By Michael Morris
The Laguna Beach City Council wants to move a public parking project forward through a lease agreement between the City and Laguna Presbyterian Church. That’s puzzling because two of our councilmembers are currently working on a Parking Master Plan scheduled for completion in September. Why advance a costly parking structure project before the Parking Master Plan is completed?
The previous article in this series (“Downtown Parking: Myths versus Reality”) showed the City’s approach to parking is disorderly at best and manic at worst. Two City consultants favored a reduction of parking that landlords were obligated to provide under the previous Downtown Specific Plan (DSP). The revised DSP memorialized this, which constitutes a significant give-away to downtown property owners. Yet at the same time the City continues to work towards construction of parking structures, which most likely will be built at taxpayers’ expense.
In 2017, the City proposed seven sites for parking structures downtown. Two Presbyterian Church properties on 3rd Street were included. Fast forward to May 2019, when the Council met in closed session, directing then-Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis and Councilmember Peter Blake to negotiate a shared use agreement with the church for a parking structure at 355, 359, and 363 3rd Street, even though the 355 3rd Street property was not owned by either the Church or the City.
For added flavor, read what Dupuis said at the May 10, 2022 City Council meeting:
“The reason this came to the city council was that there was an office property at 355 Third Street… That office property was for sale in 2019 and the City Council had expressed an interest in purchasing the property. I brought the purchase of the property in closed session and at that time the Presbyterian Church had expressed interest that they’d like to purchase the property and in discussion with the City Council at that time it was determined by the City Council that we should not pursue the purchase of the property and instead of that we should negotiate a share use agreement with the Laguna Presbyterian Church on how we could use that property along with the other properties that they own for a possible parking structure.”
We now find ourselves with a City Council-approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Church, which bought 355 3rd St. for $1.92 million in 2019. The MOU coincidentally has a “prepaid rent” item of $1.98 million. In my opinion, it seems that the directive from the City to negotiate an MOU prodded the Church into buying the property, which in turn was expecting to be made whole under the terms of the MOU. This is one example of how the “shared use” lease agreement is disastrous for Laguna Beach taxpayers, but great for the Church.
Setting aside the questionable inception of this project, let’s focus on the aesthetics of what might be built. The structure would be 150 feet long and 33 feet high, abutting Hagan Place, which is also 150 feet long and even taller. Together that’s the length of a football field. The combined mass of the two structures would change the village look and feel of the downtown area. The next article in this series will detail more about the shocking financials of this proposed deal.
Michael is a Laguna Beach homeowner and a 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.