Hansen: Fight parking with ideas

It's no secret that downtown Laguna Beach during the summer is a parking lot. Worse, inland day-trippers steer clear of the city because of the related traffic, frustration and overall claustrophobia.

Imagine, however, distributed parking that spreads cars out over a wider area, incentivized by cheaper rates. In other words, maybe Forest Avenue costs more than Broadway, which costs more than Cliff Drive.

Kind of like the Z lot at the airport: You shuttle in but pay far less.

On Wednesday night, the city's planning department and a parking adviser, RBF Consulting, will be unveiling these and other ideas at a public workshop, 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the Suzi Q Senior/Community Center, 380 Third St.

"There are at least a dozen different strategies that we're going to be discussing," said RBF's Bob Matson, who is helping to create the updated parking management plan.

After this workshop, the proposals will go to the Planning Commission and City Council for consideration early next year.

Other interesting ideas that will be floated involve the free summer shuttle. Should it go year-round? If so, can the dynamic meter pricing pay for it?

Maybe there are alternatives, such as only making the shuttle year-round on Saturdays or other special times.

One issue for local residents is that during the summer, the shuttle is often too crowded. Plus, if you take it downtown and stay late, you're stuck.

"Let's say the last trolley run is at 10 o'clock, but you live in Laguna and you've taken it downtown to do dinner and drinks, and you get out at 11:30," Matson said. "How do you get back because you didn't drive downtown?"

Enter the proposed voucher taxi program.

"You've purchased taxi vouchers from the city and then you simply call a taxi, and the ride home is free," he said.

City Planner Monica Tuchscher is officially driving the parking management plan and hopes these types of suggestions will motivate Laguna residents to participate in the final list. She will be highlighting several ideas during the workshop.

"We're going to be talking about parking time limits, parking information systems, valet, peripheral parking and other things," she said. "Then there's pricing. We could do district-based pricing or dynamic pricing, and we're looking at both on-street meters and off-street meters."

One major area that needs fixing is employee parking, Tuchscher said. During previous meetings over the summer, various stakeholder groups (business owners, property owners, residents, hotels and others) said there simply are not enough parking spaces to accommodate everyone.

"We heard issues associated with employee parking, let me put it that way," Tuchscher said. "Employee parking is fine nine months out of the year but as soon as that summer hits and … we start requiring fees for certain lots, all of a sudden our employers have a difficult time parking and the businesses really don't want the employees to park."

Parking occupancy downtown during the summer is understandably high with tourists — essentially 100% utilization on the weekends. During the week, it's still above 90% during the day.

Whenever you talk about parking options, you have to consider adding more parking.

"We are seeing if the city is efficiently using parking and if there is a way to get greater efficiency out of the current parking supply," Matson said. "And part of the solution may be to increase the parking supply but that isn't necessarily a given at this point."

There could be better service with the Act V lot in the canyon, providing improved bike access from the lot.

There could be electronic signs that show how much parking is available on certain streets, similar to the Irvine Spectrum parking structures.

There could be any number of things.

The good news is a lot of people have been thinking of creative, practical ideas for the last year, and now is the time to look at the short list.

Now is the time that you can have a real impact before the final list goes to the City Council.

This is the way local change happens.

If you have ever complained about parking in downtown Laguna Beach, attend this Wednesday workshop and put in your two cents.

Plug the meter.

Stay as long as you want.

The cops will not be writing tickets for this one.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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