-standing obligation of the landlords was based in part upon the findings of two city-sponsored studies produced by IBI Group and MIG Inc.

These studies conclude there is an abundance of parking available downtown most of the time, and the “decoupling” of parking requirements to business use was needed. This is a huge gift to landlords who can now demand the higher rents that more parking-intense businesses such as restaurants and bars can command. Does requiring only six parking spaces for a restaurant or bar that serves 60 patrons with a staff of eight, then giving a 50% reduction due to “C” class building historicity, make sense? Of course, it doesn’t.

In addition, the “parking abundance myth” is falsely used to justify eliminating 72 downtown parking spaces needed for the Promenade (aka Forest Avenue) and the street food stalls. Keep in mind that the City leases a total of 208 spaces downtown to various businesses, charging as little as $55 per month. These are rates that have not been adjusted in more than a quarter of a century, costing the City around $873,000 annually in lost meter revenue. Then there’s the continued giveaways of non-existent parking via grandfathering and historical exemptions, as well as other waivers of parking requirements to businesses and landlords.

Despite the “parking abundance myth” telling us that Laguna’s downtown needs no additional parking, the City is on a quest to build multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded parking structures. In 2017, seven locales were under evaluation as potential sites. Among these was the OC library site at 363 Glenneyre St. and the Presbyterian Church street lot along Third Street. Does that make sense when we’re being told there’s plenty of parking?

The fact is city leaders know the “parking abundance myth” is exactly that—a myth manufactured to promote their own parking agenda. Knowing how frustrated most Lagunans and visitors are about the scarcity of parking downtown, this group of civic leaders and city staff is counting on residents to enthusiastically embrace their proposals for the construction of costly parking structures. These city officials are banking on the fact that below-market parking leases, more food stalls, and new parking-intense businesses will make parking matters worse.

Maybe what the City is doing isn’t crazy if you start with the proposition that taxpayers “owe” landlords and businesses the benefits of abundant parking (as Councilperson Peter Blake has opined). Perhaps there’s a method to their madness. Maybe their dual-pronged approach of letting businesses off the hook for parking is their way of garnering resident support for taxpayer-funded parking structures.

It’s a genius strategy if your objective is to cater to the business community at the expense and convenience of the average resident.

Michael is a Laguna Beach homeowner and founder and former Treasurer of Laguna Residents First PAC. He previously served a one-year term on the Orange County Grand Jury and as an appointed trustee to the Orange County Vector Control District.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. More details on the hypothetical parking requirements under the new DSP, for an average-sized restaurant: Ave size of LB restaurant in the Downtown=2268 sq ft. New DSP requirements for parking for ANY business type = 3 per 1000 sq ft of floor space = 6.804 round down to 6. Buildings can qualify for historic parking reductions through various means. Slice (pizza restaurant on Forest), was granted a “C” rating for its building (which offers a 50% parking reduction), for simply promising to expose some covered brick-work and other slight “historical renovations”. My example works off of this precedent which the Heritage Committee granted.

  2. Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach has held up as an example that Laguna Beach should emulate by at least one councilmember. This mix of shops and restaurants right on the water uses the “reuse and renew” concept, preserving some buildings and adding others. What’s not mentioned is that the landlord undertook the redevelopment of both the mall and the parking structure. The garage is not owned or managed by the city, and Newport Beach taxpayers did not foot the bill: the landlord did because both are the center and the garage are privately owned. Those who want to park in the structure pay to do so. And those who would rather not–including taxpayers–are not obligated to do so.

  3. The only ones who appear to be confused are the chronic complainers finding something to complain about each week. There’s no confusion – only the changing dynamics of an urban center. You complain about the relaxing of parking restrictions to “benefit tenants and tenants’ customers?” You mean us? Yes, thank you, we appreciate having new retail concepts approved without the draconian parking requirements of yesteryear. “Huge gift to landlords?” Why, sure, but also to us – who like to shop, drink and dine out. Don’t like it? Call Uber Eats.

    A study can easily conclude we have enough parking in general, but not enough onsite for each tenant to be approved. Two different things. So yes to relaxing the restrictions and making our town hum again with good retail offerings.

    And let me explain why we still need more parking, Mr. Morris. As we continue to pedestrianize downtown – which a majority of the community loves (except of course you guys) – and create fabulous car-free zones like the Forest Promenade, the Coastal Commission continues to require us to replace the parking. So building a structure somewhere outside of town makes sense for two reasons: 1) so we can further rid downtown of cars and make it clean, quiet, congenial, and pedestrian friendly, and 2) to keep cars from circulating downtown, so less congestion for all of us.

    You fail to understand that cities and towns are dynamic organisms that are constantly in flux to meet the needs of the future. It’s why changes to the code have to happen frequently. Just ask the city of Costa Mesa, who is saddled by a citizen initiative and unable to make needed changes, like more affordable housing. It’s why the Initiative is on the ballot again – this time to dismember it.

    Once again you prove what Laguna Residents First cannot be the stewards of Laguna’s commercial future: You act like guardians of our tax dollars, but then rush to squander $50 million of our money by coercing Council to sign a beyond dopey 25 year lease with the County to operate it.

  4. For anyone wondering, Trish and Michael do not care about having a world-class dining and retail experience in Laguna. Frankly, they wouldn’t know what one is. For us cultured residents who equate the quality of life with great restaurants and shopping along with our beautiful beaches, hills, trails, and weather, we can have it all! Don’t we deserve it given the amount we pay in property taxes?

    Keep in mind these authoritarians simply want power and control. They yearn for the days that via the despised Design Review Board and their iron-fisted grip on City Hall, they could control all aspects of our lives. Your closet is too big, you don’t need a home theater or wine cellar, not sure about your light fixtures… Property rights be damned!

    In 2018 I showed them the door and they’ve been trying to regain their power over us ever since.

    Look at Trish and Michael and ask yourself if they inspire you. Are these the people you want dictating the future of Laguna? Are they gonna allow us to live our lives to the fullest or will they contain us and try to regress Laguna back to the 70s?

    This November let’s send them packing and vote down their nanny-state Ballot Initiative. We have a town to create and we’ll enrich our future in ways they can’t imagine.

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