Businesses weigh in on parking challenges

Noticeable signs and increased parking enforcement are two ways to address Laguna Beach's ongoing parking issues, business owners say.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the draft Parking Management Plan — which aims to maximize parking in downtown and off Laguna Canyon Road — at 6:30 p.m. May 22 in City Council chambers, 505 Forest Ave.

One suggestion — prominently placed signs — could ease parking confusion, said Daniel Reyes, general manager of Nirvana Grille on Broadway Street.

"No one knows what stipulations are with [signs in lots next to buildings]," Reyes said.

Nirvana Grille has about 14 spaces for customers to use after 5 p.m. in a nearby plaza, said chef and owner Lindsay Smith-Rosales.

Customers can park for free during non-summer months, but during the summer a valet is sometimes needed, and parking costs $10 to $15, Smith-Rosales said.

Visitors are confused as to whether they can park in certain spots, said Reyes, who was born and raised in Laguna Beach.

"No one knows what is going on," he said.

Holly Dennison manages Fresh Produce Sportswear on Forest Avenue and is also on the Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee, which advises the City Council.

Customers' fear of finding a parking space has detrimental effects on business, she said.

"Sometimes [customers] don't come because they can't find parking," said Dennison, who has worked at the store for 10 years. "We want people to come and enjoy [Laguna], and not hate us for parking fees."

Fresh Produce's nine employees take the bus and walk to work, she said.

"The local bus is free, if you work in town," Dennison added.

Forest Avenue sees its heaviest traffic from late morning into the early afternoon, and around dinner time, she said.

"You're safe until 11 a.m.," Dennison said. "From 11 [a.m.] to 3:30 or 4 p.m., it's packed. Then there's a lull until 5 p.m. and, 'bam!' restaurants start filling up."

Dennison suggested stronger meter enforcement.

"There's a three-hour limit [on certain meters], but some people stay six to nine hours," she said. "It's important to keep people circulating. I'm for outlying lots that get trolleys [taking people into downtown]. I'm for prime spots [in downtown] costing more."

Meter rates vary, depending on the area.

Laguna has 119 meters — some with 10-hour limits — in the 100 and 200 blocks of Cliff Drive, between Broadway Street and North Coast Highway. Cost is $1 per hour.

Troy Lee Designs on Glenneyre Street has three spaces in a private lot for customers or employees, employee Brook McClendon said.

The spaces lure drivers, who don't necessarily visit Troy Lee Designs.

"People sometimes park [in the lot] and go to restaurants," McClendon said. "I buy a parking pass when there is not enough parking."

Business owners and employees can buy a $300 yearly pass for that is valid for up to 12 hours on Cliff Drive between Aster and Acacia streets. From September to June, the permit also is valid Monday through Friday in the Forest/Laguna Canyon lot between posted signs, the Glenneyre Street parking structure's upper level and the eastbound side of Laguna Canyon Road.

McClendon favors opening up spots when businesses are closed.

"I think opening up [parking spaces during] off-hours in lots is a good idea," McClendon said. "A lot of businesses are closed on the weekends."

Smith-Rosales favors a parking structure to help ease the parking strain.

"You could have one underground level and one street level," Smith-Rosales said. "You could commission an artist to decorate [the structure]. Once it's done, it could look beautiful."

The City Council voted 4 to 1 in March to pursue Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson's Village Entrance plan, which calls for a four-story parking structure with 506 spaces near the Festival of Arts.

The council appointed a subcommittee that includes Pearson and Councilman Robert Whalen to work with the city to develop a Village Entrance plan to present to the public June 11.

After the May 22 parking meeting, the Planning Commission hopes to make specific recommendations regarding parking to the City Council, Commissioner Norm Grossman said.

Setting certain criteria is critical in gauging whether a particular program is working, he said.

"Too often people say, 'Well I think it works,' but [the claim is] not backed up by facts," Grossman said.

Parking headaches are nothing new for Laguna Beach, according to Grossman .

"Newspaper stories from the late 1920s talk about parking problems in Laguna," he said.

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