An Optimist, a Pessimist, and an Engineer Walk Into a Bar

By John Thomas  –

An optimist, a pessimist, and an engineer walk into a bar – and see a glass – with water in it. The optimist says it’s half full. The pessimist says it’s half empty. The engineer says the glass is too big for the amount of water.

When residents are asked about Laguna’s biggest problems, the most common answer is traffic and congestion. The biggest complaint of commercial landlords is too much retail vacancy. In an ideal world, supply equals demand. Laguna doesn’t have a demand problem. It has a supply problem. Actually, Laguna has an over-supply problem. We have too much supply of commercial space for the amount of demand. That’s one big reason for vacancy. The developer’s solution is to try to pump up demand. One way they want to do that is for the City to grant concessions that increase the amount of commercial space or allow more intense use of the existing space, which will increase supply and might increase demand. But these concessions to commercial landlords result in more traffic and congestion, which takes us back to residents’ biggest complaints – too much traffic and congestion. And yet, believe it or not Laguna has just approved a plan that will allow building owners in the downtown to intensify uses and sometimes add space without mitigating the added impacts on the community. The new plan paves the way for commercial building owners to replace lower intensity uses with higher intensity uses. It allows a change of use to a use that will need more parking but it does not require the building owner who benefits to provide the additional parking spaces that will be needed.

That engineer is right. The glass is too big for the amount of water. And Laguna has the same problem. We have too much commercial space for the amount of demand for commercial space. And some people even want to add more commercial space.

The business news tells us it’s not just us. The whole country has too much brick-and-mortar retail commercial space.

There are solutions. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a developer, everything needs to be developed. But if you already have too much, why build more? If there is too much commercial space and too little housing, one solution would be to convert the most marginal commercial space to housing, thereby addressing the imbalance between retail supply and demand and the need for housing. And since housing is a far less intense land use than commercial uses, traffic and congestion would be reduced. Talk about a win-win.

If we have too much commercial space, why create more? More and bigger is not the solution. Why make whatever problem we have worse by intensifying uses and adding supply? The ballot initiative addresses problems like these and offers solutions. It’s a guidebook to prioritize people over profit. The ballot initiative encourages developers and commercial building owners to make Laguna better not bigger.

A smart developer can make a profit by making something better without making it bigger. Intensifying uses without fully mitigating the negative impacts of the development is a short cut to short term profits by simply leaving the problems it creates to someone else to clean up. That is not responsible development.

Laguna’s developers see the ballot initiative as a problem. The ballot initiative creators see it as a solution. It does not stop development. It encourages responsible development. The sky is not falling. Simply following the path laid out in the ballot initiative leads to a better Laguna.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.