The Village Entrance Project, envisioned for more than 20 years as providing parking and a park on the property adjacent to City Hall in Laguna Canyon, returned to the City Council last year in the form of a massive parking structure that would have indebted the City for years and that violated many residents’ sense of what is an appropriate addition to our downtown. Village Laguna was active in the coalition that eventually persuaded the Council to abandon the parking structure proposal and then joined others in helping to decide what should replace it.
The Council chose an alternative that involved preserving nearly all of the surface parking on the site, reserving a 30-foot-wide strip for landscaping and a pathway linking downtown with the art festivals, and reducing the rehabilitation of the historic sewer digester tower to a superficial facelift. Participants in a well-attended public meeting were unanimous in calling for restoration of the tower, but at a later meeting the Council rejected this advice.
At both these meetings Village Laguna, in addition to urging restoration of the tower, presented a modification of the proposal that would remove some of the parking spaces to allow a more pedestrian-friendly entry to the pathway through the site.
Village Laguna’s proposal for the village entrance was described as follows:
The Village Entrance Multi-use Plan creates an attractive village entrance that serves multiple uses—for the community and for visitors.
- Frequently used parking is concentrated on the east side of the creek and a two-way bike path is provided there where it does not conflict with pedestrians.
- The west side (next to Laguna Canyon Road) is open for an inviting, undulating pathway, landscaping and overflow parking (in unstriped spaces on a permeable surface). This overflow area is multi-use, for parking in summer and for public events (crafts/art shows, car show, expanded market, etc.) through the rest of the year.
- The historic sewage digester building is restored and a garden courtyard enhances it.
- The creek remains uncovered, with attractive fencing and landscaping.
- Existing trees are preserved and more are planted.
- The Farmer’s Market continues at the Lumberyard lot. The sheds with their morning glories continue to screen and beautify the lot
One source of inspiration is the Los Rios Park in San Juan Capistrano--its decomposed granite parking lot, wood wheel stops, native plants, boulders, and textured concrete paving. These elements/or similar are suggested in the overflow parking area and landscaping on the Laguna Canyon Road side of the channel.
Parking spaces shown on plan
- Regular parking 207
- Overflow parking 62
Additional spaces not shown on plan
- Overflow parking (strip along LCR) 39
- Recently purchased building 7
- Recently purchased lot 68
- Proposed parking spaces 383
- Existing parking spaces 392*
*Parking Stall Designation Plan, City of Laguna Beach, Public Works Dept. November, 2010
Village Laguna’s June 30, 2016, letter to City Council:
On June 4, after attending the last consultant-directed workshop on the Village Entrance project, we wrote you the attached letter advising you that it seemed to us the project was going down the wrong track. We asked you to take action to address problems arising from applying criteria to the design that did not allow the consultants to consider certain features that would improve it.
Unfortunately, the consultant’s presentation of the community’s input lists the number of participants but doesn’t summarize the recommendations they made. Allowing the project to continue with the flawed criteria has meant that the consultants have spent another three months preparing a presentation that does not meet the expectations of the members of the public who participated in the process.
Rigid adherence to providing 397 parking spaces and saving space for some undefined future building have prevented the consultants from coming up with alternatives that provide more open landscaped and activity space and more beauty at this important to the entrance.
Reducing the number of required parking spaces would be consistent with the Council's action on the Festival Grounds remodel (allowing the Festival to remove spaces) and could be justified to the Coastal Commission with reference to our shuttles and peripheral parking arrangements.
During the discussion of the “Sendero” plan with a parking garage at the Christmas tree lot, members of the public suggested that, if a structure is to be considered, a location for two levels could be behind the Lumberyard lot on the east corner of the property next to the back of City Hall. We were told that that area was being reserved for some future project. This constraint had as not previously been discussed in the workshops.
We urge you to remove these two constraints and allow the consultants to produce options that increase the “park” landscaped open space for pathways and activities on the Broadway side of the channel.
While we do not support either of the submitted design concepts, we enthusiastically support the following components of the plans:
Restoration of the sewage digester building.
Landscaping along channel and along the street frontage.
Removing the chain link fencing along the channel and replacing it with a post and rail system.
Improved bridge connecting the 2 sides of the channel.
Planting and multi-use pathway connecting the main part of the project to the Christmas tree lot and Art-a-fair area.
The pavement shown in the evocative images of Slides 22, left side, and 58.
