Anyone who lives in Southern California knows about SigAlerts. They are announcements made by the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans warning of significant traffic problems.
Laguna Beach has its own version of the alerts, which anyone can sign up for at bit.ly/laguna_alerts.
Over the years, the Laguna alerts have been steady and predictable: powerline down in the canyon; car accident near Emerald Bay; road closed in South Laguna because of a sewage leak. And so on.
All that started changing, however, at 5:08 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29. For some inexplicable reason, residents were alerted to the following:
"Outbound Laguna Canyon Rd is very congested," the alert said. "Expect delays while driving through downtown. Consider using Coast Hwy to leave the city."
There was no accident. No police activity. No downed powerline to blame.
It was just a normal Thursday. Sure, it was a holiday week, but Christmas was over.
More than an hour later came a follow-up alert saying the traffic "remains jammed."
Why was there was so much traffic, you wonder?
It was simply a nice day.
It hit 79 degrees that day — bathing suit weather in December for everyone in Orange County who claims that Laguna Beach is their beach.
So that was the first known mention of this type of traffic alert. Now those alerts are coming more frequently.
On Valentine's Day, of course, we had a similar warning.
Then on Saturday, March 11, at 4:50 p.m., we had the following more ominous alert: "Traffic is congested outbound Laguna Cyn Rd and Northbound Coast Hwy from Diamond due to a high volume of vehicles."
Put on your Google Maps hat for a second and think about that.
Two of the three exits out of Laguna Beach were gridlocked for no other reason than a "high volume of vehicles." And get this, the backup started at Diamond Street. That's more than a mile south of downtown.
March 11 is not summer, it's not Valentine's Day, it's not Fourth of July, it's not Hospitality Night.
It was a normal spring Saturday and not particularly warm. It barely hit 70 degrees.
Everyone on social media was complaining about the traffic that day, mostly because it was mind-boggling. People kept asking why — or in more appropriate vernacular, WTH?
I'll tell you why. In my view, these conditions are early indicators of a new normal in Laguna Beach. The city has finally reached a tipping point in year-round traffic mismanagement.
With no improvements in infrastructure, off-site parking, complete streets and meaningful alternative transportation, there's really little chance to catch up over the next 10 years.
The reality is here and now and unequivocal. And it's only going to get worse, much worse. For example, the new high-density residential build-outs in Irvine alone are already killing us.
But here's my real fear: this summer's fire.
You know it's coming. Who hasn't seen all of those beautiful tall grasses in the greenbelts and not worried about when they turn brown?
If we have two out of our only three exits blocked on a spring night for no reason, what happens in a real disaster?
There are many reasons the city is in this predicament, but how much longer will we say no to solutions?
At some point, we need to admit that we have a major failure of our transportation system — and leadership.
The hard truth is Laguna Beach leaders are in resolute denial about the city's transportation problems. What will it take to finally — finally — make the bold moves needed to start fixing obvious issues.
The existing approach is incremental at best. Increase parking rates here or there; tweak the trolley schedule; eke out a few more parking spots by partnering with businesses.
Those small changes will do nothing to help eliminate the traffic gridlock alerts, which will become weekly annoyances.
Residents should show up at any City Council meeting and make their voices heard. If there isn't a traffic item on every agenda, there should be. Visit the calendar at: lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/citygov/cityclerk/mam.htm.
There is no doubt that Laguna is suffering. Glossy tourist brochures and stacked surveys will tell you that nothing is wrong, but the reality is quite different.
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