Opinion: Musings on the Coast

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The Big Prank: Laguna’s Hilarious Approach to Parking

In a move that can only be described as a stroke of comedic genius, the city of Laguna Beach decided to tackle the issue of overcrowded tourist parking head-on. With a mischievous twinkle in their eyes, the city council replaced the parking lot at the Village Entrance with a new one that had a staggering 100 fewer parking stalls.

This was a few years ago when Village Laguna aficionado and councilmember Toni Iseman ran the joint, and they played a great practical joke on all of us.

But first, to understand the demand for recreational opportunities, here are the annual visitor numbers for several main tourist attractions in the O.C.:

  • Disneyland: 12 million
  • Spectrum Entertainment Center in Irvine: 16 million
  • The Great Park in Irvine (mainly the sports complex): 6 million
  • Annual visitors to Laguna Beach: 6 million

Every year, there are more tourists. The population numbers in Irvine, the Rancho Santa Margarita neighborhoods and the Inland Empire are exploding.

They all want entertainment, and as the climate heats up, they increasingly want it to be at the beach.

So, what did our fair city do with the new parking lot? Well, look. It has 100 fewer parking places than the old parking lot, on purpose. Its turning radiuses are too small for regular cars and trucks, on purpose.

This leaves tourists with an amusing set of games to play, like the mystery of “Where Did My Car Go?” Tourists arrive, can’t find a parking space, spend hours finding one, and later cannot remember where. This is especially popular with families that have four screaming kids.

Another is the “Parking Fairy” myth. According to local lore, there is an otherworldly being who, if you find her, will grant you a hidden spot, but you must believe she truly exists, then twirl twice and click your red slippers.

The “Parking Spot Auction.” The city, always scratching for more revenue, secretly has added a new twist to the game: spontaneous parking spot auctions, held at a particular spot and announced ten minutes before its availability to ensure a mad dash to get there.

The “Parking Spot Scavenger Hunt.” Late at night, city employees scatter parking clues in random places, leading tourists on a wild goose chase to find hidden spots. This interactive experience has transformed the frustration of finding parking into an exciting adventure.

And invariably, because none of the above works, the city developed a humorous appendix, the “Laguna Beach Book of Parking Etiquette.” For example, ramming other cars is out. Fistfights, although always fun, are disallowed, except for drunks. Dumping your tourist trash (after a long beach day) in front of local homes is frowned upon, but only if they catch you.

In conclusion, at least to Toni Iseman and her friends, the deliberate lack of available tourist parking is a harmless prank. But the biggest joke is on us, the taxpayers: the cost of the new parking lot with 100 fewer stalls was $11 million, or $110,000 per lost stall.

Some joke, eh?

Michael co-founded Orange County School of the Arts, The Discovery Cube, Sage Hill School, Art Spaces Irvine and several other area nonprofit organizations. He is a business partner with Sanderson-J. Ray Development and has lived in Laguna Beach since the early 1980s.

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  1. Between Fried and this guy, fact-checking and providing balance to their biased columns could become a full-time job.

    What Mr. Ray, co-founder of the Liberate Laguna PAC (which, for 2022, morphed into Laguna 2022 PAC) fails to mention regarding parking is the relentless and quite successful campaign that he and his like-minded developers/landlords/Chamber-of-Commerce financed over the past 2 election cycles. They’ve spent heavily to stack the Council and in-turn, the boards; spending upwards of 1/2 million in a town of 23,000 residents. This successful parking campaign resulted in the official removal of the decades-long commercial parking requirements that mandated that different types of businesses provide certain levels of parking for their customers. E.G., before a space could obtain a CUP as a restaurant, it needed to show that it provided 10 parking spaces per 1000 sq ft of commercial space (this is a simplification). A retail shop formerly would have had to show provision of 4 parking spaces for every 1000 sq ft. of floor space. Mr Ray et al and their supporters on Council revised the requirements downwards to a flat 3 spaces per 1000 sq ft of space regardless of business type. This was a massive win for the developers/landlords in that now, virtually any space could qualify for the most intensive use it could support because “onerous” parking requirements were relaxed. But wait, there’s more: the developer/landlords were enriched at the public’s expense by the give-away and public-financing of the downtown food corrals (again, reducing the amount of on-street parking). And lets not forget that the developers/landlords continued to avail themselves of out-dated and frivolous “parking credit” plans that they had pushed for over the years. Historic Incentive. Grandfathered incentive. In-lieu parking. And the newest moronic tool to reduce parking burden: Side-walk cafe incentive. With all of these tools, Laguna Beach is “owed” thousands of parking spaces that have been forgiven; a friendly gift by tax-payers/residents to the landed, money-obsessed class that Mr Ray so aptly represents.

    So, its a bit rich for him to lay this dearth of visitor parking at the feet of Village Laguna (his favorite whipping boy) and Toni Iseman. The developers/landlords were working hard to guarantee a scarcity for years. But now, Mr. Ray appears to be attempting to create the narrative that this dearth of parking is due to foolish residents and therefore, these same foolish residents should be made to finance the replacement of these lost spaces. So far tax-payers have been smart enough and steadfast enough to hold-off the developer/landlord demands for a publicly financed parking structure (witness the fiscally ruinous plan for a structure on the Presbyterian Church property). We will continue to resist any public financing for new parking/parking structure that further enriches the developers/landlords that fixes a problem that they created and which will continue to reward their intensification of existing and new properties.

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