Every parking meter and public lot in downtown Laguna Beach will increase to $3 an hour, starting June 24, and free summer trolleys will venture uphill to run the city bus routes now serving neighborhoods.
A parking and transit program increasing rates and expanding trolley service during the 10-week art festival season from June 24-Aug. 31 was unanimously approved by the City Council Tuesday.
The changes are intended to discourage visitors from jamming downtown streets by parking in outlying, and comparatively cheaper, lots serviced by free trolleys. The goal is to decrease downtown parking space use to 85 percent of capacity instead of the 90-plus percent it has been, which will reduce congestion, said Tom Toman, deputy public works director.
Meter rates will jump from $2 an hour weekdays at some meters to a flat $3 an hour throughout downtown and on Coast Highway from Legion to Aster Streets, Toman reported.
Daily rates will also increase at in-town parking lots from $10 to $15 weekdays before 5 p.m. and from $15 to $20 after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
Meters closer to the beach, shops and restaurants were set at $3 an hour last year and use credit or debit cards. The “convenience” of bank cards and pay stations, says the report, makes it easier for the consumer to spend more money on parking.
A by-product of raising meter rates, said council member Bob Whalen, is that if drivers are given a choice between a pricey meter and an open curb uphill in a neighborhood, particularly on a less-busy weekday, they’ll opt for the free space.
Improving the southern trolley route is also a priority, council members agreed. Most of Laguna’s residents live south of Broadway, pointed out council member Toni Iseman, and trolleys become quickly packed at the starting stops traveling South Coast Highway. More frequent trolleys and a more coordinated navigational system are planned to improve the south route, said Toman.
Trolleys will also again stop at the bus depot, as requested by summer art festival officials, Toman said. Last summer, 650,000 riders boarded the free city trolleys, a 7 percent drop from the previous year’s ridership of 700,000, the report stated.
Eliminating the trolley stop at the Ritz-Carlton resort in Dana Point with trolleys turning around near Crown Valley Parkway will open up space for riders in south Laguna, suggested Iseman. “We are really servicing another community,” she said, of the south-route stop outside city limits. She also suggested adding another stop and turn around at The Ranch resort near Aliso Beach.
As a pilot program, trolleys will run through neighborhoods on weekends during the 10-week summer festival season to ensure that residents get a seat on often-jammed shuttles. Neighborhood trolleys allow the city to serve an “uncaptured” market of local residents, according to the report, while alleviating more downtown congestion by keeping cars at home.
The trolleys will stop at existing bus stops on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until 11:30 p.m. Instead of one hour between buses, neighborhood trolleys will run a fourth route with intervals of 30 minutes and connections to the coast and canyon routes.
Peripheral parking lots were also consistently full last summer, a city report says. High use of the 264-space ACT V lot in Laguna Canyon, expedited by new pay stations, reduced queuing on Laguna Canyon Road, the report said.
This summer, motorists will pay more to leave their cars behind. The ACT V lot daily fee will jump from $7 seven days a week to $10 on weekends and holidays. The city garnered $90,000 from the lot last year. When full on weekends, motorists are directed to a nearby parking lot at the Laguna College of Art and Design at $5 a day.
Other lots include Mission Hospital in south Laguna, the Susi Q Community Center at 380 Third St. and Hagan Place at 383 Third St., all at $5 a day. The city will also negotiate to lease the parking lots at and near the Boys and Girls Club on Laguna Canyon Road, the report says. Mission Hospital is doubling available spaces to 300. Toman was asked to seek the permission of Pavilions shopping center to again use its parking lot as a needed north Laguna location. The parking lot at El Morro Elementary School, included along last summer’s trolley route, proved too far north and was little used, said Toman.
The city now owns 21 propane trolleys that provide service to summer festivals and the recently added weekend trolley service along Coast Highway. The city plans to lease more trolleys that use gas for the residential runs, which is expected to cost $100,000, Toman said.
Parking revenue increased by $325,000 in summer 2015 compared to a year earlier, the report says. In total, the city’s annual parking revenue, which includes fees from meters, lots and parking permits, exceeds $6 million and pays for the trolley system and for other parking and transit projects.
Rate increases won’t affect residents with shopper permits. If parking spaces and lots remain at maximum capacity this summer, “staff will consider more substantial rate increases for summer 2017,” the report said. The city may also expand its residential trolley service to off-season weekends in 2017.
The city offers a variety of discount parking permits through its website.
Off-season weekend trolley service will resume on Sept. 1 and meters will return to off-season rates after Labor Day.
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