Finally, we offer the following detailed critique of the project:
The project doesn’t note existing trees to be saved along the channel, in the Lumberyard lot and along Broadway, and the renderings show no or fewer trees in these areas. The existing trees should be saved.
More shrub planting is needed next to the channel. (Slide 35 shows no shrubbery next to the rail.)
More trees are shown on the plan view (Slide 15) than in the perspective view (Slide 17).
Slide 15 shows green landscaping around the sewage digester building, yet Slides 17 and 27 show pavement. There should be planting around the building except for needed access paths.
Creative shade structures should be simple, rustic, and not distracting from the overall canyon feel. (Slide 41 is too industrial and the cactus on top is out of place; Slide 42 is a more appropriate example.)
Slide 45 still shows all the bottlebrush trees in the median, while the median recommendation is to remove some of them.
Slide 48 shows other trees mixed in with the bottle-brush trees in the median. What are they? In general, the median proposal needs further explanation.
Slide 52 (Sendero) shows more open/non parking area, but much of the space gained is devoted to more paving. More planting would be preferred.
It would be preferable to have much less or no parking on the Broadway side of the channel so there could be a park there. Instead the Sendero plan adds more landscaped space on the inland side of the channel, leaving a large area of parking on the Broadway side. (Slide 52). A new channel bridge next to Forest Avenue would not be needed if there is no parking between the channel and Broadway.
The additional restroom (Slide 53) might be incorporated into the sewage digester building instead of placed on the Broadway frontage.
The rusty sheds and morning glories are not saved in either option, and it appears to us that there is no reason to take them down.
Please provide direction to the consultants that follows our recommendations and comments.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s June 4, 2016, letter to the City Council:
The Board of Village Laguna would like to express our concerns regarding the progress of the Village Entrance planning as presented at the public workshop of April 13. We have given some thought to the presentation and plans proposed and we are concerned that our community input and planning efforts are being manipulated off of the public stage. This seems to be producing results that will be, in the end, not acceptable and too costly for the benefits given.
At the prior workshop the consultants were open to a wide range of ideas from the public, but at this workshop it was clear that they had been given strong constraints from the city that limited their planning results.
This has resulted in two plans that are both unacceptable because they lack green space and a park-like atmosphere. They have had to adhere strictly to a certain quantity of parking spaces, even though council members stated at the time the Festival Entrance Plan was approved without on-site parking, that the Village Entrance planning could also allow flexibility in the quantity of parking spaces provided.
The second plan, the "Sendero" plan, proposes a second level of parking on the Christmas tree lot in order to gain a small increase in park-like space. If there is to be a structure, this seems to be a poor location for it as it will be highly visible, and the furthest away from areas where parking is needed year-round. If a second small level of parking is to be considered, it could be at the eastern/back part of the site nearest to city hall where the topography already provides two levels. There a small structure could be designed to be little noticed and it is in a convenient location for parking. When members of the public asked about that location the consultants explained that this area was reserved for some "future building." This "future building" idea is a new criteria apparently inserted privately by the city, as it was not directed in the public workshops.
We are concerned that the consultants are not allowed to use full public input or their best professional judgment in designing the Village Entrance. Please reduce the number of parking spaces that are required and remove the constraints related to the undefined "future building" so that they can produce plans that meet our goals for a green and beautiful Village Entrance area.
Sincerely, Ginger Osborne, Acting President, Village Laguna
Village Lagunas April 13, 2015 Letter to the City Council re Agenda Bill #14, Contract Award for Village Entrance Design Team:
We urge the Council not to approve the proposed Contract Award.
Choosing an engineering firm to design the Village Entrance at this stage would be putting the cart before the horse. The decisions before us should be based on aesthetics and the vision for relating the Village Entrance to the treasured qualities of our city rather than technical details. We need to be talking about enhancing the role of this key urban space as the heart and soul of the community rather than details of asphalt and concrete.
1. A concept design supported by the community needs to be developed before further detailed technical work proceeds.
2. The RFP and the resulting proposals from the consultants include many expensive technical tasks that go beyond the scope of “Concept” or “Schematic” design. Many of these tasks would ordinarily be part of “Design Development” or “Construction Documents.” The Agenda Bill says that the second version of th e RFP separated the concept work from the engineering details, but the revised document doesn’t reflect that.
