Opinion: Village Matters

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Short memories on parking structure

ann christoph

Correction: The cost estimate comparisons for parking garages at the Village Entrance in Ann Christoph’s Village Matters column of Sept. 4, “Short Memories on Parking Structure” did not include all the cost factors involved. According to Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis’ presentation at the council meeting of Sept. 8, the cost estimates totaling $42,300,000 for the 2013 parking garage alternatives included site and infrastructure improvements, relocation expenses, and digester restoration that were not included in the recent consultant cost estimates. The parking garage alone was estimated to cost $22,650,000 in 2013. This compares to the $9,648,000 to $16,578,000 range of cost estimates in the recent consultant’s report for the parking garage options presented to the council.

No one who attended the City Council meeting of Nov. 12, 2013 will ever forget it.  We went into that meeting thinking that the Council would stay the course and approve going forward with the parking garage at the Village Entrance. We had been through years of planning—with parking study after parking study. Alternative garage structures were pursued with various layouts and increasing numbers of spaces. (See my May 22 column)

An Environmental Impact Report had been prepared and reviewed. Studies had demonstrated that parking fees for a new garage would not pay back the costs of constructing it. Instead it would be necessary to use the parking fees from meters all over town to pay back the bonds.

Now a facilitator had been hired to conduct a community workshop. I felt sorry for her! She had all the techniques down, trying to build a community consensus that the Council could accept. But she was facing an overflowing council chambers, residents who not only didn’t want a parking garage, but who were deeply opposed to city bonded indebtedness to pay for it. It was explained, as it will be next Tuesday, Sept. 8, that parking meter fees would pay back the bonds. But the crowd didn’t buy it, just as we shouldn’t on Tuesday. They knew that parking meter fees are almost the only compensation the city (and its residents) get from the thousands of beach goers who come here day after day to enjoy our beaches and our town. These visitors don’t pay us back for all the costs they generate—not only for trash and maintenance, lifeguards, paramedics and police, but tragically for massive rescue crews like those that are needed for endangered swimmers and other emergencies.

Those parking meter fees generate a fund that could be drawn on to make life safer, more beautiful and pleasant for our residents instead of paying back debt for a parking garage serving only the downtown.

Testimony from the public was strong, voluminous, and very clear. Councilmembers backed away, cancelled the parking structure and started on the path to a landscaped parking lot with park-like landscape and walkways that was just completed this spring. Great, the process worked, finally after over 30 years a project really happened. And guess what?  It looks good, it functions. People like it. They’re almost ready to accept the $11.3 million it cost.

But no, now there’s a $35,000 study partially funded by anonymous donors at the Chamber of Commerce that proposes a parking garage at that same location at the Village Entrance all over again. The study was supposed to examine options. Instead it shows only one floor plan, with options for adding more levels. And miraculously, the proposed garage prices have gone down since 2013. A four-level structure with a gain of 207 spaces was estimated to cost $42.3 million in 2013. Today’s estimate for Option 3, with a net gain of 258 spaces would be only $16.5 million now.

A three-level structure with a gain of 166 spaces, estimated cost in 2013, $43.1 million, now Option 2 with a gain of 201 spaces would be $14.2 million.

A two-level structure with a gain of 91 spaces, estimated cost in 2013, $37.6 million, now Option 1 with a gain of 93 spaces would be $9.6 million. 

The consultant’s largest structure, Option 3, is projected to be 48 feet tall, exceeding the city’s sacrosanct 36-foot height limit by 12 feet. In 2013 the designers managed all of their designs within the 36-foot limit. 

These are just some examples of how poorly thought out this consultant’s report is.  Wouldn’t it have produced a more realistic picture to use the 2013 designs which were thought out in detail, with all those extra costs for retaining walls, footings and other necessary expenses worked into those estimates? This study’s costs are clearly unrealistically low.

Right now, according to the city, we have 387 parking spaces at the Village Entrance including 17 equivalent spaces for bikes and motorcycles. This is 29 fewer spaces than the 416 that were there before the recent project. Council decided that giving up some parking so that landscaped spaces could be more generous was a good choice and many residents who were looking for beautification at that community focal point agreed. It was a compromise decision in favor of creating a park-like atmosphere that was a key goal of the Village Entrance planning effort from the beginning.

Now some want to swing the balance in the other direction, adding a huge structure at great cost, with destruction of millions of dollars of improvements that have just been completed. Let’s remember that we have already considered all those factors.  We have a finished project that is growing into a beautiful landscape. Let’s enjoy it!

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor.

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  1. Ann, the world is accelerating and things have changed in the 7 years that have passed. Back then there wasn’t the political will (or pandemic) to “pedestrianize” downtown by closing Forest Ave to cars, and sacrifice 43 parking spaces in the process. Now there is. There also wasn’t an elegant solution to save the digester building by integrating it into the parking structure. Luckily we have creative locals like Jorg Dubin to think outside the boxy parking garages and come up with something more organic and in keeping with our Mission style heritage. I didn’t support a parking garage in 2013, but I do now. This will give us the ample replacement parking to experiment with more street closures. And when you say, “Those parking meter fees generate a fund that could be drawn on to make life safer, more beautiful and pleasant for our residents instead of paying back debt for a parking garage serving only the downtown,” I have to respond that building a parking garage so that we can reduce cars circulating downtown, find a use for the historic digester, and make Forest Promenade a permanent, pedestrian plaza (with more pedestrian streets possible downtown) is exactly what will make life in Laguna “safer, more beautiful, and pleasant for our residents.”

  2. Today, the Sunday before Labor Day, is a perfect sunny day for the thousands of beach going visitors that can be seen on Main Beach. At 2PM we went to a spot on the hill above our new parking lots next to City Hall expecting to see the lots completely filled with cars of tourist visitors and beach goers.
    As usual, we saw what we expected and had noticed many times before: these new parking lots were nowhere near full, and in fact the part of the new lot closest to Laguna Canyon Rd. contained only two cars!!
    We have observed for years that this is almost always the case even during periods of heavy visitor beach use like today.
    So why on earth would we Lagunans want to pay for even more parking spaces at such horrendous costs when, with rare exceptions, our current lots in this location sit mostly empty probably 90% of the time!
    Once again, Ann Christof is right! No new spending for parking lots in Laguna Beach!


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