Not another parking study!

That was the general reaction two years ago when the City Council approved a Planning Commission request to conduct a parking management review for the downtown and Laguna Canyon Road. The subsequent effort is now in the final stages, with results expected by spring. I want to take this opportunity to answer some common questions regarding this project.

So, why is the city doing another parking study?

The current effort is not a parking study, but a parking analysis intended to maximize usage of existing parking. The city has enough studies; eight surveys and parking assessments have been conducted since 1989. We know how many spaces are available, how they are utilized and when shortages occur. This effort is intended to examine methods that allow optimum usage of our current resources and to suggest the direction for future efforts to increase the supply of parking.

Why not just add more spaces?

This is a solution that is being considered, but a key question is how many. Parking spaces are expensive, from $20,000 to $40,000 each, depending on the number and their location. The current effort will go a long way to identifying how many spaces are needed.

But isn't parking always in short supply?

Laguna Beach faces an unusual predicament with regard to parking — not enough during the summer festival season and on some sunny weekends, plenty to go around the rest of the year. A key factor is finding the optimum balance between these two situations.

What are some of the parking management techniques being considered?

Parking theories and methods have changed dramatically in the past decade. Gone are simple parking meters that required a pound of quarters. The introduction of smart parking meters has allowed many more innovative techniques to be used. The meters now used in the downtown have already been upgraded to allow for the use of credit cards, but this may be only the beginning. In many cities, meters inform users when their time is about to expire via cellphone and allow for remotely extending the time. Another popular use is for meters to be programmed to reflect demand-base pricing.

Demand-base pricing?

Basically, it is a simple idea. The closer a parking space is to a desired location, the higher the price. This means that meter rates are based on the willingness of users to pay, much the same as the schemes used to price theater and sports tickets. In practice, prices are established by surveying usage and setting rates to keep 15% of the meters in each price range vacant. Obviously, this is an iterative process that proceeds over a period of time to refine the pricing model.

The advantage of this technique is to distribute parking more evenly across resources. Users willing to walk are encouraged to park in a less expensive zone, those desiring to park close can do so. Setting the rates for 85% occupancy ensures that there are spaces for all types of users. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a number of smaller cities have recently begun to use this technique with good results.

Wouldn't this just cause confusion as drivers search for spaces they can afford?

Another technological change in the past decade has been the use of mobile technology and targeted application by more and more people. Several cities, including Santa Monica, now have available parking apps that show the locations and costs of meters throughout the city. Another innovation has been the use of automobile detectors that allow parking structures to show the number of available space. These can be seen in the parking structures at Fashion Island and the Irvine Spectrum.

Is the study only looking at the parking supply?

No, one of the strategies being looked at involves reducing the number of cars in the downtown, using alternative transportation methods, including transit and bicycles.

What is the next step?

At this point, the parking management consultants have held two public workshops and interviewed more than 100 people for their opinions and ideas. There will be one more workshop in a couple of months, then the final report will be sent first to the Planning Commission, then to the City Council for action.

Is it too late to get involved?

No. If you want to participate in the final workshop or just read about the efforts so far, visit the city's website at lagunabeachcity.net and click on the "Parking Management Plan" entry under the "Popular Links" section.

NORM GROSSMAN is on the Laguna Beach Planning Commission.