What is the purpose of the Citizens’ Initiative?
Why is the Initiative important now?
Our City Council has shown a willingness to cater to developers and special interests. Councilmen Olvera, Weinberg, and Brough approved a major project in Town Center over the denial by the Planning Commission and the objections of hundreds of Dana Point residents. The project includes 109 condos and several million dollars’ worth of parking concessions. Recently the council adopted a major amendment to the Town Center Plan, drastically reducing the parking requirements to help developers. Residents don’t want to see the Town Center turn into a high-density residential district with congested, Laguna Beach, traffic and parking issues. The City Council has the authority to continue to change the Town Center Plan’s requirements at any time or even project by project. We can’t wait any longer to act.
What are the provisions of the Initiative?
There are four main provisions:
- 3 story and 40-foot height limits are mandated (TCP Development Standards page 31)
- First floor commercial use is required on all Town Center streets (TCP page 15). Office use is preferred on the upper floors (TCP page 14) and residential use is restricted to upper floors (TCP page 25).
- Existing parking codes must be applied for new development (TCP page 54)
- Voter approval is required for changes to the Town Center Plan
Guest spaces must be provided for residences and bicycle spaces are eliminated as a reduction to the parking requirements. To better inform residents about projects pending approval, on site height markers (story poling) are required (TCP page 33) and more detailed information must be provided two weeks prior to a project’s presentation for approval.
What is the city’s measure all about?
The Council’s measure is entitled: The Town Center and Public Parking Improvement Measure and is Measure I on the June 7th ballot. Their measure opposes the Citizen’s Initiative and if it wins in will cancel the Initiative, which is the only consequence of the measure. The city has already adopted a new Lantern District Plan with reduced parking requirements. Defeating the measure will not cancel their parking plan. Their measure is confusing and deceptive. The City does not support the 2008 Town Center Plan and their measure does not improve public parking.
The City Council has already changed the parking requirements of the 2008 Town Center Plan. The parking plan drastically reduces all the parking requirements for developments in Town Center, even though lots of development is underway. Restaurants only need 2 spaces per 1,000 square feet. The requirements for other commercial projects are reduced by 50%. The plan also allows valet, shared, tandem, stacked and in lieu parking. All residential requirements are also reduced. One bedroom residential units are reduced from 1.7 to 1 parking space and no guest spaces are required. The parking provided will not accommodate the needs of residents and employees of the development, let alone for customers and the public. The risk and burden of a parking shortage is passed on to Dana Point taxpayers.
The monitoring program shows that the city knows a parking shortage may develop but provides no details on solutions. Solving a parking problem will be more difficult and costly to provide. If a project causes a severe parking problem there are no remedies provided, since the developer is long gone. Allowing valet, stacked and shared parking without details does not protect the public from costly or inconvenient parking.
Why are the parking requirements so critical?
“Accessible and convenient public parking is essential to the health and vitality of the Town Center” (TCP page 18). Parking is critical to the success of the businesses in Town Center and to attract desirable, new businesses. Convenient parking makes the Town Center appealing for all Dana Point residents and visitors. Adequate Town Center parking also protects our neighborhoods. A recent city report shows that Dana Point residents spend a significant amount in other cities and that there is a market in Town Center for restaurants, retail and offices that would produce sales tax revenue and jobs.
Why is the existing zoning for parking the best option for Town Center?
By having developers provide parking for their project, the parking will be where it is most needed and distributed throughout the Town Center. Parking could be provided in levels below ground that would be hidden from view for a more pleasing environment.
Town Center developers and property owners have already received over $20 Million from taxpayers for street improvements, $6 Million for water district improvements and benefit from an 85% reduction in the development fees. Dana Point is expected to only receive $3 Million back at full buildout. Developers should be required and willing to pay their fair share for the parking that is needed. If a developer wants to use his lot for a bigger building with less parking on site, he would still have the option of paying in lieu fees that the city could use toward a parking lot or structure. The City Council should not be giving our city away and taxpayers should not be expected to foot the bill for a parking shortage.
Will the Initiative’s provisions stifle future development?
Consistent rules provided by the Initiative will facilitate the approval process. A major project with three huge buildings was approved by the City Council in October, 2014. (Majestic Development has already profited from the entitlements by selling out to Raintree Evergreen,) The project at the Union Bank site was just approved complying with existing codes. Several new restaurants are opening and the Bevmo project is now under construction. Current projects are not filling vacant lots but are replacing existing buildings and closing popular businesses. The council wants to speed more development by catering to developer demands. Faster development should not be the goal. We should look to the future and develop Town Center to achieve the desired result. In any case, now is not the time to change zoning rules.
