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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 37  |  May 7, 2021


Committee denies parking restriction proposal for Alta Laguna Park, Top of the World area

By SARA HALL

After overwhelming public opposition, a city committee denied requested parking regulations for the streets surrounding Alta Laguna Park last week.

The Parking, Traffic, and Circulation Committee voted 4-1 on Thursday (April 22) to deny a number of resident-requested parking restrictions during the “old business” portion of their agenda, which includes items that have been previously reviewed by the committee and noticed to the public. Committee members Janis Murray dissented and Tyler Russell McCusker recused himself.

The committee previously heard and agreed to notice the restrictions on March 25.

At the previous meeting, committee members discussed acting as a catalyst for broader work on various issues in the neighborhood and directed staff to look into the process of kicking off a focused subcommittee (or possibly a task force) that works with residents and local groups on the larger problems in the area.

About two dozen residents spoke during last week’s meeting, most opposed to the suggested regulations but in favor of other possible ideas to help ease the issues in the area.

Most of the discussion revolved around the problems that have increased with the influx of visitors over the past year. Several public speakers asked for resident-only parking or questioned ways to reduce the number of tourists to the area.

Committee Vice Chair Susan Shea stated that the majority of residents in the impacted neighborhoods are clearly opposed to this proposal, as evidenced by the numerous letters and comments the committee received on the issue. 

“I don’t think that this is the solution,” Shea said. “I’m frustrated because I really want to help all of these people solve this problem, but I don’t believe that this is the solution for it.”

Gene Felder, president of Top of the World Neighborhood Association (TOWNA), submitted the request. There are a number of issues with parking, traffic, trash, graffiti, alcohol use, smoking, and speeding due to a great number of visitors using the Alta Laguna Park and the Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, he stated.

Committee denies Mike Sweeney

Photo by Mike Sweeney

Graffiti on the trails

“The recommendations that we have are not going to stop the hordes of visitors that have impacted the neighborhood, but we have no idea how to stop people from coming,” Felder said. “They are already parking in the neighborhood in the residential streets. So our proposal is for them to at least pay for parking.”

Felder and the TOWNA group made several requests: 

--Marked parking spaces on north end of Alta Laguna Boulevard

--Marked parking spaces throughout Canyon Pointe streets, Park Place, and Tyrol Drive

--Paid parking in Alta Laguna Park parking lot, north end of Alta Laguna Blvd, Canyon Pointe streets, Park Place, and Tyrol Drive

--Sensors installed and pay-by-app only (would be a pilot program)

--Free parking for those having Laguna Beach Shoppers’ Permit

--No parking on north end of Alta Laguna Boulevard after sunset on both sides to Park Avenue 

The group was not suggesting meters or anything with posts/poles, he clarified; they were hoping for a pay-by-app option.

Resident Trish Sweeney supported the recommended changes. Attendance in the park has significantly increased, she said, and a nominal fee to park is reasonable. The city has nothing to lose by trying this out as a pilot program, she added. 

People are already parking on the streets, so they might as well pay for it, other supporters agreed. 

The number one concern from residents during public comment was that the restrictions would simply push the problems down the street into another neighborhood.

Local resident Ted Vali, who also hikes up in the park, said he doesn’t like the traffic, but these restrictions will just drive the issue down the hill.

“You guys are pushing this problem right into our lap,” he said. “(Visitors are) not going to pay for parking, they’re going to just move on down into our neighborhood.”

At the peak of the pandemic, people were already crowding into the nearby neighborhoods.

“Everybody was there, I could have had a hot dog stand,” Vali said.

That’s not going to change, Vali added; all those people will continue to come, but instead of being at the top of the hill, they’ll be in the neighborhoods down the street.

Committee denies Gene Felder

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Gene Felder

Alta Laguna Blvd looking north at 8 a.m. on a Saturday earlier this year

Local Kris Howson said she would like to see a limit on the number of people allowed to access the park.

“I would like to have meters up here with a maximum amount of visitors allowed,” Howson said. “Our occupancy has gone way over. There’s too much trash, too many people, it’s just too much.”

