“Busy bodies, very busy, going nowhere.”
-- Elvis Costello
Supplanting the weather, Lagunatics instead complain about traffic
circulation and parking. Most discussion revolves endlessly (miming
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
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
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
single car garage into a “maid’s quarters,” complete with a wet bar
and bathroom. This increased the local density, and eliminated one
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
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
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@