Opinion: The Recent Parking Report – The Good and Not So Good 

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Jim Danzinger

By Jim Danziger 

More than 85 separable suggestions are in the most recent version of the Parking and Demand Management Report. I will (naively?) assume that the brief “Recommendation” by the Kempf/Whalen Subcommittee on p.82 is genuine in proposing to move forward with Short-Term Opportunities and TDM strategies identified in Section 10 and leave longer-term ideas about new parking structures for further analysis. I focus on the concepts in Section 10 that are ranked as priority 1 or 2 in the Report.  

Despite the commitment to short-term opportunities and transportation demand management (TDM) strategies, the overall report spends considerable time exploring options for creating one or more parking structures. However, as the report comments on page 45: “The most attractive near-term opportunities are the smaller, largely unimproved sites that do not involve a parking structure.” Cut from the earlier version is the further comment, “These locations … are cost-effective due to the modest improvements needed and would provide almost 300 additional parking spaces, many very close to Coast Highway.” The Report does not analyze who is driving the increased demand for parking in different areas (one of its several significant data weaknesses). It is relevant to the extent to which it is day-trippers, visitors, employees, shoppers, or residents.  

Table 4 in Section 10 is replete with possible actions to increase parking when necessary. Among the Priority 1 suggestions, I support #2 for developing partnerships for public parking among the 2,000 plus “underutilized” private commercial spots, #7 for using valet parking in selected city lots during super-peak-times, and #10 working with the school district, especially if it moves ahead with its plan for increased parking capacity. Some other Priority 1 suggestions are also inexpensive and could be helpful, such as #3 standardizing signage and #12 implementing dynamic wayfinding (as well as other technological assistances).  

Among Priority 2 suggestions are positive measures, such as #6, expanding city on-demand micro-transit, and #11, incentivizing off-site employee parking. However, while the report focuses on parking issues, enhancements for pedestrians and cycling are substantially underrepresented, with only #19 about bike lockers among the 1 and 2 priorities. There are other ideas in Table 4 about revising some positive regulations, such as parking permits (#13) and in-lieu certificates (#18). However, others will further weaken the requirements on businesses and developments to provide adequate parking, and I oppose them (including #14, 17, 15, and 26). Also noted in the report are the more than 300 parking places given to businesses at an unjustifiably low rate, special allocations of parking to some local entities, and the serious shortcomings of continued use of “grandfathering” to enable development with little or no parking requirements. These should be stopped immediately.  

Three broader points. First, Laguna will never build enough parking to overcome demand problems at super-peak times. One new parking structure will quickly fill. Nothing will prevent masses of non-residents from seeking parking throughout town. However, the steps above can mitigate some of the demand. And I suggest that Laguna impose more extensive user charges on non-residents via parking. One idea: Create pay parking on all streets up to 6 blocks inland of Coast Highway in all public areas from the north to the south border of Laguna. Allow residents to park for free as they always have, no time limit. Pay parking for all non-residents from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s one of the best ways to capture some revenue from visitors to offset the more than $20 million per year that the city and its resident taxpayers subsidize the costs of visitors. Moreover, the generated parking revenue should be applied to financing the city’s services linked to visitor costs (e.g., police and fire, marine safety, trash, toilets, congestion relief), not to more parking provision. It would pass Coastal Commission muster: not one single parking place would be eliminated from those currently available to visitors (it is not a residents-only restriction at all, it is merely a user charge to offset the many cost benefits the city provides to its visitors).  

Second, there continues to be a bias in the report to justify building one or more parking structures. I don’t oppose a pay parking structure, but it should be on city-owned land and at a convenient entry point, like the Village Entrance. This would increase walking in town and facilitate more pedestrianized areas downtown. However, its cost should be apportioned to beneficiaries. The primary beneficiaries would be downtown businesses and visitors. I strongly oppose the MOU with the Presbyterian Church, which would be a poor financial decision, costing the city millions more than building on city land. Indeed, the study ranked it only sixth out of seven parking structure concepts. Also, building a structure at a far periphery of the city and providing free parking and free shuttle service into town will be a huge loss leader, again subsidized by tax-paying residents for visitors. This will only work if there is very limited parking in the center city area (e.g., as in many European tourist cities, although even there, peripheral parking is typically not free, even if free shuttles).  

In conclusion, many of the Priority 1 ideas in Table 4 are sensible and affordable. They would positively affect the goals of reducing the impact of visitor and employee parking in residential neighborhoods (“primary objective 1”). However, I doubt they would substantially “enhance mobility in the City’s commercial area during peak periods to benefit residents and… [although I suggest they would largely benefit parking for] businesses” (“primary objective 2”). There is no acknowledgment that most days of the year, most streets in Laguna don’t face extreme demand at the professional standard of greater than 85% of supply. Residents in the cited survey indicated support for more “public parking” but weren’t asked where it should be or if residents should pay for it. Most Laguna residents would probably agree with the statement: “I rarely, if ever, cannot find parking downtown or in my neighborhood when I need it.”  

The biggest traffic problems in Laguna are circulation/congestion and safety, and solving these would require reducing the 6.5 million visitors, an alternative to Coast Highway as the only north/south road along the coast, and/or much better traffic management (e.g., better synchronized signals, improved strategies for enabling pedestrians to cross major streets, more pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly streets), not additional parking spaces, which will lead to “induced demand” (a transportation science concept which is ineptly discussed on page 65). 

I encourage City Council to move forward with various suggestions in Priority 1 and 2. Let’s see if they will make any difference for the residential quality of life, visitor and employee parking management, or mobility during peak periods. 

Jim Danziger is a Professor Emeritus in Political Science at the University of California, Irvine and has lived in various parts of Laguna for more than 40 years. Although he is a current member of Laguna’s Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee, these are his personal opinions and do not reflect the views of the Committee.

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