Opinion: Village Matters

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Slow learning curve

ann christoph

Building a garage at the Village Entrance is back—as of May 12 when the council approved $35,000 (including donations from the Chamber of Commerce) to study it once again.

As early as 1983, the first consultant was hired to look into a parking structure there.   Then in 1994 councilmember Paul Freeman proposed to “jump start the Village Entrance” with a study of a parking garage. The Council also appointed a volunteer Village Entrance task force that came up with a concept and list of uses for the project, including a parking garage and a park along the frontage.

In 2001, the Council sponsored a design competition. Four teams of design professionals submitted elaborate plans and were paid a total of $95,000. Space for the corporate yard and a 395-space parking garage were included. 

The City contracted with the winning team to proceed with the next phase of drawings and by 2002 the project design was ready to proceed through planning and environmental review.

But that same year Elizabeth Pearson was elected councilmember. She announced that the parking garage was too small and pushed for another design that would include over 500 spaces, citing complaints from the Chamber of Commerce. Back to the drawing boards to redesign the project, move the corporate yard and fit in the additional parking spaces.

In 2008 the Council decided on a 580-space parking garage and a park between the creek channel and Laguna Canyon Road. They authorized an Environmental Impact Report at a cost of $94,130.

Subsequently the Council received a cost estimate of $52 million to build the project. A parking analysis concluded that there wouldn’t be enough income from parking fees to repay the cost of constructing the garage. 

Funding the project with a revenue bond to be paid off with city-wide parking meter income was proposed. The total price tag was $65 million. Suddenly the community awoke to the implications—long term indebtedness for a parking garage mostly empty 10 months of the year. “Let Laguna Vote” spread the word and protesters filled the council chambers on Nov. 12, 2013. By that time the city had paid the winning design team hundreds of thousands of dollars for 12 years of designing and redesigning.

In response to the vehement opposition the council cancelled the parking garage and chose a surface parking, landscape, and pathway option.  They acquired the Christmas tree lot for $5,325,000 to assure additional surface parking. Further public input produced the Village Entrance project that is nearly complete—at a $11.3 million cost. It includes 370 car, 8 motorcycle, and 104 bicycle parking spaces.

In addition, the parking situation has been addressed by parking management studies, the Downtown Specific Plan, the trolley program and most recently, a smart parking system with a $1.5 million price tag.

Residents are proud of their downtown area and want it to succeed, but it’s not reasonable to ask taxpayers at large to continue to finance study after study, plan after plan for the downtown and festival area, while neighborhoods and businesses outside the downtown get little attention.   

Projects that residents support—like restoration of the digester building or the community garden–can’t seem to get done without private donations.  Residents have to beg for relatively small amounts for enhancements and services in their own neighborhoods.

We’ve learned big projects like the Village Entrance and the downtown need to be moderate, reasonable and achievable. Right now we need recovery from the pandemic closure. Enjoy the completed Village Entrance project. Let’s not spend scarce post-virus dollars on studies for projects that over decades have proven to be expensive, infeasible and unpopular.

Ann is a licensed landscape architect and a former Laguna Beach mayor.

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