Parking plan put on hold

A plan to better manage parking in downtown Laguna Beach and the canyon was praised Tuesday by the council but not adopted.

The City Council voted unanimously for Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson's motion to only consider the information provided in the Downtown Specific Plan Area and Laguna Canyon Road Parking Management Plan, prepared by RBF Consulting.

"I don't know how many studies I have seen in the last 20 years, but this is the first one that makes sense to me," Councilman Steve Dicterow said. "I don't want us to make any rash decision. There needs more than just this meeting tonight."

Staff was instructed to recommend actions that should be taken to implement the plan and pricing strategies, such as adjusting parking rates, extending paid parking hours, and replacing coin-operated parking meters with credit card-enabled ones.

City Manager John Pietig concurred with the council's decision to have staff do some tweaking.

Councilman Robert Whalen thought there might be some quick fixes.

"I hope you could come back with some low-hanging fruit," Whalen said. "For example, valet parking could eliminate people driving around [looking for a space]."

Chamber of Commerce spokesman Larry Nokes said the RBF study was impressive but not a panacea.

"We really need more parking spaces," Nokes said.

He also expressed doubt about valet parking in the downtown core, but Inn at Laguna spokeswoman Peggy Trott said the hotel supports valet parking.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman, also skeptical about valet parking, favors installation of smart meters.

"As soon as we reprogram the meters, [the fee)] goes from $1 an hour to $1.25 an hour," Iseman said.

The public prefers meters to garages, according to the consultants.

City records indicate downtown and the canyon areas provide a total of 1,977 on- and off-street spaces in the summer and 1,547 in the off-season, with the difference attributed to the use of the Laguna College of Art + Design and the ACT V lots during festival season. The majority of these spaces are metered or fee-based.

Parking occupancy ranges from a low of 5% on a non-summer weekday in the canyon to a rate of 80% to 90% occupancy in the summer in the downtown and canyon.

Occupancy graphs in the report are available at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net.

Traffic engineers consider anything over 85% to be maximum occupancy, according to the study.

A specific objective of the plan is to maximize the effectiveness and accessibility of public and private parking in the study areas, RBF project manager Bob Matson said.

Dynamic pricing — a higher cost for more convenient parking or at peak times — is a major strategy in the plan to open up spaces.

"The idea is to make pricing more responsive to demand, and the city has the ability to do that," consultant Rick Williams said. "In summer, the city should adjust pricing to the high demand. That influences behavior and ties into other strategies."

Extending paid parking hours from the current 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. was also recommended, but courtesy time should also be extended from five to 10 minutes, Williams said.

Other recommendations include "pay by phone" technology on meters and higher rates for events such as the festivals.

Education is an important strategy in maximizing existing parking in the plan areas, according to consultant Rick Willson.

Getting people to walk, cycle or carpool, especially during the summer, opens parking spaces, he said.

Better event-based and parking lot signage and regulated signage on private parking lots were also advised.

Signage as well as pricing should be dynamic, providing information such as what spaces are available and where, as well as parking fees.

Studies also showed that private lots could be shared with the public when not in use by the property owner.

The report concludes that implementing suggestions can increase parking availability up to 400 spaces, depending on turnover.

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