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My kingdom for a parking space

“Busy bodies, very busy, going nowhere.”

-- Elvis Costello

Supplanting the weather, Lagunatics instead complain about traffic

circulation and parking. Most discussion revolves endlessly (miming

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Downtown traffic) about centralized parking structures. Perhaps we

should also take into consideration whether vehicular congestion, and

the resulting confusion, are amplified by-products of the “hunt” for

that certain parking space. In addition are the spots not available

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along a 1 1/2 mile-long band adjacent to the Downtown district.

Perhaps they resemble Elvis. They did exist once upon a time. Others

believe them to be like the Tooth Fairy -- they never did.

The region I offer for examination extends from approximately Boat

Canyon (north) to Calliope Street (south), in a zone four blocks or

less from the ocean. The common denominator is that all are within

walking distance of City Hall, precluding the necessity of vehicular

use. Consider:

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1. As a planning commissioner noted recently, people no longer

park in their own garages. Whatever the reasons, these garages have

become storage bins or closets. This places their cars in the

driveways, with multiple vehicle residents and their guests/visitors

using the streets.

2. Many Laguna Beach garages have been converted into bed or

family rooms, many illegally. Mea Culpa, my first Laguna building

project 30 years ago near Third Street hill altered a free-standing

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single car garage into a “maid’s quarters,” complete with a wet bar

and bathroom. This increased the local density, and eliminated one

precious space.

3. Those two-hour parking meters! It is estimated that 40% of the

residents in Laguna Beach proper are renters, and have no dedicated

off-street parking. Yet we’re forced to pay for a city permit, and

still must move our cars every few hours. Like a junkie, the city is

“hooked” on these metering revenues, including the hefty tickets.

It’s a quintessential robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul mentality, shifting

much of the burden or impact on streets like Glenneyre into nearby

residential neighborhoods.

With the dense business district on Coast Highway, the beachgoers,

shop and restaurant employees/patrons, etc., use up all of the spaces

in proximity. Meanwhile our city planners have “grandfathered”

off-site spaces under conditional use permits -- spots that are

phantoms and in fact do not exist. These fantasies are actually a

redundant counting of metered or spoken-for residential places. The

drill each day during good weather is a domino effect, pushing

visitor parking further upstream. Multiple housing units eat up more,

similar to hungry piranha fish. Making it worse are the greedy

landlords who have sublet the garages to non-residents of their

buildings.

4. Meter maids often issue tickets to vehicles they observe

unmoved after 72 hours. The problem is some are locals, possibly out

of town for a few days, who never had an off-street place to begin

with even though they are paying top-dollar rent. I’ve received

several warnings myself. How can they ignore my license rim from a

car repair two blocks down on Coast Highway or my registration

showing I live one lousy block away? Not exactly a transient or

indigent. I obviously haven’t abandoned my vehicle. My building has

two units but one space.

5. The overused, over-occupied real estate offices next door to me

are not atypical. In the summer, when the usual out-of-town siege

happens, my very lifestyle is up for grabs when the teeming inland

masses, driven like lemmings to avoid the heat, descend. The realtors

sell the previously mentioned garage-less wonders as is.

Selfish whining aside, the big picture is more a hazy, nebulous

matrix. It’s a cross-sectional series of varying usages, time of day

and time of year. This is why the ultimate solution may evade us, or

needs more localized input.

Fluctuating weather dictates some availability from the peak hours

of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Looking at parking in the central district

without observing and integrating these peripheral dynamics is

simplistic if not outright myopic.

Think of this as a biological totality, a vehicular “habitat.”

These air conditioned nightmares that devour America (cars) are

predators and the available spaces are their prey.

In the wild, there would be a lessened population of hunters, a

die off, when the “carrying capacity” had been exceeded. Instead,

Lagunatics, business folks, and tourists alike share the same gritted

teeth and glazed stares of battle fatigue as they forage. This

probably explains the frozen grimaces and shell-shocked eyes as they

sit in their beasts of burden when a space is found, savoring that

blessed moment of impermanence.

* ROGER VON BUTOW is founder of the Clean Water Now! Coalition

and South County Watershed Conservancy. He is a 30-year resident of

Laguna Beach. E-mail: rvonbutow@

cleanwaternow.com


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