Consultant recommends easing parking restrictions on Laguna businesses

A consultant is recommending a significant change to the formula for determining how much parking a business in Laguna Beach, a city known for vehicular congestion, must provide.

Based on the results of a study it conducted, planning and design firm IBI Group is proposing that all non-residential sites, such as restaurants and retailers, provide 2.92 spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area.

Under Laguna's current code, retailers must provide one space for every 250 square feet of floor area. For restaurants, the requirement is one space for every 100 square feet.

IBI, which was hired last year by the city to gather parking occupancy rates throughout downtown Laguna, will present its findings and suggestions to the Planning Commission on Wednesday.

Its report is part of a larger effort to revise the city's downtown specific plan, a planning document that outlines guidelines for development while recognizing the role of parking and transportation.

IBI Group, which has an Irvine office, monitored hourly use of 3,365 spaces — 1,691 private and 1,674 public — from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for one weekday and one weekend day during summer and non-summer periods in 2016. The firm collected data in August for the summer portion and in September for the non-summer period.

The 115-acre survey area is bordered by the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach to the north, Cliff Drive on the west, North and South Coast Highway on the south, and Sleepy Hollow Lane/Legion Street on the east.

Overall, IBI reported higher occupancy rates for public spaces, such as those in lots and at on-street meters, rather than spaces in privately owned lots.

Private spaces are "underutilized," IBI said in its report.

For example, on a summer weekend, occupancy rates in public spaces ranged from 62% to 97%, compared with 43% to 64% for private spaces, according to IBI's report.

During the busy summer season, people flock to the beaches and acclaimed art festivals, making parking a challenge.

The report found that during a non-summer weekend, occupancy in public spaces ranged from 44% to 67%, compared with 34% to 45% in private spaces.

Peak occupancy times fluctuate depending the day of the week, time of year, and whether it's a public or private lot, IBI reported.

For example, on a summer weekday, occupancy in public parking areas reached a peak of 90% at 7 p.m., whereas occupancy in private parking areas decreased at a "fairly steady rate after 4 p.m., possibly as employees leave workplaces," the report said.

By contrast, the non-summer weekday occupancy rate peaked at 59% at noon, according to the report.

A blanket parking ratio would work in tandem with other strategies, IBI Managing Principal Bill Delo said.

IBI suggests that the city work with private lot owners to free up spaces for the public when a business is not in use.

"The idea is to encourage those businesses to open lots during non-operating hours," Delo said.

"Making these spaces available to the public would be especially effective during the summer months in order to accommodate residents and additional amount of visitors," according to IBI's report.

The city is identifying available private lots in the downtown and consulting with owners about the feasibility of opening up their spaces, a staff report said.

If Laguna wanted to temporarily convert an area that includes parking into an outdoor gathering area for pedestrians only, IBI suggests it be done during non-summer months. IBI recommends offsetting the loss of those spaces with spots in private lots.

Laguna has long debated creating such pedestrian-friendly gathering places in the city.

For more information and to read IBI's full report, visit lagunabeachcity.net. Click the "Government" tab at the top of the screen, then click the "City Meeting Minutes and Agendas" tab.

Wednesday's meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall at 505 Forest Ave.

MIG, an urban planning firm that is helping the city revise the downtown specific plan, will incorporate feedback from the commission into its work on the larger project.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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