Parking Distracts From the Heart of the Matter
Why is building a parking garage suddenly back on the city’s agenda? It’s been seven years since the Council rejected a garage at the Village Entrance and voted to go ahead with a landscape, pathway, and parking approach, creating the project that was just finished this spring. Why is the garage back now? I suggest that some candidates want to prove to voters that they’re doing something about what the voters supposedly care about most—traffic, parking and congestion.
These are favorite campaign topics, and for good reason. Every local poll I’ve seen for years shows parking, traffic, congestion at the top of the list of resident concerns. Any campaign strategist worth his fee does a poll as part of advising candidates on issues to emphasize with voters. “Talk about traffic, parking, and congestion and what you will do about it,” they advise. Most candidates don’t even have to get that advice, they hear it directly from voters, as councilmembers and testifiers reiterated at last week’s council meeting on the proposed parking garage at the Village Entrance.
As former council candidate Judie Mancuso related, we’ve heard this all before in previous campaigns. Various solutions are proposed during the election season and almost none are ever implemented after candidates take office. That’s because although the sound-bite ideas make good pre-election promises, most of them are unrealistic and not widely supported once the details are known.
Some solutions have worked, the complicated detailed ones that don’t make good campaign speeches. The parking management plan, starting in 2014, worked. The traffic and parking relief downtown was noticeable. Its success required careful coordination by city staff, arranging for the use of private lots like those at Pavilions and Mission Hospital, fine tuning of parking meter rates to control parking space occupancy, improving signage and awareness of the parking options available. The trolleys were a critical part of parking and traffic management success.
What happened this year? No trolleys, minimal parking management. Recreation facilities closed everywhere except beaches and parks. Even Disneyland closed. It should be no surprise that the number of visitors to our beaches increased and that the neighborhoods felt the impact of more traffic and parking demand. It was an intense summer and we’re all on edge, still wondering if we’ll be exposed to the virus, tired of being so restricted in our activities, and being subjected to crowds of other frustrated people not wearing masks or observing social distancing. It’s understandable why we want easy-to-explain solutions to our frustrations from our candidates. We can envision a garage holding several hundred of those pesky cars that we deal with in our neighborhoods.
Thus we have the build-a-parking-garage refrain being sung again by the two council incumbents, Bob Whalen and Steve Dicterow, as well as one of the challengers, Larry Nokes. Whalen, Dicterow and Sue Kempf voted yes with Iseman opposed (Blake abstained) to go ahead with the design, geology study and environmental review for a parking garage at the Village Entrance—a $1.15 million commitment.
That’s a lot of taxpayers’ money to placate voters. I don’t think the residents will buy it. The underlying push for a parking garage comes from downtown business interests who view such a garage as a way to expand commercial properties in the downtown without providing their own parking. Parking relief for neighborhoods will be minimal. Let’s show that the fancy campaign consultants are wrong. We’re not going to vote for candidates because they promise expensive parking relief with a parking garage when inexpensive relief (parking management) is available—just not used this year.
Now we’re looking beyond the pain of this summer. We’re worried about the future of our town, from the heart. We’re asking how do we keep what we love about this town, keeping it safe, not only from fire and natural disasters, but from decisions that don’t respect its special qualities and its devoted residents.
Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor.