The city will pay a consulting firm to complete an analysis of Laguna Canyon Road and propose options for its improvement.

The City Council voted Tuesday to retain RBF Consulting to analyze the road from Forest Avenue to El Toro Road, taking into consideration other projects under consideration or underway, and come up suggestions for a comprehensive plan for the entire stretch, as proposed by Councilman Robert Whalen. The $45,000 fee for the consultant will come from savings on the Downtown Specific Plan project.

"What is compelling for me, and [City Manager] John [Pietig] kind of highlighted this, is once you have a plan, hire somebody and put together a plan, even if it's a 10-year-plan and costs $100 million, and we don't have $100 million; once you have the plan, you can approach funders and have a more convincing opportunity to get grant money," Whalen said.

Whalen said the recommendation is for the consulting firm to look for opportunities to improve the traffic flow, aesthetics, potential for better mobility for trolleys and pedestrian and biking opportunities in the canyon.

Complete Streets Committee Chairman Chris Prelitz supported the proposal for a study but said he would like the city to do something about city sidewalks that are too narrow for a mother to walk a baby in a stroller and streets that make no allowance for cyclists.

"There are some pretty simple fixes," Prelitz said.

Whalen said he had worked with Pietig for the past two months to come up with a proposal, which included hiring the consultant without putting it out to bid, a process he said he generally favors as does Councilman Steven Dicterow.

"But I think on this one because of the unique background RBF has and certain work they are doing downtown, and previous work they have done on Laguna Canyon Road, just their level of knowledge is so superior that for this one, I would look at as an exception to the general rule," Whalen said.

The council not only took his advice, it appointed him to a subcommittee to work with the consultant and the staff. At his suggestion, the council also appointed Councilwoman Toni Iseman to the subcommittee.

"I think this is a great opportunity for us," Whalen said. "If we take this next step, it will go hand in hand with a lot of other things we are doing."

Among the projects underway: the design of a pathway between Laguna College of Art + Design and ACT V, preparation of conceptual plans for paths along the length of Laguna Canyon Road, undergrounding of utility poles around Big Bend and even further into the canyon, improvement of the existing median, and discussions about the installation of traffic signals between Canyon Acres and El Toro Road.

The council has also discussed acquiring Laguna Canyon Road from CalTrans, which is responsible for the maintenance of the road, also known as State Highway 133.

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