Experts want multiple traffic panels to communicate

Laguna's approach to resolving its traffic, parking and circulation woes needs to go in a new direction, according to city officials.

Six separate subcommittees or consultants are working on plans related to making city streets less congested and parking more accessible, but some involved say the lack of communication among them has created a bottleneck.

Studies, updates and plan reviews underway with little or no coordination include the proposal for the Village Entrance, revisions to the Downtown Specific Plan, updates of the Laguna Beach General Plan Mobility Element, and the Scenic Highways and Landscape Resource Document, contracted analyses of the city's transit system, and Laguna Canyon Road improvements.

Consultants have already reported on how to create the state-mandated Complete Streets in Laguna, and RBF Consulting's recommendations on ways to better manage parking in the Downtown Specific Plan area and along Laguna Canyon Road.

"There is no question that the handling of parking is balkanized," said Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson, who serves on the scenic highways subcommittee. "We need to slow down the process in order to coordinate all the studies."

A council subcommittee was appointed at the April 23 meeting to interview urban planning firms in the search for an expert to synthesize studies centered on the downtown area.

"The city recognized the need for the advice of an expert in urban planning to make sure these efforts are integrated in a logical way," said City Manager John Pietig.

At the very least, the various committees should be talking to one another, said Scott Sebastian, former member of the city Environmental Committee.

"We have spent the last 40 years talking about parking, with little effect," he said.

The RBF consultants attempted to be the most comprehensive, according to Sebastian. But Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman, who serves on the subcommittee reviewing the mobility element, said the study did not benefit the rest of the city.

RBF's objective was to maximize public and private parking downtown and along Laguna Canyon Road.

The plan did not address new parking, most notably the parking structure proposed for the Village Entrance. The structure would be funded in part by parking permits and fees at city-owned parking lots and meters, which would be increased.

"The council made the decision to increase meter fees without considering the demand-price option in Downtown Parking Management Plan," Grossman said.

The demand-price option would raise parking fees in the summer, when more people are looking for parking spaces.

"There is little coordination between the various committees or the city staff liaising with them," Grossman said.

Even before the RBF plan was unveiled in June, the council had appointed Councilman Robert Whalen and Councilwoman Toni Iseman at the April 23 meeting to work with RBF on an analysis of Laguna Canyon Road and provide options to improve traffic flow, aesthetics, pedestrian and biking facilities and trolley movement.

Whalen said at the meeting that a plan will make it easier to get grants.

"I think this is a great opportunity for us," Whalen said. "If we take this next step, it will go hand-in-hand with a lot of other things we are doing simultaneously."

At the same time the subcommittee is working on the Laguna Canyon Road project, the mobility subcommittee will be holding hearings on ways to create a multimodal transportation network. Under consideration will be a transition plan for Complete Streets to accommodate all users from automobiles to moms with strollers, as well as recommendations on parking facilities and policies. Meanwhile, the Complete Streets Committee continues to meet without city involvement.

Also in the works: The Scenic Highways document upgrade from policy to general plan element. The transit study will review possible cost savings or revenue opportunities for the summer trolleys, year-round city buses and alternative modes of transportation.

As of July 1, when the new fiscal budget kicked in, the city had allocated more than $300,000 for parking, traffic and circulation studies.

"The city needs integrated oversight of all the issues," Sebastian said. "No one in the city has the expertise, and I strongly support hiring someone to pull it all together."

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