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Village Entrance financing moves a step forward

New parking revenue and bonds would pay for the project. Some council members object to the millions in debt.

June 12, 2013|By Bryce Alderton

The Laguna Beach City Council gave the OK on a preliminary financing plan for the Village Entrance project at a special meeting Tuesday night inside a crowded Council Chambers.

The council voted 3 to 2 for the plan, estimated to cost $42.3 million, despite some residents' pleas to put the matter to a community vote. Mayor Kelly Boyd and Councilwoman Toni Iseman cast the dissenting votes.

The project, which includes a pedestrian park and a parking structure at the entrance to the city off Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road, has taken too long, according to Councilman Steve Dicterow.

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"We've been discussing this for how many years?" Dicterow told the audience. "We are waiting to have a perfect solution with unanimous consent, and that will never happen. [The parking structure] is not going to solve [the parking problem], but it will chip away at it. We need to have parking in a lot of other places."

The Village Entrance has been in the planning stages since a group of residents formed a task force on the issue in 1995.

Still, some residents at Tuesday's meeting were concerned the four-level parking structure slated to have 500 parking spaces would draw more tourists to Laguna and add congestion.

"If people can't find parking in the structure, they will drive back out to Act V [parking lot in Laguna Canyon], and that will create more traffic," Diane Valentino, a Laguna Canyon resident, said.

Traffic has worsened to the point that there are six hours each day when it's difficult getting to the grocery store without sitting in gridlock, Valentino said.

"The residents of Laguna Beach do not benefit," Valentino said about the current Village Entrance plan.

"They're going to come regardless of whether we build a parking structure," Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson said, alluding to potential traffic impacts from residents in bordering housing communities traveling into Laguna on Laguna Canyon Road.

Councilman Bob Whalen allayed some residents' fears that they would be saddled with paying off the Village Entrance for 25 years.

"This will be new parking revenue, 90% derived from visitors to the community and not property taxes," said Whalen, a public finance lawyer. "I've spent 30 years in this field, and it would be extremely rare to vote on this type of financing plan. This is something we can afford, and it will benefit the community and downtown."

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