Mary A. Castillo
The cost of parking meters throughout Laguna has some merchants
and customers seeing red. Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman hopes that an
agenda bill she plans bring to next Tuesday’s City Council meeting
will deliver relief.
According to Kinsman, the agenda bill will be a request for the
city treasurer to determine how much increased revenue has been
raised from the meter hike and a request for the council to consider
raising the two-hour meters to three hours (or decrease the fee from
$1.50 to $1 per hour). It also asks that staff review the proposed
allocations from the rate hike to see if the city can find another
way to pay them if the hike is rescinded.
Mayor Toni Iseman indicated that she wants to discuss solutions,
including the possibility of reactivating the free shuttles from Act
V on weekends during non-summer months or use the system for Downtown
“We can’t lose track of the ultimate goal, which is to keep our
downtown vibrant,” she said.
The parking meter increase from $1 an hour to $1.50 was initially
proposed on June 18 by then Councilman Paul Freeman. The revenue
would be earmarked for city projects as well as for grants to local
nonprofit organizations this year and in subsequent years would go to
the Village Entrance and parking structure projects.
Only one representative from the merchant community, Laguna Beach
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Anne Morris, spoke out against
the meter increase and encouraged the council to increase the time
from two hours to three at that meeting.
The motion to increase parking rates passed four to one; Kinsman
dissented on the basis that there had yet been a comprehensive
traffic circulation study that could determine how much more revenue
the increase would yield.
A week later, city staff returned with a conservative estimate of
$675,000 to $700,000 generated from the increased parking rate. The
council adopted, 4-1, the 2002-03 city budget, which included a
schedule of allocations totaling $700,000. The increased rate went
into effect Sept. 1.
“At the time, I questioned how do we know if we raise the meter
rate that the same number of people will use the meters,” Kinsman
recalled in a phone interview. “We assumed that people would pay it.”
Local merchants are quick to point out that people are not willing
to pay $3 for the maximum two-hour time, turning to the free parking
at malls and the newly opened Crystal Cove Shopping Center for
“I had people in here [Sunday] from D.C.,” said Bree Cox, owner of
Satisfy My Soul, an urban clothing store on Laguna Avenue. “They said
Laguna was more expensive than New York City, and not only that, they
have Sundays for free.”
In the six months that her boutique has been open, Cox feels that
the lack of parking has eroded the good will she tries to establish
with her customers.
“I had a gal who was in a fitting room, enjoying herself and kept
putting clothes on the counter,” Cox recalled. “All of a sudden she
screamed that she had to move her car.”
Her customer ran out of the store promising to come back and
purchase the merchandise. Ten minutes later she drove up to the
store, angrily waving a parking ticket and yelled that she couldn’t
find a parking space. The incident cost Cox an estimated $550 sale.
“And that was before the increase,” she said, her frustration
evident in her voice.
As customers have become noticeably scarce, she wondered how the
city will balance the loss of sales tax revenue and possibly less
frequently used parking meters.
“I love this town,” she said. “But the city is taking the joy out
of having this store.”
John Madison, owner of Madison Square Garden, sees both sides of
“I understand why the city did it but I’m also a business man,” he
said. “People want convenience and if they can’t get it, you’re going
to lose a lot of business.”
Most of his customers’ complaints are not having enough change to
feed the meters and not getting enough bang for their quarter. He
hopes that the city will look into adding more change machines in
strategic locations throughout Laguna.
“I think it’s going to eventually impact residents who live on
streets near businesses,” he said. “Why pay $3 when you can pay
However, changing two-hour meters to three hours and rolling back
the meter fees will be tricky, City Manager Ken Frank said.
“There will be fewer parking tickets issued,” he admitted. “But
the problem is that you’ll have more beachgoers and Downtown business
employees parking all day in Downtown.”
He felt that less meter turnover may turn away customers who
frequent resident-serving businesses, such as shoe repair, cleaners,
pharmacies, cafes and dog groomers.
“It makes no sense to take parking spaces by the people who are
not customers,” Iseman agreed.
There also remains the question of how the city will honor the
one-time allotments from the parking revenue promised to projects and
organizations throughout the community, not to mention the funds for
the Village Entrance.
Frank indicated that only $65,000 of those funds have been spent.
“Money to the South Laguna Village Improvements, the Boys and
Girls Club and the Laguna Beach Community Clinic hasn’t been
dispersed,” he said, listing some of the beneficiaries. “But they’ve
been told that they’re getting those grants.”
Although the chamber stands to benefit from the parking meter
revenue with a grant of $45,000, it is encouraging members to speak
out at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“We thought it was a package deal,” Incoming Chamber President Ken
Delino said of the support the chamber lent to the City Council. “We
thought with the increase to $1.50, we’d also get an increase to
But after the rate hike went into effect Sept. 1 merchants felt betrayed when the hour limit wasn’t increased and they noticed that
in some cases, a 20% slide in business during the months of October
Delino cautioned that it is too early to determine if the meters
or a nationwide slump in the economy is to blame for declining
Still, he hopes that the strong feelings stirred by the issue will
result in a more proactive relationship between businesses and City
Hall. He hopes to organize a committee of merchants who can act as an
advisory committee for the city.
“We’re in this together,” he said. “Everybody shares a concern
about Downtown. And to preserve it, we’re going to have to keep it
Kinsman was surprised that few if any merchants spoke out against
the parking meter increase back in June. With Iseman, she expects
that there will be a sizable audience at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Now that they’re seeing and feeling the effects of it, I would
like to hear what they have to say,” she said.
“There’s no one on the council who doesn’t want the downtown to
thrive,” Iseman said. “I have a real concern that we must do what we
can to help local merchants.”
The City Council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the City
Hall Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave.