Last parking workshop yields final ideas

Three consultants made suggestions for Laguna Beach to maximize public parking downtown at the third and final parking management workshop Wednesday night.

About 60 residents and business owners attended the meeting inside City Council chambers. They raised several questions within the first 10 minutes before Planning Commission Chairman Norm Grossman clarified the goal for the workshop.

"We don't want anymore [parking] studies; we've done 13 studies in the last 18 years," Grossman said. "We brought a firm in to compile data to summarize existing studies and figure out what to do next."

The next step is a public hearing — a date has not been set — and city officials hope to decide on a plan by June.

The downtown parking project begins on Laguna Canyon Road, just south of Canyon Acres Drive into downtown. The area includes the Act V and Laguna College of Art + Design lots. The college has allowed the city to use its lot, which has 159 spaces, for public parking during the summer. As part of the use agreement the city reserves 15 to 35 parking spaces for the college during the summer.

Laguna operates a flat fee for parking meters and pay stations, meaning rates do not fluctuate regardless of time, day, location or season.

Downtown street parking meters charge $1 per hour throughout the year with a three-hour time limit. Parking lots within downtown charge $2 per hour with the same time limit. The rate is enforced from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Rick Williams of Rick Williams Consulting, a parking and transportation firm headquartered in Portland, Ore., suggested dynamic pricing, which means parking rates vary depending on the season (a higher rate could be charged during the summer, when crowds flock to the beach and art festivals). Williams also said Laguna could increase parking enforcement by an hour to 8 p.m., instead of 7 p.m., for public meters and pay stations.

Bob Matson, a project manager with RBF Consulting who works in Irvine, said one option is to encourage people to park at lots farther away from downtown and take shuttles into the city.

Matson said this strategy would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from drivers meandering through town trying to find a parking space. He also said a bikeway could be constructed atop the flood channel that runs parallel along Laguna Canyon Road.

Williams, who said he has studied parking in 100 U.S. cities, gave examples of how technology can help drivers park and pay fees.

Parking-related apps for mobile phones can alert drivers to how many spaces are left in a lot, as can signage, he said.

"The meters load a license plate on the keypad and create an account," Williams said. "When you have five minutes left, the meter sends a text message with how much time is left."

Account holders can pay using their phone, he said; however, the technology is expensive.

Laguna installed parking meters that accept credit and debit cards in 2008 and 2009. Principal Planner Monica Tuchscher said the convenience of not searching for quarters has been well-received.

David Dike, 46, grew up in Laguna Beach and was pleased with the consultants' presentation.

"I am a architect and [have] done a lot of city planning and feel these consultants are extremely well-fit for this type of work," Dike said. "They are really on target with what Laguna needs."

Dike lives in North Laguna and said he often has coffee with fellow residents to discuss citywide issues.

"I hope the next step is [go out into the city] and look at the situations on the ground," Dike said. "They have all the data.

"The downtown parking is highly impacted for the residents at lunch and dinner. It's challenging to find spaces."

Dike said he parked in the Laguna Presbyterian Church parking lot Wednesday night because it was free.

Consultants also discussed shared parking, which allows a business to charge drivers to park in a lot during off-peak hours, such as a daytime parking fee by a restaurant that only serves dinner.

"I think shared parking is great," Dike said.

A sticking point for some downtown business owners? The liability they would face if they implemented shared parking, according to a parking management plan survey.

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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