Parking crunch weighs on residents

Even before Johanna Felder moved to Laguna Beach 26 years ago, she was well aware of the parking difficulties.

"I didn't come to Laguna [back then] because it was a pain to park," said Felder, who now lives near Top of the World Elementary School.

Felder is one of several residents and business owners who attended the first public hearing April 10 on the Parking Management Plan for downtown and Laguna Canyon areas, which presented potential parking solutions to the Planning Commissioners.

"I don't have a problem parking during non-summer months," Felder said. "Lunchtime is popular for people to go downtown. Everyone wants to park exactly where they're going, but that's not possible at lunch. You can always find a parking spot in the [Forest Avenue] lot."

The Planning Commission will conduct a second public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in City Council chambers, 505 Forest Ave.

Staff hopes to submit recommendations to the City Council by June and, if approved, the plan would then go for review to the California Coastal Commission.

The area being examined includes all public on-street parking and public off-street parking locations, including: the Glenneyre Street structure (501 Glenneyre St.), Mermaid Street lot (348 Glenneyre St.), the Forest Avenue/Peppertree lot (332 Forest Ave.) and Forest Avenue/Laguna Canyon Road lot (635 Laguna Canyon Road).

For the past year, the city has held public workshops to gain input from residents.

The city has 1,977 parking spots during summer in downtown and canyon areas and 1,547 spaces during non-summer, according to the Parking Management Plan staff report.

These spots include on-street parking and city-owned lots, as well as the Act V lot, which is open in the summer.

The Forest Avenue/Laguna Canyon lot, across the street from the Festival of Arts grounds, has 168 spaces. From Labor Day to the beginning of the Festival season in June, 122 of those spots are open to the public.

During summer, Felder said she avoids downtown during lunch. But by 4 p.m., she said she can find street parking.

Felder liked the suggestion of paying city employees not to park in municipal lots.

One method to alleviate parking for residents is the "shopper permit," which allows locals to park at city meters — except on Laguna Canyon Road — or lots. Cost for the first two permits per household is $80 per year.

Felder has the permit, as does Sheri Morgan, a resident who has lived in town for 20 years.

Parking during the summer has "gotten worse," according to Morgan, and the parking crunch starts before June. She often drives a golf cart into downtown, she said.

"I feel like it's tough finding parking in May," Morgan said. "From 4 to 6 p.m., it's tough finding spots."

Another suggestion consultants gave is charging higher rates to park downtown in the summer compared with parking in a remote lot and taking a trolley into town. Consultants also proposed charging more for on-street parking than for lots.

Currently, it costs $1 per hour for on-street parking, according to the staff report. It costs $2 per hour to park in city-owned lots year-round.

Morgan has heard residents complain that employees of local businesses park in residential neighborhoods and walk to their jobs to avoid paying a parking fee at a meter or city lot.

A possible solution is for employees to buy a permit to park in residential areas with a portion of that revenue returned to the neighborhood for improvements, such as tree trimming or sidewalk repair, consultant Rick Willson said during the April 10 public hearing.

Consultants also suggested looking into converting Ocean Avenue into a one-way southbound street between Beach Street and Coast Highway. This option could include restriping the road to make angled parking spaces instead of the current parallel spots, which would add additional spaces.

"I would love to see a traffic study of Ocean Avenue going one-way," Felder said. "You cannot make a left turn from Coast Highway onto Ocean [without traffic backing up]."

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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