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Carmageddon is Coming

By Billy Fried

“What destroys the poetry of a city? Automobiles destroy it, and they destroy more than the poetry. All over America, all over Europe in fact, cities and towns are under assault by the automobile, and are being literally destroyed by car culture.

These words were spoken more than 20 years agoby the recent centenarian poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Founder of San Francisco’s famed City Lights Bookstore (where he was arrested for selling Alan Ginsberg’s HOWL), Ferlinghetti was delivering his inaugural 1998 address as Poet Laureate of San Francisco.

Here in Laguna, we surely knew back then that traffic was the single biggest threat to our incredible quality of life. Yet here we are, with the upcoming, newly landscaped entrance as the only major public works project since then. It’s tragic that we haven’t gotten in front of our car problem, but we just can’t wean ourselves off the convenience of them.

So here we go, déjà vu all over again. Spring has sprung, “Enciliaphilia” is in the air (love of our yellow wildflowers), and we’re in flip-flops once again. Oh but wait. Here come the cars. Thousands of them, in every direction. Belching carbon, fouling the air, disturbing the peace, causing gridlock and flaring tempers, making us late, late, late, a frenetic sea of sheet metal that we somehow believe is going to magically subside. It won’t. Every desirable place in the world is overpopulated. Because people just love copulating, and there aren’t enough predators in our food chain.

The hordes are drawn to Southern California, like moths to a flame, especially to that last bastion of open space, South Orange County. So we are just collateral damage to the incessant and pernicious myth that economic growth equals prosperity for all, and to the greedy homebuilders who are scarring the open space to the east of us. Plus, the millions more who want to experience the luster of our beaches, coves, and sunsets, chronicled incessantly on Instagram (before you slam the onslaught of tourists, check your celebratory posts of this magical land). And of course, a warming planet means more inland people will covet the cool Pacific.

So while we debate over whether tourists pay their share of taxes, what we can build and where, tree heights, undergrounding the power lines, housing issues, homelessness, crime and safety, etc., the biggest threat to our wellbeing is right in front, behind, and beside us, blocking our views and keeping us isolated from one another. When will our city take bold action and develop a real solution to our increasing traffic woes? When will a city councilperson make it their raison d’etre to reverse the stranglehold of cars?

There certainly is no single silver bullet to solve the problem, but it is solvable. It will take a coordinated, sustained master plan that segments and addresses the different kinds of commuters coursing through our town. We have day visitors, day workers, residents, overnight tourists, and commuters passing through, with day visitors the biggest single problem.

What if we imposed congestion fees on visitors, like they are now introducing in New York, and have done successfully in other cities like London, Milan and Singapore? It would certainly be easy for us to implement, with just three arteries into town. While we’re at it, why don’t we join the fight (with San Clemente) to dissolve the TCA and make the 73 toll road free (as was promised years ago). That should divert a good deal of pass-through traffic.

So many have wondered why we don’t install a multilevel parking garage at Act V, or on top of Pavilions to the north, or at the inland parking lot at Aliso Creek? And then offer a multitude of public transport options to downtown, like trolleys, bikes, and inviting footpaths?

Why aren’t we systematically decreasing our parking in favor of pedestrian plazas and experiences, thereby discouraging visitors from circulating around, helping our retailers, beautifying our town, cleaning and quieting our streets, and as a byproduct, saving the planet? Why aren’t we installing a network of electric bike rental kiosks so residents can easefully and pleasurably commute downtown?

Why aren’t we addressing the single biggest complaint of our residents, year after year? Because it takes hard work. And chutzpah. And perhaps because we are not a charter city with an elected, full-time mayor whose job it is to adapt to changing times by making bold improvements. Our part-time officials have a life filled with events, appearances, and ribbon cuttings. Whose got time for this wonky stuff?

Council should declare this a local emergency. Let’s relook at increasing our sales tax (most of which visitors will pay), impose a congestion tax (completely funded by visitors), and take the bold steps to making Laguna breathable again.


Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5 and can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. I love Laguna Beach and live here, but I am so disgusted with the irresponsibility of tourists and residents. Yes, I think tourists should pay to come here to visit, and YES I think we need to majorly enhance our police force to fine each an every violation seen.

    I took a one week vacation. I came back and walked our 2.5 mile walk this morning, disgusted to see the trash on the streets. If we go, who is going to clean our meager area? Will this town become as polluted as Long Beach is now?

    We need to keep our town and beaches clean, and have the polluters pay to keep it clean!

  2. Hold on Billy, the inland Aliso Parking Area is being re-developed by the community as the Aliso Estuary – the only coastal wetlands site in Laguna and South County. Over 90% of California’s coastal wetlands are gone forever for development and parking lots. Coastal estuaries are nurseries for endangered Tidewater gobi and Southern steelhead trout. Let’s not pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

  3. Yes, and the new hotel planned for PCH and Cliff drive will cause even more gridlock and chaos. The art museum and Urth cafe block are so densely trafficked now, I can’t imagine what will ensue, sigh.

  4. How about taking over control of Coast Hwy., the way that Dana Point and CDM have done. Cal Trans stifles, delays, and drags out any significant improvement on Coast Hwy. You want raisable bollards on PCH and Ocan Ave, Forest Ave, and Park Plaza? We’ll need to take over control of Coast Hwy. Want to change speed limits on Coast Hwy? We need to control it. It can’t be that difficult or expensive as both our neighboring cities have done it, and are making impressive improvements now, because they have control. Want to fix traffic? Start by reasearching what it takes to Take Back Coast Hwy.

  5. Maybe the village residents could tax the residents of TOW for driving through and causing congestion in their neighborhood. Then charge them some more for metered parking in front of their house. A visit to TOW should cost at minimum $10 for residents of Laguna, encouraging people to walk to town.

  6. What a compelling and beautifully written column Billy. Damn straight this is a local emergency. It was a Tuesday morning in April and I found myself in traffic congestion running errands. It’s not only motorists we have to contend with it’s the pedestrians. Nervewracking and scary to say the least! 4-way stop signs are the most unnerving. You listed so many great solutions to the car crisis in your article. Lead us, Billy, we need you to keep the momentum going. Our city is doomed otherwise.


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