It’s summertime, and everyone’s here. Even a little cat named Baby, who made the trip not once but twice, from inland OC to the feline fabulous confines of the Montage Resort. Why not, with their cool temperatures, sumptuous grounds, and presumably tremendous food waste? If you didn’t see the story, Baby fled from her long-haul truck owner’s cab at a stop in Mission Viejo and was found 10 months later luxuriating on the resort grounds, getting spa treatments and eating foie gras. She was scheduled to be reunited with her Florida owners thanks to a microchip and the persistence of Gail Landau, founder of Catmosphere. Baby “no stayo in Viejo,” and somehow beat a path back to the Montage, close to where Landau lived in Laguna. Who could blame her? Nobody puts Baby in a corner.
And this underscores the overwhelming draw of our fair little beach haven. Every summer, we brace for the returning hordes, knowing it’s their right to enjoy our beaches and our duty to separate them from their hard-earned cash with trinkets, souvenirs, shows, music and food. And this keeps our little economy humming, just as it has for nearly a hundred years, starting with the event that defines us more than any – Pageant of the Masters.
But back then, South Orange County was dusty pastures and citrus groves, and the drive from LA could take up to four hours on surface roads like Harbor Blvd. Our founding fathers and mothers never imagined or planned for a region with 24 million overheated inhabitants within a few hours drive.
But that’s an old story plaguing all great cities and resort towns throughout the world, because people just like procreating too much, and we no longer have wild animals to thin our legions. Most city leaders recognized this scourge decades ago and began doing things to relieve the deadly traffic that their cities were never designed for; providing alternative means of transit, creating safe biking infrastructure (dedicated lanes and rental kiosks), light rail, periphery parking, pedestrian walkways, and taxing people for driving into their central core. And by golly, it’s worked, making cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Portland, New York, Oslo, and Milan so much more livable, breathable and fun. Sure, it can be less convenient for drivers, but that’s the point: incentivize them to ditch the car and use less invasive, healthier transportation to get around town.
It would seem simple in a place as small as 7-mile Laguna. The eBike revolution began in earnest during the pandemic and has certainly changed the way our youth get around town. But it’s wildly unstructured and dangerous. And we’re yet to see the mass adaption that should happen when adults experience the freedom to move and the ease of parking with pedal-assisted biking. That won’t happen until we create meaningful bike infrastructure that signals we are a biking town and motorists share the road with us.
As for more parking on our streets, what a ridiculous anachronism that will only induce more cars to circulate through downtown. That said, we should build parking structures on the periphery, so we can stop visitors before they reach downtown. The most obvious place – that would serve everyone – would be at our village entrance, adjacent to the Digester building. This would relieve people coming through the canyon of circulating through our downtown streets; it would provide desperately needed parking for our arts district during the summer season; it would give locals plenty of auxiliary downtown parking year-round; and it could generate use in non-peak times (and help pay for itself) with various mixed-uses – a visitors’ center in the Digester, a rooftop skate park, and ground floor retail. And having this parking would advance us to our endgame of taking all parking off Forest and Ocean and making them exclusively pedestrian streets, with perhaps a slow-moving trolley or people mover running from the garage down Ocean Ave to the beach, and out to the Sawdust. And maybe, just maybe, we could permit the remaining surface parking exclusively for residents and merchants. And bicycles, of course.
As far as reducing traffic on Coast Highway, first, we have to do what Corona del Mar and Dana Point did long ago – take control from CalTrans. Then we can re-imagine this stretch, not as a highway, but as a complete, multi-modal street that charges taxes for commuters to use – just like the 73.
The blueprint for much of this was written back in 2015, and like most expensive studies, it’s been mothballed ever since. But a good source tells me that our freshmen councilmen Alex Rounaghi and Mark Orgill will be dusting off the Enhanced Mobility and Complete Streets Plan in the near future and taking some swings at the plate. I’m hoping their relative youth and exuberance will inoculate them from the usual resistance to change, and they will begin enacting the measures we all crave and know are tantamount to our quality of life. It’s the number one issue year after year among our residents: reducing the endless parade of cars coursing through our little town and harshing our mellow. The ones that create a chain of frustration, noise and pollution all the way to El Toro, Crown Valley, and El Moro. Is this really how we want to celebrate summer?
Billy is the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an outdoor adventure company, and the host of “Laguna Talks” on KXFM radio – Thursdays at 8 p.m. Email: [email protected].