Monday, October 17, 2016

How to Hire City Consultants

Regional Active Transportation Forum October 14, Garden Grove, credit M Martinez

Last Friday 10/14 the Orange County Council of Governments (OCCG), the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) hosted another Active Transportation Forum, this time in Garden Grove. The agencies share a common mission, to prepare our county planning documents to qualify for state and federal grant funding for new transportation infrastructure, that means if their planning documents are not in order, they cannot compete for the funding.  In 2016 there was $79 million available in Federal CMAQ grant money up for grabs yet Laguna's General Plan Circulation Element was updated once in the last 42 years. Councilwoman Diana Carey showed the audience six essential preparations her city of Westminster used to qualify for funding and prepare for Active Transportation, Laguna doesn't meet any of the six.

Other Orange County communities are struggling to meet ever-increasing vehicular traffic so the Departments of Public Health, MPO and SCAG are cooperating to redesign urban settings from car-centric back to livable environments and public space for people. Active Transportation plays a role by moving people not just cars, how we plan and design our public space makes an impact on the economic, mental, physical and social health of city inhabitants.

Our speaker Hasan Ikhrata Executive Director of SCAG had advice for city institutions. When hiring planning consultants Hasan said "provide choices, don't direct options" meaning ask consultants for best design choices, don't specify the requirements to win the job.  For example to update the Laguna Beach Specific Plan the hired consultant will read these instructions:  Balance the need to preserve the existing village character and pedestrian orientation with the objective to accommodate the traffic and parking demands generated by tourists.   Wha?  That's like saying preserve our pedestrian orientation but hide the parking garage. What should a consultant design? A parking structure? A Gateway Opportunity?

Our City sells the illusion that if we get the parking just right our traffic congestion problems go away, if we hire the right consultant they can work this out 'cuz they are experts. It just ain't so. Laguna should hire experts for demonstrated best practices, not for options the city manager prescribes. If our city council cannot exercise oversight on behalf of residents (they don't) then it's time for new leadership from a council person who gets it. Judie Mancuso listens to consultants, she knows the difference between compensating for expert advice and paying for a jobs program. Judie knows to qualify for grant funding we need to get our General Plan in order and up to date.

Our keynote speaker was Founder and Director Daniel Iacofano of MIG Consulting -yes that MIG. Daniel explained a benefit of Active Transportation is Real Estate Value Capture:  to revitalize any business district and raise property values, you reduce automobile traffic and increase walk-in traffic. Parklets done right are a means of creating community space that people are drawn to, hence walk-in traffic.

Caltrans, OCTA and SoCal cities shared good company at the event, Laguna did not send a city Rep. Laguna needs council members who draw best practices from outside Laguna, vote Judie Mancuso for City Council.


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