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Somethin’s Got to Give

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

The village entrance, a project that has resulted in more alternatives being drawn than any other. Council candidates from the 1990s on have promised to finish it. After the first four years, they found themselves asking for more terms to keep that promise…Even then councilmembers have left the council with their (and our) dream unfulfilled.

The project’s potential has inspired us. We could have a lovely landscaped entrance to the town, complementing the Festivals, a tribute to our love of the canyon. Beautiful pathways and plantings can replace asphalted expanses. Yet when coupled with overly ambitious schemes for parking garages, the ideas have died in controversy.

Still we keep trying. The village entrance was back on the council’s agenda this week and two plans were submitted by the consultants.

The first plan is basically a landscaped parking lot with new pathways paralleling Laguna Canyon Road connecting Forest Avenue with the Festival of Arts and Art-A-Fair.

The second scheme has more landscaped areas and it includes a second level of parking in a structure on the Christmas tree lot. Although the council and speakers from the public were pleased with some features and details of each of the alternatives, neither overall plan satisfied.

This is because it is impossible to increase the landscaped areas (as shown in the second scheme) without reducing the number of parking spaces on the ground and the city is demanding that the consultants provide spaces for 397 cars to park.

The council did make some decisions. They want to keep the budget at $6.5 million with a possible 10% override. No parking structure will be included. They liked the additional landscape areas of the second scheme, but, except for Mayor Steve Dicterow, seemed unwilling to reduce the number of parking spaces they are requiring the consultants to include. They hastily approved another $40,000 for preparing another alternative.

They have put the consultants in a box; a constrained budget that allows for no alternatives to surface parking and a large and seemingly inflexible number of parking spaces to provide. How can they provide a new alternative that is much different from the first plan they have already drawn?

Let’s recap where we have been with this project. When I was on the council (1990-94) our ultimate goal was a beautified, park-like area at the village entrance, but those were the days of limited budgets and we were in the midst of buying open space in Laguna Canyon. We set aside $1 million every year in the village entrance account.

Then in 1994 new councilmember Paul Freeman set about to “jump start the village entrance” with a study on building a parking garage there. The Council sponsored a design competition. They rejected the more urban designed options and chose Bob Borthwick/Studio One Eleven’s proposal for a low-key canyon-related landscaped pathway scheme. Unfortunately it was coupled with a large parking garage in the rear of the property, as required. Still, the project seemed to be moving forward.

In 2002 new councilmember Elizabeth Pearson announced that she was proposing to add over 100 parking spaces to the already large 400-space parking garage planned for the project. In addition, a new site would have to be found for the maintenance/corporation yard. That happened with the decision to move it to the ACT V parking lot in 2005. Through all this a park was promised in the area between the channel and Laguna Canyon Road.

The project moved slowly forward with an environmental impact report prepared in 2011. A council subcommittee of Pearson and Toni Iseman worked with consultants to refine the plans. Later councilmember Bob Whalen was appointed to replace Iseman. Finally in 2013 the project was considered ready to implement. Whalen and staff came up with a bonding scheme to fund the project that was estimated to cost $65 million.

That’s when the public got involved en masse. Let Laguna Vote was formed and their protests to the expenditure, the indebtedness and the whole idea of the large parking garage convinced the council to abandon the scheme.

The goal of a beautified landscape open space and pleasant shaded pathways connecting downtown and festivals remains. Now we are seeing that changes in technology and automobiles will alter how we move and park. Parking garages and expansive parking lots may be antiquated concepts in the not too distant future.

Restoring the canyon atmosphere we have taken away from ourselves should be our overriding thought. Somethin’s got to give and it’s the parking. Let’s not allow numbers of parking spaces to dictate the form and future of our town. After all these years, now is the time to emphasize the beauty, our relationship with the canyon, and the trails and pathways connecting us.

 

Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I am trying to stay out of city issues and focus on school issues, but I agree with Ann so seldom I wanted to note that this strikes me as a very helpful narrative with logical predicates. As I often said in the past, it seems to me the priority given to “solving the parking problem” has always been misplaced and misdirected. As long as we think of cars the same way we did in the 1950’s then congestion and parking scarcity is just the way it is in summer, always has been and always will be. Think of it this way, on any afternoon in July or August at 4 PM you could “disappear” 500 cars from downtown and the traffic and parking conditions that existed before you took 500 cars off the street would exist again in about 10 minutes, as cars already in circulation took the place of the vanished vehicles. A 500 car garage that would have encumbered 90% of the city’s debt capacity to add 200 new spaces was not as advertised about “solving the parking problem.” It was about using the parking problem to build a park without making the “parking problem” worse. As Ann correctly implies, that was surrendering to the tyranny of the car culture as it has existed here since the 1950’s, even as it evolves into a next generation of technology that may change the nature of the problem and best solutions. We don’t need Fullerton or Huntington Beach 1950’s solutions to 2020 Laguna Beach problems. Instead of problems we have opportunities. What about traffic circles (roundabouts) at more intersections, people mover trollies that do not block traffic or straddle two lanes, and collection/waiting lots for driver and soon driverless electric and bio-fuel cars-for-hire to drop off and pick up both in town and out of town passengers? Public bike and/or electric bike stations? I am not a city planner, but if we spend a small fraction of the $65 million City Hall wanted to drop for a City Hall garage we can do a park at the mouth of the canyon and find local and visitor mobility solutions that are working in beach cities up and down the coast from La Jolla to Monterey we can move people in and out of town, between our north and south business districts and beaches. Instead of pitting residents against visitors we can make it all part of the fun of living here and visiting here.

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