City yard move reconsidered

Barbara Diamond

The City Council has breathed life back into a moribund proposal

to move the city corporation yard to ACT V.

“It’s about time,” said Greg Vail, a member of the Village


Entrance Task Force that recommended the move in 1996 after a

year-long study.

The council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to hold a special public meeting

Jan. 28, at which staff will report on all components of the


corporation yard and provide parameters for a Village Entrance

project with and without the yard.

Mayor Toni Iseman opposed taking steps to re-animate the move of

the corporation yard to ACT V. She was elected to the council in 1998

on a platform that included opposition to the move and she remains


Iseman claimed the move would eliminate about half of the current

400-plus parking spaces at ACT V, a claim confirmed by City Manager


Kenneth Frank, and would force the city into providing much more

parking at the Village Entrance.

“I heard people tonight using words like magnificent and beautiful

to describe what would basically be a parking lot, because we will be

losing parking at ACT V,” Iseman said. “We need to capture cars

before they get Downtown.”

The original proposal to move the yard to make way for a

beautification project was made in 1996 by a city task force created


to come up with a plan for the highly visible parcel next to City

Hall, called the Village Entrance.

“I am the unofficial Queen of the Corporation Yard,” said former

Mayor Kathleen Blackburn, one of the many supporters of the move who

attended the council meeting Tuesday. “I was the most in favor of

moving it when I was on the council.”

Critics of the council’s subsequent decision to keep the yard in

place maintained that no other city would have such an eyesore in its

civic center.

“I remember that moving the corporation yard was vital, but ACT V

had environmental problems,” task force member Barbara Metzger said.

During discussion of two agenda items on the Village entrance,

council newcomer Elizabeth Pearson, who had served on the task force,

proposed that the yard be moved. She was advised that no action could

be taken because there had been no public notice that the move would

be on the agenda.

Alan Pullman, spokesman for the Village Entrance Design

Competition-winner StudioOneEleven, attended the council meeting

Tuesday expecting a vote on a work program for the first phase of the

construction of the project. The program included geotechnical and

engineering studies and an aerial survey of the area, not to exceed

$105,000. The city spent about $100,000 on the contest.

“We had a competition, but [the competitors] were not given the

option of moving the corporation yard,” said Councilwoman Cheryl

Kinsman, who had served on the Village Entrance Task Force while a

member of the Planning Commission.

All four contest finalists included the corporation yard in their

submittals, under the impression that the yard would stay put. The

council had voted on Aug. 15, 2000, to spend no more money on moving

the yard to ACT V.

StudioOneEleven proposed an understated, naturalized design that

tucked the corporation yard under a parking structure.

Removal of the corporation yard would send the design team back to

the drawing board.

“We chose a winning project, but not a project,” Councilman Steven

Dicterow said.

Several attempts have been made over the years to beautify the

area next to City Hall, now a part of what has been designated the

Civic Arts District.

“I have a copy of a final plan dated 1983,” said former arts

commissioner Iris Adam, owner of the property occupied by Art-A-Fair.

She had culled the old plan from the remnants of a pile of

proposals for the area. One memorable proposal, which never got off

the ground, was called the “Hanging Gardens,” a reference to the

vegetation-draped balconies on a hotel design.

Arts commissioner Pat Kollenda said the task force spent a solid

year working on the Village Entrance project, meeting at least once a


“The City Council accepted the report in 1996 and to this day, I

don’t know what happened,” Kollenda said Tuesday.

Costs were estimated at $6,200,000 in 1996 for the Village

Entrance project and construction of the corporation yard at ACT V,

to be funded from a variety of sources, including a $3-million bond

issue based on festival revenue, now seriously curtailed. By 1998,

the estimate had increased to almost $9 million, more than $3.5

million of it for the corporation yard.

The city paid more than $200,000 on preliminary plans for the

corporation yard construction before the council voted to drop the

project. City manager Ken Frank called the plan “gold plated” and

still about $4.5 million over budget, after 16 items were deleted

from the plan.

“Those plans are in a box somewhere,” Frank said.

Funding for the removal of the corporation yard and its

construction at ACT V is not in the 2002-03 budget, nor in the city’s

10-year capital improvement plan. Some funding could come from the

sale of the city nursery lots on Olive Street, but that wouldn’t

cover the full amount. Other sources are available, Frank said.

“We could fund the corporation yard, but not the [previous]

Village Entrance project at present,” Frank said.

The undeveloped Village Entrance would be used for parking.

Funding for the first phase of the Village Entrance project

proposed by StudioOneEleven was supposed to come from the parking

meter increase voted in June by the council. That increase was

rescinded Tuesday.

* BARBARA DIAMOND is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline

Pilot. She may be reached at 494-4321.