A broad-based group of opponents to the proposed Village Entrance project declared war this week.
The opening salvo is the website http://www.letlagunavote.com which came on line Wednesday, created by the opponents who have been quietly meeting to gauge and promote support for their cause.
"A small group met on Saturday and we decided to see if there are others out there concerned about the project," said former Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, a member of the opponents' core group.
"There is. And it is gaining momentum."
Meeting participants swelled from 10 on Saturday to at least 60 on Tuesday, all of them by invitation only.
"On Saturday we were asked to bring four more people to the next meeting," said Michael Hoag. The meetings have been held at the home of Rita Conn, a member of the core group, which also includes Audrey Prosser, Rollinger said. She declined to identify any others.
"Opposition is broad-based and wide spread and it comes from different angles: financial, environmental, traffic and who (the project) serves," Rollinger said.
Participants at the second meeting included Roger Butow, who said last week that he is providing technical data to the group, Village Laguna President Ginger Osborne and a representative of the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. Board of Directors, which announced on Wednesday its official opposition to the parking structure.
The announcement was e-mailed it to Councilman Steven Dicterow, who was endorsed by the association but voted for the Village Entrance project. The heads up from association President Martha Lydick read "Hi Steve — when our elected officials consider themselves smarter than the citizens of their community it becomes very bad and insulting."
Association concerns included the debt incurred by the project, which the association posits could use up 75% of the city's total borrowing capacity; and the prudency of borrowing any money for discretionary projects.
The board opposes a park at the site and supports putting the project on the ballot.
"We shouldn't spend the money when we have the beach and Heisler Park just two blocks away," said association board member Karl Kosk, who attended the Tuesday meeting.
LetLagunavote.com does not include an alternative Village Entrance project, but recommends double decking the ACT V parking lot in Laguna Canyon, saying it would be cheaper, take less time to construct, be more environmentally sensitive and keep construction out to the downtown.
The website also features a photograph identified as the proposed Village Entrance project.
"I was shocked when I saw the photograph," Lydick said. "Fair is fair. "The city proposal won't look like that and it will be further back against the hill with a park in front of it."
Links on the website include examples of documents that support the opponents' position, ways to contact the group and examples of letters to newspapers calling for the project to be put to a vote of the people.
Many of the concerns listed on the website were addressed in a Q & A prepared by city staff and issued to media on July 25.
"The website has a lot of distortion of facts and a major distortion of the design — which has not yet been finalized or even presented to the council," said Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson. Pearson serves on the council's Village Entrance Subcommittee with Councilman Robert Whalen, which has been meeting with Studio One Eleven staff working on the design. Whalen was unavailable for comment.
Pearson said a project manager will be selected at the meeting to work with the city throughout the design and build process.
"We will, of course, use the same strategy we did with the senior and community centers to ensure the project comes in on time and on budget," Pearson said.
She said funding for the project will be adequate and will not jeopardize funding for other projects, disaster relief nor become a burden for taxpayers.
"Funding will come from a portion of the parking fund that doesn't exist now — fees for parking in the structure and from an increase in parking meter funds, which does not affect residents or employees who can obtain parking stickers," she said.
The Disaster Fund is intact and the existing parking fund allocations will continue to be applied to ongoing programs, such as the trolley service, which has been city policy, Pearson said.
The subcommittee is slated to present an advanced conceptual design to the council at the Sept. 17 meeting, which will include updates on studies and costs.