City officials dipped into the parking fund for $70,000 to rent an additional trolley to extend the southbound summer service to Three Arch Bay.
The council voted unanimously to rent the trolley, rather than spend $52,000 for a van to shuttle passengers from Three Arch Bay to the Mission Hospital Laguna Beach southern terminus, as recommended by city staff.
The extension will go beyond the gated community to the Monarch Bay Plaza to find enough room to turn around for the trip back north.
"This is one place it makes sense to take money out of the parking fund," said Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, who generally resists tapping the fund for anything other than the creation of more parking.
Three Arch Bay residents have lobbied for the trolley, claiming it would increase South Laguna patronage of downtown stores without adding to the summer congestion and competition for parking.
Asked by City Councilwoman Verna Rollinger why not go with the cheaper van, Pearson said the residents prefer the trolley.
"We have a growing problem with pass-by's and the van won't solve that," said Bob Buck, who told the council he represented all of South Laguna, not just Three Arch Bay. "A trolley may not completely solve that, but it will help."
"You will have one more trolley, but you will have more passengers," city traffic consultant Dan Boyle said.
In 2009, the route carried 246,566 riders, 49% of the total 499,050 summer festival ridership, an increase of 11%. It is expected to increase again this year, according Boyle's report, which included five options for providing the extra service to Three Arch Bay.
Options, besides the rental and the van shuttling between Three Arch Bay and the hospital during Festival trolley service hours, included extending the route using the same number of trolleys as last year, which would have added 18 to 23 minutes to the route, but wouldn't have increased the cost.
Extending the schedule of the Mainline Ritz run to match the festival service hours would have cost $50,000 for the summer; a shuttle van operating only when the Ritz run is not in operation would have cost $35,000, but neither would have the élan of the Summer Festival Trolley service.
"I can't believe I am favoring spending money," said Councilwoman Jane Egly, usually a tightwad in this economy. "But it is the image we are projecting."
The city will finance the rental from the parking fund because the state transit funding has been exhausted on current operations, city staff reported.
However, if the city's allocation from the state is not reduced as originally anticipated, the grant may be $140,000 higher, which would reduce the transfer from the parking fund.