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Column: Laguna City Council honks its horn over parking issue

Like the tight parking spaces in the Glenneyre parking structure, the city's attempt to add more parking is already causing some verbal road rage.
(David Hansen)

Nowadays, the true test of an issue’s divisiveness is whether people unfriend you.

I have a feeling I’m going to lose a few friends over this one.

The Laguna Beach City Council is studying where they might be able to squeeze in more parking.

I’m all for it.

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First of all, it’s way overdue. Given that the city has not done anything substantial — for years — to alleviate the parking problem, we need to act now if we have any hope of stemming the tide of our inland cousins.

At the most recent city meeting, Councilman Kelly Boyd made it clear why we’re in this predicament.

“I’ve lived here 73 years, and I understand the parking’s terrible,” he said. “We can’t stop [Irvine developer] Donald Bren from continuing to build and build and add more billions of dollars to his pocketbook. We have to be prepared.”

The inland development impact to Laguna has increased significantly over the last couple years. Everything from traffic density to pedestrian accidents have increased — and not just during summer.

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In fact, it’s been proven that the gas exhaust emanating from circling cars in Laguna Beach single-handedly caused the world’s largest glacier to melt in East Antarctica.

OK, well, that may not be proven yet, but put another way, if we could add up all the wasted time residents alone have spent looking for parking spots in front of their own houses, we could have built more parking by now.

I know people hate parking lots. New asphalt is an admission that we’ve somehow failed. And it was clear at the council meeting that residents are already against any new structure.

But we wouldn’t be in this position if we had made smarter decisions in the past — like move toward a true village model and force people out of their cars on the outskirts of town. As in European villages, make people ride bikes, scooters, golf carts or buses.

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But Laguna is not about bold anymore — or maybe that’s starting to change, just a little.

To its credit, the council unanimously voted to approve moving forward with at least talking about this issue.

Consider the options, they said. Add a few more sites to the mix. Talk to the Coastal Commission.

“We will never have enough parking places for our visitors,” said mayor Toni Iseman. “So I see the value of adding parking to reduce the impact on our residents.”

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Councilman Bob Whalen wants to go even further and propose meaningful changes to help make Coast Highway more pedestrian and bike friendly.

He suggested getting rid of all street parking along Coast Highway near downtown in order to widen sidewalks or create a better bike lane.

He derided people who glibly say, “If you build it, they will come.”

“They’re already here, and we’re not managing them,” he said. “It’s a year-round issue.”

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And he’s absolutely right.

But it won’t matter, unfortunately, about the facts with this issue. Some people seemingly have already made up their minds: No new parking structure anywhere.

“I have to tell you when I saw this on Sunday I was absolutely horrified,” said Verna Rollinger.

“I’m just stunned right now,” said Lorene Auger.

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“Mindboggling,” said Johanna Felder, who claimed parking is a “two-month problem.”

Parking in Laguna Beach is not a two-month problem, and the facts bear that out.

Unfortunately, this debate will stay emotional in its entirety, which is why the council’s willingness to take it on is admirable.

“I think we have to look at this,” Boyd said. “We need to move forward on this stuff and really take a look at it. I think it’s really important.”

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It will take months or even years before anything specific will come up for a vote but the “outrage” has already started.

Wouldn’t it be nice if just once we could leave out the histrionics?

It’s parking, people.

It’s not a proposal to ban smoking. Or ban fishing. Or ban leaf blowers.

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Oh wait … maybe that’s it. Instead of doing our usual performance of “no,” let’s go big and ban cars.

And then we won’t need new parking.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.


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