Is the voter approval requirement for rule changes too restrictive? / Does the City Council need flexibility to address the rules to attract new development?
Unfortunately, the City Council has shown that it cannot be trusted to represent residents and taxpayers. Adopting a competing ballot measure rather than allowing a “yes” or ‘no” vote on the Citizen’s Initiative is a clear example. Councilmembers can change every two years, providing no consistency or accountability. The Council put their measure on the ballot easily. Proposed changes to the Town Center Plan could be presented for voter approval at any general, city, or special election. The Initiative would ensure that future councils follow consistent development rules.
What about the economic study critical of the Initiative?
The Keyser Marston economic study is an assessment paid for by the City Council specifically to attack the Town Center Initiative. The study is actually a denunciation of the parking requirements of the original 2008 Town Center Plan and an attempt to justify the irresponsible parking reductions passed by the City Council. It is also a blueprint for facilitating more residential development rather than commercial development in Town Center, as desired in the 2008 Town Center Plan. This report makes no attempt to consider the goals of the 2008 Town Center Plan as reflected in the Initiative.
The report concludes: “The imposition of the Initiative parking standards effectively makes mixed use development in the Lantern District financially infeasible.” “If the Initiative passes, no significant development will occur.” The complicated examples cited attempt to show that developers’ profits and property values need to be increased by a drastic reduction in the city’s parking requirements, allowing projects to be larger with less on-site parking. The study also asserts that the Council needs the ability to change the height and number of floors allowed also to benefit developers.
The height and floor requirements of the Initiative are critical. There is no other way to limit the number of residential units included in a building, which affect the number of people and cars. The prediction that no development will occur has been proven false given the projects already underway (see above). Small lots criticized in the report are being combined into larger parcels. The hypothetical loss of revenue if the Initiative passes is based on the erroneous assumption that no development will occur in Town Center. Most importantly, the report fails to address the risks and cost to the taxpayers and our existing neighborhoods of a parking shortage caused by the parking reductions.
What about the Nelson Nygaard parking study?
Nelson Nygaard is a well paid consultant for the City. Their report states that Dana Point has a surplus of unused parking spaces that only need to be converted to public use. However, there is no incentive for private property owners to participate in such a program and definitely not long term. Parking lots in Town Center continue to show “Customer Only” signs. Development will continue to eliminate parking spaces. This plan cannot succeed. Neighborhoods are currently impacted by overflow parking from Town Center with no solution in sight. The City does not seem to acknowledge that any parking problems currently exist.
Nelson Nygaard is a company specializing in urban development. It’s parking reductions are based on a philosophy where people will “park once” to live, work, shop, eat, etc. Walking, bicycle usage, public transportation and metered parking are recommended to reduce parking demand. Reductions in the residential parking requirement are recommended so that one bedroom apartments are reduced from 1.7 to 1 parking space. No guest requirement is included. Commercial requirements are reduced by 50% with restaurants reduced from 10 to 2 spaces per 1,000 square feet. These recommendations will lead to a drastic shortage of available parking that will negatively impact our neighborhoods and the appeal of Town Center to new business development and all Dana Point residents.
The city acknowledges the risk of a parking shortage by saying that a monitoring program will be put in place. When an overall 80% parking capacity is reached they will address the problem at that time. However, measurement will be difficult and the options available at that time will be limited and costly. The risk and burden of a parking shortage will fall on the taxpayers and our neighborhoods.
What is Dana Point being saved from?
Development issues are threatening the quality of living and village atmosphere that Dana Point residents value. Traffic congestion and parking issues are increasing. There have been years of deficit spending. The City Council spent over $20 million of the city’s reserves on Town Center and then reduced the developer fees needed to recoup those costs by 85%. The Council’s parking plan reductions transfer the risk and burden of a parking shortage to the taxpayers.
The City Council has been embroiled in six years of losing litigation on behalf of the Headlands’ developer regarding the public access at Strand’s Beach. Now the Council has hired an outside attorney to deal with the Headland’s developer reneging on their financial commitments to the city. There is a huge potential of costs and fines that Dana Point taxpayers might be responsible for paying.
It’s critical that we elect council members who are fiscally responsible, who represent all areas of the city fairly, are dedicated and not beholding to campaign contributors. There needs to be more transparency and accountability in our city government.
Over 4,200 signatures were gathered to qualify the 2015 Town Center Initiative for a special election. Dana Point residents care about their City and want a voice in deciding its future. Our City Council needs to give them the respect and consideration they deserve.