Parking on their minds

To solve the downtown Laguna Beach parking problem, residents might be willing to support raising prices at the meters in order to improve the shuttle service.

About 25 people attended a planning workshop on Wednesday night and told the city's parking consultant, RBF Consulting, that pricing, better technology and alternative transportation should be the top priorities when the Planning Commission and City Council vote on the recommendations in the spring.

The attendees were broken up into groups of four tables to brainstorm and evaluate a list of 27 strategies already culled from prior workshops. Also in attendance were newly elected City Councilman Steve Dicterow, Planning Commissioners Norm Grossman and Linda Dietrich, and City Planner Monica Tuchscher.

Most of the attendees favored an expanded shuttle program while acknowledging that funding is an issue.

Some suggested putting advertising on the trolleys or allow the city to sell parking gift cards, knowing that the amounts on the cards won't be completely used. The extra money could be reallocated.

Others just wanted better management of existing parking spaces, policies and pricing.

"We think this is getting crazy," said architect Marshall Ininns, representing his table and referring to the downtown congestion. "We would like the parking fees to go to parking. We feel it's a stagnant economy nine months out of the year."

Attendees said they want to protect the downtown businesses and make sure the parking funding sources make sense.

Most likely, there will be some form of creative pricing proposed to the city. Rates could be higher on Forest Avenue, for example, to promote turnover. And it may be higher in summer versus winter.

What these suggestions mean to residents with the popular shoppers permits remains in question. No one wants to penalize residents but the permits would allow a loophole in a dynamic pricing model because residents would not have to pay the higher premiums — unless there were changes.

Nearly everyone agreed that technology improvements should be implemented immediately. Several cited mobile apps that they have used in other cities to assist with parking.

Ultimately, the attendees felt that surface parking should be phased out in favor of structures.

RBF Consulting is going to further consolidate the recommendations and there will be more formal hearings starting in late January or early February.

The background documents for the workshop, including a list of all the possible options, are available at the city's planning website.

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