We’re very pleased that the City Council has agreed to look into the topic of parking management in downtown Laguna, at the suggestion of Ann Johnson, chairwoman of the Planning Commission, in a recent joint meeting.
Parking is vital to the health of a commercial district, and in Laguna it is one of the sore spots for retailers who live or die on the number of people who can conveniently get to their shops.
This was illustrated in high relief recently, in the flap over the Forest Avenue Promenade.
The council pulled the plug on this one-night-per-month street party on one block of Forest Avenue "” despite its popularity with residents and visitors "” after several businesses in the immediate area complained that they might as well shut their doors after the block was cordoned off from traffic in the early afternoon. With no parking nearby, there were no customers. And this has been a problem for pedestrian malls in other cities.
The Chamber of Commerce- sponsored Promenade event has its champions, and the chamber seems determined to bring it back, but if even one retailer finds it to be an obstruction instead of a help to business, what’s the point?
Then there is the problem of new businesses moving in to locations that have little or no parking, and being required to pay “in lieu" fees to satisfy city requirements for parking, but which end up only fattening the city’s wallet while providing not one parking spot for the businesses that so desperately need it.
Years and probably millions of dollars have been spent over the past 10 or so years as the council dithered and dickered over whether and how to build a parking structure in the city’s “gateway" area of Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue.
The Village Entrance Project is now pretty much dead as a doornail, and the only parking to be added to the mix so far is about 300 spaces "” some of it free "” at the former city employee lot, which is available free only during the non-festival season. And a lot of this parking is taken up on weekends by the two wedding venues nearby, Tivoli Terrace and Tivoli, Too, which typically block off dozens of “free" spaces for their guests’ use.
More and cheaper parking would also help the city’s public relations problem with parking enforcement and the perception that meter readers are unfairly targeting visitors while they attempt to spend money in town.
It is abundantly clear that adding parking would be a benefit to businesses and the residents who want a vital business district in which to shop.
Hopefully, with the new business-friendly mandate at City Hall, the council will form a broad-based committee and hire an expert consultant to work out a plan to make space for all.