Planning Commission OKs canyon parking

Art festival employees and the public will have additional parking options this summer after the Planning Commission approved opening two areas in Laguna Canyon.

Commissioners unanimously voted April 23 for public valet parking at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach's main branch, at 1085 Laguna Canyon Road.

They also voted 4 to 1, with Commission Chairman Robert Zur Schmiede dissenting, for a lot at 113 Canyon Acres Drive to be available for employees of the summer festivals and downtown businesses.

The commission approved temporary-use permits for both locations, and the city included them as part of its parking management plan, a comprehensive strategy meant to alleviate summertime traffic congestion by encouraging use of peripheral lots and public transportation.

In January, the City Council approved several temporary steps to address parking for this summer, including boosting rates for meters and some lots to better align with demand.

The city would contract with a valet service from June 27 through Aug. 31 at the Boys & Girls Club, according to a city staff report. Hours would be from 6 p.m. to midnight Fridays and 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.

The club would provide 67 parking spaces at three locations on the property, including 26 at the front of the club along with 41 spread among two playground areas. Expected cost is $10 per customer, the city staff report said.

Residents at the meeting weren't so welcoming to opening up space for cars. They are concerned about traffic, safety, leaking oil from automobiles parked in the Boys & Girls Club playground lots, and, in the case of the Canyon Acres lot, access out in case of an emergency.

The playground areas concern Cathy Hallinan, a mother and grandmother who is worried about leaking substances, such as motor oil and transmission fluid, from parked vehicles.

"When a child picks up a ball that has rolled through this stuff, it will easily transfer to their mouth, eyes, skin and hair," Hallinan wrote in a letter to the Coastline Pilot. "These can be especially dangerous for kids with asthma when inhaled into their tiny lungs. Elementary and middle schoolers play basketball and soccer and ride skateboards there. The risk of slip-and-fall injuries will skyrocket."

City staff, at the urging of commissioners, will look into laying tarp to catch oil and, as space permits, move cars from the playground lots to the club's front lot.

Drivers will enter and exit from separate locations and traffic will move one way through the property. Customers will exit through the northern driveway, turn onto Laguna Canyon Frontage Road, then Woodland Drive and either turn left or right onto Laguna Canyon Road. Motorists will still have to put money in the public meters on Laguna Canyon Frontage Road, the staff report said.

The Boys & Girls Club temporary lots are an allowed use under the city's Downtown Specific Plan, the staff report said.

The Canyon Acres lot will be open from 8:30 a.m. to midnight daily June 27 through Aug. 31 for employees and exhibitors of the Festival of the Arts, Art-A-Fair, Sawdust Festival, Laguna Playhouse and downtown businesses, but not the general public, the staff report said.

City administrators say the lot, which could hold 90 cars, is in an ideal spot because of its size (31,000 acres) and proximity to the festival areas and trolley stops.

Resident Sharon Risley, who has lived in Sarah Thurston Park for 50 years, said the Canyon Acres lot would only add to existing summertime congestion.

"What is peripheral parking to some people [is] not peripheral for us," Risley said. "We're already impacted every summer for decades. We have problems with people parking in our neighborhood on Woodland Drive and Canyon Acres Drive already. This is way heavy duty, a concentration of parking right at the entrance to a residential neighborhood.

"Act V [a parking lot on Laguna Canyon Road] is peripheral. Pavilions [on Coast Highway in north Laguna] is peripheral, but as mentioned, those are already parking lots. These are not parking lots."

Residents also argued for more study on the potential effects on traffic and safety.

Carl Klass, a Canyon Acres Drive resident, said getting out of the neighborhood in an emergency would be more difficult with cars trying to exit a parking lot.

"Canyon Acres and Arroyo [Drive] are both dead-end streets," Klass said. "When someone yells 'fire,' there's only one direction, and that's through Canyon Acres and right at the entrance where you want to put 90 cars. It's the only exit out of four streets, and all the people who use the wilderness park. It's crowded now. We have people with big buses trying to turn around, trucks, cars, [limousines].

"There's 56 feet from the crosswalk to the [lot's] entrance, which would tell me you don't have a lot of time to turn and stop," he said. "It's a dangerous place. We have a lot of new kids on Canyon Acres Drive, and I'm like an old grandpa. I want to protect my kids."

The lot is in an area zoned for medium-density residential uses, and a temporary parking lot is an allowable use, according to the city's municipal code.

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse said he was tasked with evaluating whether emergency vehicles have enough room to safely move in and around the Boys & Girls Club and Canyon Acres lots.

In the case of the Canyon Acres lot, he said he was not asked to determine whether additional cars in the lot would hinder residents trying to evacuate in a fire or flood.

Laguna has several streets, including Canyon Acres Drive, that are the primary entry and exit points for neighborhood residents but are not specifically designated as emergency evacuation routes, LaTendresse said.

"The street has a traffic light," LaTendresse said. "Is everyone going to be [parked in the lot] at the same time? Probably not."

City staff believe the lot's location at the beginning of Canyon Acres Drive — instead of at the end of the street — will minimize traffic problems for residents, Deputy City Manager Ben Siegel said.

"There would be signage at the lot, and anything beyond the lot is a permit-only zone [for residents], with violators subject to citation," Siegel said. "If we need to increase our enforcement, that is certainly something we can do."

Planning Commissioner Linda Dietrich was concerned about the Canyon Acres lot's proximity to residents, but voted in favor of the temporary lots at both locations.

"It's a trial program for a short period of time," Dietrich said. "If it doesn't work, it won't continue. What we found through all these parking-management meetings is that there are opportunities all over town, and we need to start looking at the various options in the community to try to make it livable for all of us during the summer when we're inundated with people from all over."

Zur Schmiede supports the goal of reducing traffic and congestion but understands residents' safety concerns.

"The access of this lot [Canyon Acres] in relation to the intersection with Canyon Acres Drive and Laguna Canyon Road, I'm not sure it is the best idea for this location," Zur Schmiede said.

Zur Schmiede also addressed some residents' concerns that there was not enough public outreach in advance of the Planning Commission meeting.

"If there was time to do community meetings, you would have done that, perhaps you might have had some slightly different testimony tonight," Zur Schmiede told Siegel.

City staff met with Thurston Park residents regarding the Boys & Girls Club parking proposal, but did not meet with Canyon Acres residents before the Planning Commission meeting.

"The primary challenge with outreach has been the accelerated time frame required to implement the parking program by this summer," Siegel wrote in a follow-up email.

Both approvals may be appealed to the City Council by 5 p.m. May 7 at the city clerk's office.

As of 9 a.m. Thursday, no appeals had been filed, City Clerk Lisette-Chel Walker said.

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