Speaker’s Corner

Rita Conn
Rita Conn

What is Really Going on Here?

By Rita Conn

This is a phrase I commonly used during my 30 years as a marriage and family counselor. Couples would come to me with a presenting problem, but rarely was it that simple. The presenting problem was always a symptom of an underlying issue. We would peel back the layers together until we discovered the truth. In order for the couple to reconcile, the real issue had to be laid bare on the table. Only then could the parties clearly vote if they wanted to compromise or they wanted to separate.

The residents of Laguna Beach are in a marriage of sorts with the City Council. In this case, the presenting problem is that three Council members want to proceed with a $65 million project (including interest): $5 million will be used for beautification and $60 million will be used to build a parking structure.

The residents ask, “Are you crazy? You want me to believe that you need to spend all that money to beautify the corner of Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue, putting us in debt at $2.1 million a year for 25 years? Why can’t you beautify the corner, add more parking at ACT V, and tram the visitors in for a fraction of the cost? Why would you want to bring 200 more cars into the heart of town when congestion is bad enough, and Caltrans and RBF traffic consultants told you that it will make congestion worse, much worse?”

Council answers, “Because the Coastal Commission regulates that for any one space we take away for beautification, we have to replace it with another space in close proximity.”

Now, we need to lay bare the truth on the table so that we can see what is really going on here. The truth is that the Coastal Commission gives us several options to replace parking lost to beautification. One option is what the council says: build a parking garage. But, they also allow lost on-site parking to be replaced with programs that provide for and promote alternative modes of transportation such as walking paths, safe bicycle lanes, and good public transportation. Additional parking at ACT V would satisfy these Coastal requirements, since we have established tram service from there to the beach.

However, the Coastal Commission would require additional parking for redevelopment. This is because by increasing, for example, an Ocean Avenue one-story building to three stories, many more additional spaces would be required to accommodate increased use. We can’t help but wonder, is the parking structure really for beautification? Or is it to pave the way for redevelopment of downtown by the developers, lawyers, architects, and engineers who seem to be the majority of those who speak in favor of the project? Is this why three Council members push forward on the parking structure and insist it be at the village entrance? Is this what is really going here? And if this isn’t it, then what is it?

In any case, the parking garage disagreement is only a symptom of the real underlying issue: the Council’s lack of transparency, which has undermined resident trust.

Every problem holds opportunity and something wonderful can come of this. I believe that with a pledge for transparency, trust can be restored, and this marriage can be saved.

Remove the parking structure from the project, and beautify the area with some of the money we have on hand. Don’t put us in debt. Build additional parking at ACT V and tram visitors to town and the beach. Bring in a world-class urban planner. Give the planner free reign, and don’t insist he or she include the parking structure.

Let’s bring our city into the 21st century with complete streets and multi-modal means of transportation including reliable tram service, walking paths and safe bike lanes. Let’s keep Laguna magical.

Both sides love our city. Whether they decide to compromise or vote for a separation in the 2014 election remains to be seen. However, it is abundantly clear that council needs to exhibit real transparency. Only then, can we see what is really going on here.

Laguna Beach resident Rita Conn is the spokesperson for Let Laguna Vote.


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