City to raise some parking rates this summer

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to raise certain parking rates this summer as part of a trial program.

The city will increase on- and off-street meter rates to $2 per hour on summer weekends, holidays and after 5 p.m. on weekdays on Forest Avenue, Ocean Avenue, Broadway and Coast Highway (between Cliff Drive and Legion Street), the staff report said.

It currently costs $1.25 per hour to park at the meters, but deputy city manager Ben Siegel pointed out that the rate was already scheduled to jump 25 cents to $1.50 beginning July 1 as part of a separate council action on the Village Entrance financing plan last year.

The reason for the trial rate increase is to align pricing with demand and encourage use of off-street peripheral parking, according to the staff report.

As part of this summer's trial program, which Siegel said will begin in July and run through Labor Day, daily parking rates at the Forest Avenue and Lumberyard lots will increase to $15 on weekends, holidays and weekends after 5 p.m. Rates would remain at $10 per day at all other times.

Motorists will have to pay for public parking until 9 p.m. this summer, a two-hour increase from the current 7 p.m. cutoff.

The two-hour increase factors in peak demand during those times due to the summer festivals.

RBF Consulting gathered data in August, which helped staff develop eight recommendations that were approved on Tuesday. They also used input from several stakeholder meetings held during the last two years.

RBF found that parking is often 100% occupied on summer weekdays beginning in late afternoon and on weekends in the early afternoon, the city staff report said.

The city will also look into partnering with a private valet company to offer that service and improve signage and branding to encourage and educate drivers to use off-street city parking lots, such as at the Susi Q Community Center and Hagan Place, the report said.

Another opportunity could be partnering with Visit Laguna Beach to offer a mobile phone app that would include parking information, Siegel told the council.

The new rates would not affect residents with shoppers' permits, according to Siegel.

The permits, which residents purchase, allow them to park at city meters — except on Laguna Canyon Road — or lots.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman was concerned about raising parking rates too much.

"The only thing that makes me cringe is $15 across the street from [the Festival of the Arts]; somehow or other that seems steep," Iseman said.

Iseman said a Coastal Commission staff member recently told her of a concern with how much the city charges for parking.

"I think we can stand behind $7 [all day during summer] at ACT V [a lot along Laguna Canyon Road] when we provide free shuttles," Iseman said. "We should be careful about raising that."

The cost [in the Forest and Lumberyard lots] is comparable, if not less expensive, that what certain private lot owners charge motorists for parking, Siegel responded.

There are open lots in the city at night, Councilman Steve Dicterow said.

"Private parking lots downtown are basically unused at night," he said, asking Siegel if there was a plan to possibly make those spaces available.

"We'd like to start conversations right away, but we're not including it in the pilot program," Siegel said. "Those conversations with property owners take time."

Iseman asked if there is a way to compensate private lot owners who may charge more expensive parking rates

"If we get more revenue, we will clean your sidewalks more often to make downtown more appealing," Iseman suggested.

As part of its midyear budget review at Tuesday's meeting, the council earmarked $150,000 from the city's parking fund toward implementing the trial program. The costs cover signage, collecting data, marketing materials and installing pay stations, Siegel said.

The council also approved $65,000 from the parking fund toward staffing during the trial program.

The city will notify the Coastal Commission of the program and will report back to council this fall.

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