City officials soft-pedaled the elimination of bicycle paths from the Climate Protection Action Plan with a promise to establish a task force to study safe cycling on Laguna Streets.
The City Council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Verna Rollinger absent, to adopt the modified version of the plan proposed in January by the Environmental Committee, to implement five initial measures and directed City Manager Ken Frank to prepare budget recommendations for the implementation. The council also voted unanimously to delete bike paths from the plan, citing safety, logistical and liability concerns.
“We should not encourage people to ride bikes in Laguna until it is safe,” Councilwoman Jane Egly said. “We need to provide safe routes before we include the language.”
However, in light of overwhelming support for the paths, the council approved a proposal by Environmental Committee member Lisa Marks to create a task force to review how other cities deal with bicyclists and how those methods could be tailored to Laguna.
“It doesn’t commit you to bike paths, but it keeps the door open,” Marks said.
The plan aims to provide a blueprint for the reduction of man-made greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below 1990 levels no later than 2012.
Environmental Committee Chairman Chris Prelitz said the sub-committee that included himself, Egly, Frank and Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman reviewed the original plan and agreed on every issue.
Prelitz recommended the council approve that version, not the one on the agenda, proposed by Frank after further consideration, which deleted a measure to study and implement bicycle paths where feasible.
“Now, you are going to hear arguments for reasons that Laguna cannot be made safe for pedestrians and bicyclists,” Prelitz said. “Well, if San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Dana Point and Santa Ana can do it, so can Laguna Beach.
Prelitz said issues raised by opponents of bicycle paths through Laguna might include the cost of re-striping streets, not enough interest in commuting by bicycle, and liability.
“This isn’t about liability; it’s about responsibility,” Councilwoman Toni Iseman said. “Other cities do it because they can. If Laguna could, it would.”
The city’s hilly geography and early development of narrow winding streets present difficulties, she said. Support for the paths was voiced by 16 members of the audience, including Roger Taylor, chairman of the Bicycle Assn. of South Orange County and a Laguna Beach resident.
“Bicycling routes and related facilities are a critical part of the infrastructure of any modern city that is trying to responsibly deal with population growth, pollution, traffic congestion, parking problems and the economic realities associated with the high cost of transportation,” Taylor said.
“Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road are state highways [under Caltrans jurisdiction],” Mayor Kelly Boyd said. “It is hard enough to get sidewalks, let alone a bike pathway.”
All other concerns aside, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson said the first duty of government is to safeguard the citizens.
But former Laguna Beach High School teacher Art Wahl encouraged the council to make Laguna a bicycle-friendly town.
“It seems incongruous that our town would not include bicycling in a climate protection plan,” Wahl said.
All other concerns aside, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson said the first duty of government is to safeguard the citizens. She said the city assure cannot guarantee bicyclists’ safety at this time.
“I think anyone riding a bicycle on Coast Highway is taking their lives in their hands,” Pearson said.
One tearful supporter said bike paths would be safer than letting bicyclists loose on main drags.
“I am a driver who hit a bicyclist and I am speaking on his behalf,” Tony Pryan said. “Give bicyclists a safe place to ride.”
The plan includes more than 90 measures and implementation will require a significant commitment of staff time, according to the staff analysis.
Five initial measures were approved for implementation:
Establishment of an Environmental and Sustainability section under Regular Topics on the city’s website, including resource documents
Creation of a Sustainability Element to be incorporated into the city’s general plan
Conduct a comprehensive audit of the energy use by city-owned facilities and operations and propose ways to reduce the use
Provide information about nonprofit organizations such as Build It Green, including its pamphlets on building and remodeling, and on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known as LEED, at the Information Desk at City Hall and on the website.
Study and report on opportunities for power purchase agreements in which the city allows solar electric systems to be installed on city facilities in return for a guaranteed fixed rate.
The plan can be reviewed at www.lagunabeachcity.net.