From parking pain, gain?

Shirley’s Bagels struggled for months to move a few doors down to larger quarters in the Broadway Street Plaza, where it was already located, having bumped up against Laguna Beach’s stiff parking requirements for businesses.

The company hired a consultant as it faced the added complication of being declared a food-service business and not a retail outlet, as it was labeled for more than 20 years, putting on it an even greater parking burden.

But from pain often comes growth. And it seems that Shirley’s experience might be the catalyst needed for the city to seriously look at the parking demands it puts on businesses.

Commissioner Norm Grossman said the situation revealed a glaring inefficiency in the city’s parking code that needs to be addressed and added that the months-long wait that Shirley’s endured was unfair.

On Oct. 22, Laguna Beach planning commissioners unanimously granted the business’ request to occupy a 931-square-foot spot formerly occupied by Casey’s Cupcakes, but only after management could prove that customers could expect to land one of the plaza’s 33 on-site parking spaces — a process that took about eight months.

Shirley’s encountered an unexpected obstacle when city staff determined that it would be operating as a food-service business. Now, instead of the one parking space per 250 square feet needed for retail, the business would be required to provide one space for every 100 square feet or one space per three seats, whichever required the greatest amount of parking. That would mean about nine spaces.

With 20 other tenants also needing to provide parking for their customers, some research and creativity was needed. Shirley’s paid a consultant to determine each business’ hours of operation and how many parking spaces each required. The consultant determined that since the shops were open at different hours, the 33 parking spaces would suffice.

How many spaces a shop will actually use is often in question. Grossman said t

he number of required parking spaces for any business is misleading because people sometimes don’t park in front of the store they go to. He said people often park in one spot and visit several retailers.

Planning Commissioner and Councilman-elect Robert Zur Schmiede said conforming to the city’s parking code can quickly become complicated.

“It seemed like overkill to move to another space in the same center,” Zur Schmiede said of the requirements placed on Shirley’s.

The process is made even more complex when in-lieu fees are added to the mix.

City code allows a property owner to pay a fee of $20,000 in lieu of providing a physical parking spot. The owner is given a certificate that the city credits as a parking space and adds to the business’ required parking space count.

The Broadway Plaza has 26 in-lieu certificates, according to a staff report. Added to that are 21 grandfathered spaces granted to the building before current parking rules went into effect.

“We’re moving around mythical spaces,” Grossman said. “It makes no sense.”

He said required parking spaces should be based solely on square footage.

As another town wrestling with its parking supply, Santa Barbara has created a parking district in which businesses adhere to a ratio of one parking space for every 500 square feet, no matter the use, according to city planner Danny Kato.

A breadth of public parking lots has also helped ease congestion. In the mid 1980s, business owners agreed to pay a certain percentage into a parking fund to make space for the lots.

Laguna has explored the possibility of adding public lots and structures. Last summer the city experimented with demand-based pricing and opened a lot at the Laguna College of Art + Design to catch commuters before they hit downtown.

The LCAD lot proved a boon to travelers, who filled it to capacity most Saturdays and two-thirds full Sunday afternoons, city staff reported last month.

Earlier this year the city hired MIG, an urban-planning firm, to help update the Downtown Specific Plan, a key planning document that includes parking and circulation issues.

Rick Williams, a consultant based in Portland, Ore., hired by the city for his expertise in parking-related matters, praised Laguna for steps it’s taking to address parking, but said city leaders need to answer a few key questions.

“They need to decide whether they are responsible for providing parking and, if so, for which groups, be it residents, tourists, or employees,” Williams said. “They also need to ask what is the best use of public funds?”

Grossman said he wonders if it’s truly necessary for Laguna to create more parking spaces.

“We have enough parking, it’s a management problem,” Grossman said. “If we manage properly, and get the [off-season] trolleys to work, we may not have to go to the extreme of providing a parking structure.

“The frustrating thing with our parking code is it’s revision on top of revision. The code was written 20 to 30 years ago without going back and looking at the thinking behind it.”