The parking structure has been removed from the proposed Village Entrance Project.
The Laguna Beach City Council decided to forego a structure near Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue after listening to nearly three hours of public comment at a workshop Tuesday night in council chambers.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson made the motion to proceed with a project that includes a landscaped pathway and doesn’t entail debt, contrary to a previous proposal — approved by the council at a special workshop in June — that included a four-story parking garage and pedestrian park for an estimated $42.3 million, including $29 million in borrowing.
The council voted 4 to 0 for both Pearson’s motion and a second one from Councilman Steve Dicterow that rescinded previous council votes on the Village Entrance Project that were inconsistent with the first motion. Mayor Kelly Boyd was absent.
The Village Entrance site includes the Lumberyard and Forest Avenue parking lots.
The parking structure was a contentious part of the proposal, with residents questioning its usability and expressing concerns about possible traffic problems, such as drivers circling back to the structure if they couldn’t find space downtown.
“If the greater community doesn’t want more parking next to downtown, I’m not going to stand up here and push it by myself,” said Pearson, who started working on the Village Entrance Project 18 years ago. “I agree with [Councilman Bob Whalen] that we are going to have to raise parking rates and would like to see that money earmarked for the parking fund until we can come up with a master plan for all the parking needs around town.
“I want landscaping, a meandering walkway. I don’t want to wait for another eight years. Let’s get started.”
A collective sigh filled the room after Pearson spoke.
Arnold Hano, who has lived in Laguna since 1958, applauded the council’s decision to not go forward with a parking structure.
“It’s a victory of the people,” Hano said. “I think we’ll have a splendid project eventually, and the park will take care of itself.”
A project with a landscaped path and no parking structure was one of several alternatives the city presented Tuesday night.
Options included projects with three- and two-story structures combined with a full park, a reduced-size park or no park. The number of spaces the city would gain with each alternative and estimated costs were also presented.
The landscaped pathway option with no debt is estimated to add 15 additional parking spaces to the existing 397 parking spots (254 for the public and 143 for the city), and cost $14.4 million, according to the city.
The 412 proposed spots include a possible 65 at 725 Laguna Canyon Road, a 3.8-acre piece of property adjacent to the Forest Avenue lot whose purchase by the city for $5.3 million was approved by the council at its Nov. 5 meeting.
Consultant Delia Horwitz facilitated the workshop, helping residents identify certain ideas they thought were important to a future project.
The public came up with about 10 elements, including a project with no debt; fixing the smell (a sewer digester building sits on the site); a safe pedestrian link with the festival areas and downtown; and ground-level parking only.
Sam Goldstein, a building owner in town, suggested the council rescind its earlier Village Entrance proposal.
Dicterow was pleased with the meeting’s outcome and urged residents to consider the Village Entrance as part of a larger plan for the entire city that, among other elements, could ease parking constraints.
“I truly believed before tonight that this would be a new beginning, and that occurred,” Dicterow said. “The council has recognized over the last few months that we need to listen better to the public.
“Tonight was a really good start. As far as I’m concerned, this is an evolving process. Tonight was the beginning of something and not the end of something.”