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Hansen: Feeling asphyxiated over parking

August 28, 2013|By David Hansen

If you have ever circled downtown Laguna Beach in frustration trying to find a parking spot, then you know what's happening right now with the Village Entrance debate: Everyone is getting a little car sick.

On Monday night, there was a community meeting on the issue with about 75 interested residents and some high-ranking city officials, including City Manager John Pietig, Finance Director Gavin Curran, current and former City Council members, along with various planning staff. There were also many people from the newly formed LetLagunaVote.com protest group, Transition Laguna and the event host Village Laguna, a conservation and advocacy group.

Back in June, the City Council approved a $42 million parking and beautification project by a 3-2 vote. By most accounts, the approval caught many residents flat-footed, even though the idea for a new structure has been debated for nearly 20 years.

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Former City Councilwoman Verna Rollinger joined a chorus of speakers, claiming that the latest approval process was conducted in secret.

"It was all decided behind closed doors," she said.

It's not uncommon for locally elected officials to try to gain consensus during lengthy, complex projects. The purpose of subcommittees, workshops and other activities is to improve efficiency and decision-making — not obscure transparency.

The facts now, however, are murky.

The cost estimates vary widely from $42 million to more than $65 million. The city's finance experts are sticking to their spreadsheets, forecasting a variety of elegant ways to come up with the money, including raising street parking fees by $1.

The LetLagunaVote group claims the real costs of the project are not known because of concerns about the quality of the soil, among other things.

Pietig did his best straight-man approach to methodically answer questions, but it was apparent early on that it was going to be a long night with few satisfactory answers for this crowd of savvy and experienced activists.

What is known is that versions of the project have been debated for many years. In the 1990s, it was defeated when the project was estimated to cost $7 million.

Then-Mayor Neil Fitzpatrick, who spoke Monday, said he was stunned at the recent turn of events.

"We thought we'd drove a stake in the heart of this thing and it was dead," he said.

In Laguna Beach, there is no such thing as dead, apparently.

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