Soil too unstable for parking ramp?

Questions were raised during Tuesday's City Council meeting about the viability of a proposed parking ramp at the Village Entrance.

Eight members of the public questioned the geology, location, need and the cost of the structure approved by the council.

KX93.5 talk show host Alan Boinus said his research indicated that the council had abandoned a downtown flood control project in 2001 because of concerns about contaminants in the soil, and consultants reported a water table 13 to 23 feet below the surface of the proposed garage site.

"The proposed parking structure sits on the same soils, folks, the same soils the council felt were too risky to disrupt in 2001," Boinus said. "It was too risky then and it is too risky now."

Boinus spoke to Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson, a supporter of the Village Entrance parking structure, in an interview set to air at 8 a.m. Sunday, and "was happy to hear that she was receptive to learning about new geological information from experts that would give the council reason to re-examine the project."

Pearson said Wednesday that she was always open to learning from scientific data.

"We are continuing to drill down to determine the geology, soils and water table to ensure we have a solid and safe project," Pearson said.

Realtor Audrey Prosser said she would like the council to form a subcommittee to research the water table.

According to Prosser, the city mapped some of the streams in the area in 1996 or 1997, and she would like to see the maps

"The water table needs to be considered," said City Manager John Pietig.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman said she was told that a second level of parking at the Third Street centers was not feasible because of the high water table.

However, Pietig said the water table downtown did not prevent construction of the underground lift station and the lifeguard headquarters above it on Main Beach.

Resident Rita Conn said she is concerned about the geology of the Village Entrance site and feels the council erred in approving a project that she contends will benefit tourists more than residents.

"I believe spending $65 million on a tourist parking lot on the busiest corner of Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue and on a riverbed that the environmental impact report says will turn into quicksand is such a mistake," Conn said.

"Increasing ACT V parking could be built at a fraction of the cost and it would stop tourists form coming into town."

Conn suggested that the money would be better spent to eliminate wooden utility poles that could fall and impede evacuation in the event of a disaster, an issue raised later in an agenda item on funding citywide.

Community volunteer Vic Opincar also voiced concern about the cost of the project. "This will be a drag on the city," he said.

Opincar said he believes city staff and council failed to consider the cost of operating and maintaining the parking structure, which he said could not be covered by bond revenue. He estimates that operation and maintainance would cost the city about $225,000 a year.

Gary Jenkins expressed hope that city could find a way to make the parking structure pay for itself.

He encouraged the city to check with the Laguna Beach School District on the availability of parking spaces at El Morro Elementary School during the summer, when parking demand is at its highest.

Richard Frank said the Village Entrance would siphon funding from the development of peripheral parking.

Lynn Rosencrantz complained about parking problems in her neighborhood that she said would not be solved by the Village Entrance project.

"I know there isn't a perfect parking solution, but residential permits and time-limited parking would be a perfect start," Rosencrantz said.

Opincar, Conn and Ramona Loucks said the public should be able to vote on the Village Entrance project.

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