Tyler Russell McCusker, who also lives in the area and had to recuse himself (but spoke as a member of the public and not a committee member), said he was “extremely opposed to the proposal as written.” The proposal has good intentions, he said, but is not the answer.

“Everyone’s acknowledged there are issues at Top of the World,” McCusker said. “But adding new problems for residents is not a solution.”

The combination of social media and COVID have compounded the situation, he said.

“There are other creative ways to solve the Top of the World problem,” McCusker said. “Let’s say no to this and let’s get to work on other solutions.”

Later, while the committee was on a short break, McCusker said that, as a resident of the area and if the proposal was denied, they “do intend to propose other things that are different solutions.”

They’ve discussed gating certain areas, utilizing a shuttle at Thurston Middle School, and “the ultimate goal” of residential permits, he said during his public comment.

“We can’t do it unless we lobby [the California] Coastal Commission and prove that we’re providing alternative visitor parking; that may happen when we have a parking structure downtown,” McCusker said.

There was consensus about trying to take back local control of street parking, but no solid plan on how to work around the Coastal Commission. 

Shea went as far as suggesting legal action against the CCC.

“We need good lawyers, and we need to sue Coastal Commission,” she said. “This is getting to be crap; our town is ruined by the number of people coming in.”

It’s not fair to the people who live here to have to deal with this, Shea said.

“People keep coming, no matter what we do, people keep coming in larger numbers every year,” Shea said. “It’s not fair to people at Top of the World, it’s not fair to people in South Laguna. I really, truly have empathy for these neighborhoods because they’re getting overrun.”

It’s not going away; it’s going to continue and come into other neighborhoods, she said.

Committee denies Mary Hurlbut

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Alta Laguna Park

Assistant City Engineer Natalie Chan said CCC staff indicated that they will not support permit parking program or removal of the TOW area from the Local Coastal Program. They also will not consider a pilot program for possibly building a structure on the coast that would offer an equitable number of spaces compared to what would be taken away from the TOW area, she explained. Coastal staff said they consider access to recreation and trails is important to maintain, Chan said.

Although permit parking is not an option, staff will continue to work with residents and the PCT committee to come up with other creative solutions, Chan said.

Moving in the right direction, there was a recent meeting between city officials, county employees, and Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, Chan said.

“They committed to doubling their patrol,” she said. “Right now, it’s two times a day and it will go up to four times a day.”

Chan also mentioned informational signage that has been helping a little, volunteer ranger programs, and the recently approved Neighborhood and Environmental Protection Plan, which aims to increase sanitation and safety near beaches, parks, and trails. 

The city’s neighborhood plan will include a volunteer ambassador pilot program on weekends to help inform visitors “what not to do,” Chan explained. It also implements closure of non-coastal parks at 10 p.m. and installation of cameras in certain areas, she said.

Committee members agreed with the idea that the park should be closed by dark.

“No matter how many locks they put on those gates, we have seen multiple people climb over the fence…with their dog, with their beer, or with other people into the park, to disappear into the night,” Murray said. “Nothing good happens after dark.”

This area is overused, committee member Lauriann Meyer said, far beyond what the original intent of the park was meant to be, which was a neighborhood park. It’s more like a county park, she said, and should have similar patrols, parking restrictions, and limited hours of operation.

“I think what we’re doing in a lot of places in Laguna is not consistent and this is what’s been driving the issue up in this neighborhood,” Meyer said. “I think the city needs to take a closer look at how they’re operating the park.”

Committee members discussed what continuing the request, versus denying it, would mean. A continuation would have meant they would have to stick to the original request, Chan explained.

With the denial, this specific request can’t be heard by the PTC committee for two years. The denial is for this specific request, Associate Civil Engineer Joshua McDonald explained; they can still look into other options and bring something else back to the table.

Residents don’t want to kick the can down the road, Meyer said. Again, she suggested a task force, noting that the issue is bigger than just parking and the reach of the committee.

“A task force that really gets at the heart of all the issues that these people brought up…They need answers,” Meyer said. “This is a serious problem on many fronts.”

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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