Opinion: It’s Time For a Downtown Parking Garage

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Its been nearly 10 years since the community voiced its disapproval over a parking garage at the village entrance and the council pulled it from consideration. I was among the poo pooers. But oh what a difference a decade makes.

According to U.S. census data, Riverside County—one of the leading feeder markets into Laguna, grew by 10% in the last decade—adding about a quarter of a million residents. Orange County grew 6% during the same period, adding about 177,000 people to its already bloated ranks of 3 million residents. This was during a period when 53% of all U.S. counties shrunk. Yep, theyre still coming—despite our taxes, cost of living, homelessness, natural disasters, and liberal tolerance of crime.

Also, we have now learned empirically that pedestrian promenades do indeed enhance the quality of our lives, with pleasant downtown streets to stroll, window shop, and dine alfresco. But we need to replace those 43 lost parking spots on Forest, as well as the spots displaced by the adjacent parklets, and the nine spots lost to the $11 million Village Entrance beautification project. And we need the flexibility to remove additional parking should we choose to further pedestrianize downtown in the future.

Additionally, the new Downtown Specific Plan has decreased the amount of onsite parking that merchants need to get permitted, meaning its now more necessary than ever to provide replacement parking. One person who opposed the DSP and voiced his disapproval to Coastal Commission was Councilmember George Weiss. He said that despite advancements in alternative transportation, cars were here for the foreseeable future, and thus parking must be provided. Well, since Coastal approved the DSP, heres your chance, George.

Heres whats also changed. We have a better design now that integrates and repurposes the wayward, historic Digester Building. Artist and Planning Commissioner Jorg Dubin put his pro bono creativity to work and conceived of a tasteful, modest, three-story rendering of a Spanish Mission garage that uses the Digester as the stairway and elevator. The garage sits to the right and is thus set back unobtrusively into the hillside, and is under our 36-foot height limit.

But it doesnt have to be a single-purpose edifice, first because we have a state mandate for more affordable housing. And also because we have failed to provide our talented, athletic youth a safe place to skateboard, despite the fact that we are home to world-class skaters, including number one in the world Nyjah Huston. This structure could be multi-functional—a skateboard park on the top floor—which could be converted to parking during the summer as necessary. And if we used the ground level for affordable housing, we would have a four-way win, or whats known in the permaculture world as stacked use. A historic rehab, a skate park, affordable housing, and a parking structure. This funding could be obtained from a variety of sources, including state housing subsidies. And whatever it costs, it will eventually be recouped through parking fees and/or rents.

The reason this location makes so much sense is that cars entering from Laguna Canyon Road would never have to course through our downtown streets looking for parking. Yet its walking distance to everything, unlike Act V. And imagine how nice and scenic it would be to someday have a slow-moving trolley from the garage to the beach, right down the middle of Ocean Avenue, and traveling the other way to the Sawdust Festival—a connector line from our arts district to the beach. But I digress. For now lets make it our transportation hub, where buses, trolleys, and even an electric bike rental kiosk could be cited, thus making it easy and enticing to ditch the car and get around town effortlessly.

What has made other promenades successful like Pearl Street in Boulder and Third Street in Santa Monica has been the addition of parking garages on the periphery. The Promenade is just one piece of the puzzle in making our downtown less congested and more community-centric. To anticipate the ongoing population surge and popularity of Laguna, we still need more multi-modal transport options and safe biking infrastructure. We still need to underground the power lines on Laguna Canyon Road and a dedicated bike/transit lane. We still need parking garages in North and South Laguna, so that tourists funneling in can park and ride. This will make Laguna a model town of the future, easing us off the teat of fossil fuels while making it less stressful for us residents to get around. This will dramatically improve the quality of life for generations to come, and achieve an equally important goal for most of you—increasing your home values.  If not us, who? If not now, when?

Mayor Sue Kempf and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen are heading the master parking subcommittee, charged with laying out a master-parking plan for the city. If you agree with a downtown parking garage, be sure to voice your support to them.

Billy hosts Laguna Talks on Thursday nights on KXFM radio. Hes also the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an E-bike and ocean sports tour company. Email: [email protected]

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