Leisure World Works to Improve Range of Its Sport-Utility Vehicles


Harry Curtis maneuvered his golf cart down Leisure World's winding streets, imagining a day when his battery-powered wheels will be free to zip beyond the retirement community's gates to the supermarket, bank and other hot spots in the city of Laguna Woods.

"We have quite a few people who no longer drive, or who shouldn't be driving any longer, and they would be much happier having access to local stores in a golf cart," the 74-year-old said.

The wait may soon be over for Curtis and other residents of the mammoth south Orange County retirement village.

The Orange County Transportation Authority has awarded Laguna Woods a $100,000 grant to design paths along the city's main thoroughfare, El Toro Road, that would allow residents to motor up and down in their golf carts.

The city has formed a design committee to iron out the details, including where the path should go and what type of buffer will be between the cart paths and main road. Still, the city has yet to determine a timeline for the proposal, said Laguna Woods City Manager Leslie Keane.

"There have been a number of discussions about where the path would run, and it would be something that people could ride their bikes on as well," Keane said. "We're considering a whole range of options."

Many Leisure World residents hope the city will set the ball rolling soon.

"I think it's a great idea," said Val Lavrouhin, an 83-year-old Leisure World resident and golf cart owner. "I would use it."

Laguna Woods residents own an estimated 1,200 golf carts--about one cart for every 14 people who live there, according to city figures. There are 12,425 vehicles registered to residents of the retirement community.

"In Leisure World, we have about 800 golf carts that are registered to the golf course users," said Curtis, an avid golfer and a member of his homeowners association board of directors. "And then there are quite a few additional carts that are used by people who don't play golf. So there's no question in my mind that we should have this improved access around the community. And I think the number of golf carts would grow appreciably."

Since the city's incorporation two years ago, residents have repeatedly raised the issue at City Council meetings. The push for golf cart paths around the community became a recurring theme in town hall meetings on the city's general plan this year.

Laguna Woods, which consists almost entirely of the gated Leisure World retirement community and a few shopping complexes, would be one of the few California cities to accommodate golf cart drivers.

Palm Desert began adding golf cart paths along city streets in 1992.

"We have about 200 registered participants, and we've done surveys of the people who use the paths, and they all say they enjoy using them," said Mark Greenwood, Palm Desert's engineering manager. "They like having the ability to get around without having to get into their car. Most people use them to go from their home to the grocery store or to run short errands."

In Northern California, the city of Roseville allows golf carts to putter alongside cars on city streets, where the maximum speed limit is 35 mph.

"We have had very few problems with it," said Roseville Police Sgt. Dave Allison. "We've had some fender-benders in parking lots where people have backed into the carts, but I don't think we've ever had a collision on the street involving a golf cart. People seem to like them, and it doesn't cause a problem for us."

In those communities, golf carts on public roads and pathways must be equipped with seat belts, headlights, turn signals and rearview mirrors, as required by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

A few cities in Florida and Arizona also have embraced the use of golf carts, said Don DelPlace, editor of Golf Car Advisor Magazine, a national trade publication based in Florida. He said the trend began in the mid-1990s.

"There are more and more communities being built in conjunction with golf courses, and if you've got a lot of people living around a golf course, you're going to have a lot of people who own golf carts," DelPlace said. "They are fun to drive, they're economical, you can park them easily. And they're a lot cheaper to maintain or buy than an automobile. You can put any accessory on a golf car that you can in an auto--air-conditioning, CD players. And they're easier to handle than a car."

Though other cities have led the way, Laguna Woods would be the first in Orange County to make special provisions along city streets for golf carts, said George Urch, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority.

"We do have a lot of innovative programs in Orange County, mostly that focus on ways to improve air quality," Urch said. "But nothing else with golf carts."

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