Out of the Blue: We can do better than Village Entrance

My beef with the Village Entrance Project isn't just the exhaustion of much of our borrowing power, the five-year project disruption to our lives, the paucity of spaces it nets, the maintenance costs, the toxic soil remediation or the loamy, unstable ground.

Nope, those could all be mitigated if the net gain to our quality of life and redress of our predominant transportation issues were met.

This project doesn't necessarily need to be put to a public vote. Or completely gutted. But we deserve a better, more comprehensive plan with broader considerations. We need more community input and more options on the table.

Sure, we need more parking — especially to accommodate all the new visitors we are anticipating from future housing developments nearby. But do we need all of it at the nexus of our inbound entry?

The current plan does nothing but intensify traffic on the already choked Laguna Canyon Road. Especially for the five years of construction, when we lose more spaces than we gain.

For our residents, getting in and out of town efficiently and consistently is a bigger issue than encouraging more visits to our town during summer months. We want the visitors. Just not their cars, not all the way in town. Imagine a situation where the lot is full and cars are circling the intersection, waiting to get in. We don't want to go Jack Nicholson on anyone.

Has any official investigated whether we can take those 600 or so parking spots and spread them out to three satellite lots across our three inbound arteries? How about a second story over the Pavilions lot in North Laguna, a second story over the Act V lot in the canyon, and a second story over Aliso Creek lot (canyon side) in South Laguna?

Nobody's views would be compromised, and they'd largely be hidden from public view. Plus there'd be minimal disruptions to our lives while these are built. Then run shuttles from each of these lots into town.

And how do you encourage drivers to inconvenience themselves and use these lots? By making it very expensive to park downtown. London charges motorists $20 a day just to drive in, and this doesn't include parking. Merchants need not worry: Plenty will park downtown anyway because there's only one Laguna. But the ones who park and ride will leave spaces for the locals.

Also, why can't the plan include a pedestrian promenade on Forest, something the town has yearned for since, well, the Village Entrance Project was conceived?

What about the priority of under-grounding the utility lines on Laguna Canyon Road in the interest of public safety and beautification, and possibly building a light rail system that could run directly to the Irvine Co.'s new housing development (and on to the Irvine Amtrak station)? This could alleviate a tremendous traffic burden.

Can't we ask the Irvine Co. to help subsidize this as a perk of buying a home — direct access to Laguna Beach via a shiny new light rail? Donald Bren could write a personal check, just as Jeff Bezos did to save the Washington Post. Plus, there is federal disaster-preparedness funding out there too.

There are many other ideas in the pipeline — from many smart people. What we need is a broad, forward-thinking multi-modal plan that alleviates traffic, increases circulation, creates more parking and makes our downtown center more beautiful and people-centric.

BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and member of the board of Transition Laguna. He can be reached at billy@lavidalaguna.com.

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