By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
The cost to create a more visually interesting city entrance at Laguna Canyon Road has risen to $8.4 million, with the City Council approving the estimated $1.3 million budget increase at Tuesday’s meeting.
The project intended to remake an asphalt parking lot at the Canyon Road and Forest Avenue is to include pedestrian bridges, trees and landscaping, parking, a walking path, and outdoor public areas alongside the path. Earlier in the week, project designers outlined the cost increases for the Planning Commission and council members.
“We spent quite an amount of time with the consultant team in the room behind closed doors reviewing all the detail and making sure every line item made sense to us,” said Shohreh Dupuis, the city’s public works director.
An added metal storage building for the police department, extension of the pedestrian trail, car charging units, and design fees for bridges account for some of the increases. A price escalation contingency of nearly $400,000 was also added to the project.
“The added increases are based on additional requested building components and features, seasonal construction phasing programs, and supplemental services,” said project designer Roger Torriero, chief executive of Irvine-based Griffin Structures. “Having worked with government clients for almost 40 years most municipalities and counties don’t recognize escalation contingencies, but I think in this market it would be prudent to do so.”
Designers intend to marry the exterior look of the entrance with the Festival of Arts’ façade. Additional hardscaping and outdoor public space was outlined, and landscaping renderings including the layout and types of trees and shrubs intended for use. Native sycamores are planned along roadway edges, and native oaks on interior areas and near the drainage channel.
“I would like to see a little less Disneyland, so many variety of plants rather than keep it simple,” said local horticulturist Rueben Flores. “I think we should go for a canyon feel rather than a designed feel.”
With 62 light poles required to meet lighting codes, Commissioner Susan Whitin expressed concern light poles rather than trees will dominate the edge for a decade.
Others criticized the project for omitting restoration of the city’s historic sewer digester building.
“It’s right there in the village entrance; it would be so magnificent to rehabilitate it to put it back externally and internally eventually,” said Village Laguna President Johanna Felder. “I hope you will relook at that.”
The weekly farmer’s market and a new outdoor event space are also envisioned for the site.
Addition of a pedestrian bridge, replacement of a retaining wall, and replacement of a chain link fence bordering the county drainage channel were also outlined in the plan. Council members want options other than a chain link fence explored, but it will be at the city’s cost. If the fence is not chain-link, it will not meet the county’s flood control standards, and they will not pay to maintain it.
As the price tag for the project goes up, council members told city planners they need flexibility of project components to keep project costs from rising. Some residents were not happy with the $1.3 million increase.
“This increase in budget is almost 20 percent in less than one year,” said resident Hillary Cole. “Where can we pull back and spend a little less money?”
With final project design approval and bid expected as soon as next spring, demolition of old buildings at the site could start by the summer of 2018.
“When I first moved here 30 years ago they were talking about the village entrance,” said resident Paul Hamilton. “It’s for the greater good of the community and the quicker it gets done the less it’s going to cost.”
The construction phases would follow a nine-month schedule as to avoid the summer tourist season, with project completion by 2020. The project goes to the Planning Commission on Dec. 13 to start design review.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Kelly Boyd was appointed mayor and Rob Zur Schmeide appointed to the position of mayor pro tem. Boyd has served on the council since 2006 and has been appointed mayor by his peers twice prior. He is a military veteran and lifelong Laguna Beach resident, and a direct descendant of one of the city’s first settlers.