Overly detailed technical components include:
- Bridge design, including structural engineering
- Demolition and grading plan
- Drainage plan
- Irrigation plan
- Detailed design of the 725 Laguna Canyon Road parking lot, including demolition and grading plans, rock debris wall, retaining walls, landscape and irrigation plans, lighting plans, etc.
- Detailed components of changes to Laguna Canyon Road as well as the medians, including detailed items such as “a plan for any traffic signal pole or control box relocations required by any of the proposed improvements.”
- Develop drawings for the carport/screening design solution.
- Structural system concepts including bridge abutments.
- Electrical design solutions for lighting, power service and distribution, security, fire suppression and other special electrical systems.
- Civil engineering for drainage, grading, storm water management, demolition plans, curb and gutter treatmentsAt this time the City should spend much less than the $400,000--$500,000 bid by the consultants. We can do this by concentrating on the design concept. Save the bulk of those funds for detailed technical design when the overall plan is clear and approved.
3. At this time the City should spend much less than the $400,000—$500,000 bid by the consultants. We can do this by concentrating on the design concept. Save the bulk of those funds for detailed technical design when the overall plan is clear and approved.
4. Community involvement outline in the proposal is inadequate (2 outreach meetings held after the conceptual site plan has been prepared—see page 52 of the Agenda Bill.)
5. There was no Council or public involvement in the content of the RFP. There was no Council/public review/interview of the potential consultants as there was with the selection of the urban designer for the Downtown Specific Plan.
We recommend that the RFP be revised to reduce the scope to true Schematic Design, including an extensive community involvement process. An Agenda Bill for the new RFP should be reviewed at a City Council meeting before being issued and there should be Council and public involvement in consultant selection.
Project Now Needs Creativity and Vision, not Engineering
In November 2013, the Council voted not to construct a parking garage at the Village Entrance. Alternative D, sketched out at the last minute as an example of how a path could be fitted into the existing parking layout, was referred to in the decision. Concerned that Alternative D, which makes minimal aesthetic/landscape improvements, would be the accepted plan going forward, Village Laguna joined with other groups to produce an alternative plan. This plan was presented to staff and the consultant from Griffin Structures, and subsequently at the public workshop of July, 2014. It was also presented at the Council meeting of September, 2014 when the Council directed that staff proceed with the Village Entrance consultant selection process. It was emphasized that the consultant would involve the community in developing an acceptable design for the Village Entrance.
We bring this history forward to emphasize that the design direction for the Village Entrance is not clear or definite. Yet the RFP given to the prospective consultants has many components that are very detailed and technical, much beyond the description of “Conceptual” and “Schematic” as listed on page 3 of the Agenda Bill.
Further Improvements Needed in the RFP
Some provisions of the RFP are unnecessarily rigid at this phase:
1. Requirement that 397 parking spaces be provided. Council members stated in earlier meetings that fewer spaces could be considered in order to have a superior design for the Village Entrance. Determining the balance of parking and landscaping is part of the Concept Design phase.
2. The RFP sets design criteria for the Laguna Canyon Road median that have not been reviewed or decided by the Council. The RFP states that large caliper trees are required for the median, even though the Council- approved Landscape and Scenic Highways Resource Document recommends low growing, drought-tolerant shrubs and ground covers. The Resource Document recommends no trees in the medians, with the large, majestic trees being planted on the sides of the road, in order to emphasize the feel of the Canyon and provide views of the mountains on each side. Insisting on large caliper trees in the median in violation of Caltrans policies (policies that are based on public safety) will add significantly to the complexity of design, the difficulty of approvals and the cost of construction.
The RFP requires the Consultant to do tasks that are open-ended and undefined, such as “Work with City staff to petition Caltrans to delegate to the City lead agency status.” (pp. 7 and 14) This adds to the price in the consultant’s bid since there are many factors and time expenditures that cannot be predicted. Perhaps lead agency status would not even be needed if the design didn’t include the large trees in the median.
Including work in the RFP that is not part of the Village Entrance project also adds to the costs, such as preparing drawings for storage buildings to be constructed behind City Hall to replace the temporary office trailers. This is a new component that does not relate to the basic scope of the Village Entrance plan and was not included in project descriptions up to this point.
Considering how controversial this project has been we recommend that the Council take the work one step at a time. Let’s have designs that are well-supported by the community before proceeding with technical work.
In order to do that we need a process that involves the community in meaningful ways, with consultants who have a design vision for making the Village Entrance a beautiful focal point that will inspire and give long lasting enjoyment.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President