Opinion: Anatomy of a Parking Crisis

By Michael Morris

It is common knowledge that our downtown has a parking crisis. Except during odd hours, one can rarely find parking that’s convenient to one’s needs. City council and Planning Commission realize this, yet seem to find endless justifications for virtually every intensification of use proposed by landlords or business proprietors.

Witness the recent proposal by the new proprietors of the former White House restaurant. While requesting authorization for 59% more seats, they exploit historic parking reduction rules in conjunction with grandfathered credits to reduce their 62 parking space requirement to zero physical spaces. Similarly, Slice Pizza manipulated the system in two ways: by first convincing the Heritage Committee to upgrade the historical rating of their building from “C’ to “E” class (exceptional), and then exploiting the enhanced historic parking reduction of “E” class buildings to receive a 65.2% total reduction on parking required. So, despite intensifying the use of the building, the existing 13 spaces provided and shared with the office building adjacent plus three previously acquired “in-lieu” spots are deemed sufficient. The operators of that space made a minimal investment in enhancing the historicity of the building to qualify for the upgraded historical rating; certainly far less than the cost of providing actual parking spaces for their customers. And least we overlook the all time winner in the “Great Laguna Parking Give-away”, the Heisler Building is a textbook case. Based on the number of restaurant/bar seats authorized for its spaces, that facility should provide 170 parking spaces. In actuality, it provides zero physical parking spaces, preferring instead, to put the parking burden it creates onto its neighbors.

There are so many ways to manipulate the system and intensify use without providing needed parking spaces: grandfathered spaces. The historic parking reduction. Sidewalk cafe parking credits. Shared Parking. Joint use of parking spaces. Valet parking. In-lieu fees.

By hiring experienced consultants and with patience and money, virtually any use-type can get approvals. The common complaint of “it takes so long to get approvals” is actually enlightening in that it says more about the over-reach by applicants than the cumbersome or bureaucratic ineptitude of city government. And in the end, when residents find that the parking requirements system has been manipulated to an intolerable level, building owners and business operators hope to have the public finance a parking structure. That would constitute a win/win for them and a lose/lose for resident taxpayers.

If commercial building owners and business operators want a parking structure, they can create an assessment district and contribute a tiny percentage of their gross rent revenue to pay for it just like residents pay to underground their own utilities. The cost to building owners would be trivial; it could be as little as 2% of net rental income. Parking structures that benefit commercial building owners should be paid for by commercial building owners. In the meantime, abuse of the parking “credits” system and exploitation of the Heritage roles should receive close scrutiny and overhaul.

The Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative will rein-in these abuses of the parking credits system. Please look to lagunaresidentsfirst.com to read the specifics about how the ballot initiative seeks to bring sanity back to Laguna’s parking system.

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