Putting the Brakes on Laguna Canyon Road


By Rita Robinson | LB Indy

Described as the most significant issue in the city and one that will be challenging to resolve, solutions to an “overly congested” Laguna Canyon Road will be vetted by an 18-member task force over the next three months at a cost of $100,000, as approved by the City Council Tuesday.

The council heard a formal report from RBF Consulting as well as public comments concerning the fate of the winding road from El Toro Road to downtown Laguna Beach. Suggestions included widening the road to four lanes, shuttling people in on high-speed transit and leaving it as it is.

The City Council officially formed and charged the Laguna Canyon Task Force, comprised of members from affected, interested and invested local organizations, to determine the best course to follow through a series of public meetings.

The project of improving Laguna Canyon Road, one of two main access roads into Laguna Beach, is expected to take up to 11 years and $25 million to complete. With the City Council vowing to make the road safer and less congested in 2013, the deaths of two pedestrians on Laguna Canyon Road in the past year underscored the seriousness of the task.

RBF Consulting was hired a year ago and has spent $50,000 assessing the road and its uses and offering four solutions ranging from widening the road to two lanes in each direction to leaving the lanes as they are, adding bike routes and undergrounding utility poles. Council members Toni Iseman and Bob Whelan worked with Bob Matson from RBF Consulting on the Laguna Canyon Road Corridor Improvement Assessment report over the past year.

Whether the road is widened or not, Matson told the council, more people will come.

The road, owned and operated by Caltrans, now carries from 38,000 to 42,000 vehicles coming and going each day when, Matson said, 30,000 is the road’s capacity. New housing near Laguna Canyon Road, which becomes State Road 133 feeding into the 5 and 405 freeways, will add 44,000 new residents over the next five to 10 years, he said.

“This is the closest coastal community,” Matson told council member Elizabeth Pearson after she asked him if leaving the width of the road as-is would keep people from coming.

“Whether we build this road or not,” surmised Pearson, “they’re gonna come.” Saying that people prefer the four-lane option, Pearson adjusted her statement. “…well, not everyone, I think people think we ought to try to keep them out but I think they’re going to come anyway.”

Council member Kelly Boyd said the number of lanes doesn’t matter; there’s nowhere for the cars to go when they get into town.

“…we don’t have any place to park their cars unless we run a ramp from the end of Broadway out over the ocean about 100 yards and just let them keep going and going and falling off,” said Boyd. “That’s about the only way we’re going to park ‘em.”

Those types of specifics, said Whelan, are being addressed too soon. “I think it’s wrong to be talking about three lanes, four lanes, whatever,” he said. “We’re talking about a process here. What I do know is that the status quo on that road is unacceptable to us as a community.”

Whelan cited poor pedestrian and bicycle access and the recent fatalities. “There will be one thing that will be unanimous on this task force and that is the status quo doesn’t work.”

However, along with Boyd, some residents weren’t buying that making the road bigger is necessarily making it better or safer. Lessening danger collides with the idea of adding more cars, they contended.

”I’m not so sure, Bob, that the status quo doesn’t work,” commented resident Arnold Hano. “I think the status quo works better than what is being suggested. It works. It doesn’t work very well, but it works.”

Hano commented that Laguna has absorbed the population of Irvine, 270,000, as beachgoers here. “So another lousy 44,000 doesn’t scare me,” he said. “We made too much of a grade-A city out of Laguna. But why make it easier to come by building the roads wider and bigger and prettier?”

Barbara Metzger, a self-described defender of the city’s General Plan, suggested looking into traffic solutions other than adding asphalt. “What it says to me is that a project that will cost $25 million, take 11 years to complete and end up shortening the trip to El Toro (Road) by 1.44 minutes is not a particularly good idea,” she said.

Metzger referred to a policy of the city’s Land Use Element adopted two years ago that opposes widening Laguna Canyon Road oceanward of El Toro to discourage more cars from coming into the city.

City Council candidate Paul Merritt suggested renaming Irvine’s Great Park the Great Parking Lot. “Put the parking out there and have some sort of creative, rapid, high-speed transportation and they can bring 100,000 people a day who can then walk and have bicycles instead of a four-lane-or-more freeway down the center of Laguna Canyon.”

A top priority, according to the report, is to underground utility poles along the last few miles of the road, potentially paid for by Southern California Edison, Undergrounding, according to the report, will provide more room for designated bicycle and pedestrian routes and lessen potential fire hazard from electric high-wires and downed poles, Matson said.

Another priority is to establish safer bicyclist and pedestrian access with a possible pedestrian bridge. Improving air quality and a wildlife corridor were also listed.

Matson presented the council with five options for widening the road, providing left-turn lanes or cut-outs, roundabouts, and bicycle and pedestrian routes. The task force will consider those options as well as others that come up from public discussion.

The task force will consist of Whalen and Iseman and include representatives from the Planning

Commission and the emergency/disaster preparedness and parking-traffic-circulation committees, and the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

Other members will include Laguna Canyon residents, property and business owners, visitor organizations, bicyclists, environmental and open-space and ocean-conversation groups, civic and community activist groups and three at-large members. For information regarding membership and September deadlines to participate on the task force, contact the city clerk’s office. The first meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, October 15, 2014, at the Suzi Q Community Center.

The council approved spending $50,000 to operate the Laguna Canyon Task Force, $25,000 for continued work by RBF and $25,000 to develop formalized recommendations for later presentation to overseeing governing bodies.


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