Serving the public interest is the main job of the City Council, according to Mayor Toni Iseman.
And that is not always easy, Iseman told a friendly audience Monday at the first Laguna Canyon Conservancy Dinner of the New Year.
City officials have to decide how to serve all of the public: residents and visitors.
“My heart belongs to the residents,” Iseman said. “But we can’t be piggy. We love our visitors, we just don’t love their cars.”
The city would go bankrupt providing enough parking spaces to accommodate all the summer visitors, she opined.
However, year-round shuttle buses, one of Iseman’s pet projects, have helped, she said. The construction of a commodious parking structure at the proposed Village Entrance will further relieve the stress on city streets.
A draft environmental report for the project discusses three alternatives: a three-, four- or five-level parking structure. (A “no project” alternative is also reviewed.)
"[Conservancy President] Carolyn [Wood] said I would make a significant announcement tonight, so I’ll try,” Iseman said.
Acting on information from Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee Vice Chair Vic Opincar, Iseman said she would like to see the sewer treatment plant removed from under the site of the proposed three-level structure.
The move would increase the number of parking spaces, as well as possibly reduce the potentially disastrous consequences of an earthquake pancaking a structure built over the plant, Iseman said.
“The three-level proposal has 429 spaces, which is less than we wanted,” Iseman said. “If we take the plant out, we go to 529 spaces on three levels.”
It would be costly.
“But I don’t want my name on a plaque and have people walking around saying, ‘What were they thinking?’ ” Iseman said.
If the council approves removing the limit of three in-lieu parking credits for new projects in the Civic Arts District, spaces could be leased — possibly by the Laguna Playhouse, which has major expansion plans in the works — that could be tapped for a tidy revenue stream.
Other changes in the project that Iseman would like to see include planting a park on top of the parking structure and moving the bus depot from its present location between Broadway and Ocean Avenue to the Village Entrance.
Project improvements could be funded by proceeds from the sale of the depot parcel, Iseman said.
Plans for the Village Entrance are subject to a certified environmental impact report.
“For a project of this complexity, we really need to have all the elements in place,” Iseman said. “We are the absolute opposite of a planned community, but we have to have some degree of knowledge to get this thing right.”
The environmental report did not take future projects in the district into consideration because the information was not available at the time of the evaluation, Iseman said.
“The Playhouse has a really beautiful design for the future, and the [Laguna Art] museum wants some space,” Iseman said. “We will have to struggle, and if we don’t struggle, we [city officials] aren’t doing our jobs.”
While reading the environmental report, Iseman came across a new pet peeve, adding it to noisy vehicles and the bright green of the residential trash receptacles: fugitive dust.
“Fugitive dust comes with construction,” Iseman said. “And the city is in a constant state of redevelopment. Only difficult lots are left or they would have been developed 10 or 15 years ago.
“Hopefully, we will have learned from our mistakes.”
The audience groaned when Iseman asked how many had been stuck in traffic during the pre-holiday roadway project on Broadway.
“It was terribly timed,” Iseman said.
She has asked for a city employee to be trained as a traffic guru that city officials can consult about the timing and effects of proposed projects.
Iseman said it is hard to explain what it is like to be a council member. Her partner, Steve Miller, knows.
“He hears the messages left on my answering machine,” Iseman said. “Some of them are fun. Some are not.”
The messages range from “Cut your hair” to “I hope your house burns down.”
Thin skin is not an advantage for an elected official, she said. Nor is the inability to compromise.
“Political reality is something that took me a long time to learn,” Iseman said.
One of the political realities is the proposed Community Senior Center on Third Street. Iseman stood by her “yes” vote on the project, which is opposed by some of her strongest supporters for one or another reasons.
During the Q&A; period, Bruce Hopping asked how the center location could be reconsidered, maybe moved to Heisler Park.
“We’d have a riot if we tried that,” Iseman said.
The center might have been better located, Iseman said, but once the project was approved, the job of the council was to make it the best possible building for that site.
“I think we can make it work,” Iseman said.
Iseman heartily supported changes in the project that make it greener — more environmentally friendly — albeit more expensive, and more compatible with the downtown.
“The downtown has to have meaning for us, the residents,” Iseman said.
She doesn’t want to see Forest Avenue suffer the same fate as downtown Carmel, which is dominated by restaurants and galleries.
“We all owe Wayne Peterson a big thank you for saying no to another art gallery on Forest,” Iseman said. “How many of us have to run down town to pick up a new painting.”
While on the council, Peterson blocked the application of a gallery, saying the downtown’s diverse character was being compromised.
Peterson, who joined the conservancy Monday night, sat with Iseman, Miller and Leslie and Dennis Power, Laguna College of Art & Design President, at the dinner.
Iseman concluded her presentation by encouraging everyone there to contact her with questions or suggestions.
In the audience: architect Linda Morgenlander, Janine Robinson, Mystic Hills residents Birgitta and Chuck Schoen, Chris Toy, artist Patricia Turnier, Dick Frank, and Johanna and Gene Felder, who Iseman said should be getting residuals from Cox Cable, which clearly modeled Digital Guy on him.
Also: Ann and Peter Weisbrod, Bonnie and Arnold Hano, Ed Drollinger, Carey Stombotne, Max Brown, Joan and former Director of Public Works Terry Brandt, Ginger and former Mayor Neil Fitzpatrick and Eleanor Henry.