Last week the Santa Monica City Council took aim at downtown parking rates and sometimes one wonders if these folks see themselves as public servants, or board members of some NYSE listed conglomerate. You guessed it. Damn the recession, full speed ahead on major inflationary parking rate increases.
But wait! The city’s consultant, Walker Parking, found a surplus of parking spaces downtown, even on the busiest nights when Third Street Promenade is rocking. Market forces being what they are, a surplus of parking supply would normally call for a cut in rates to grow demand, or maybe just better signage to get motorists to vacant lots. But not at SAMO, Inc., where the City Council has endorsed their consultant’s recommendation to boost rates between 29 percent and 100 percent depending on type of parking and time of day. Plus there will be no more free street parking after 6 p.m.; from now on it’s feed the meters.
What about comparables? The Council was apparently aghast to hear that the daily rates at The Grove and the Century City’s Westfield are $24 and $22 respectively. This suggests that SAMO is way “under market” with its rates. This is a canard and is highly misleading. Unlike SAMO, at Westfield and The Grove merchants validate parking. Practically nobody pays the daily rate. Do you? It is time to talk apples-to-apples. At both centers the cost of parking for a-meal-and-a-movie is cheaper than at SAMO currently. At Westfield, visitors get 3 hours free right off the bat (a better deal than SAMO) and with theater validation, you can park at Westfield for a total of 5 hours for only $2. You can get 4 hours of parking for $2 at The Grove with theater validation. (By the way, spend $250 and The Grove will comp any amount of parking, including valet.)
There are the necessities and then there are the expendables. Water is a necessity, and last year our city boosted water rates by 60 percent to be phased in over three years. Council members take heed that entertainment districts such as the Third Street Promenade are not necessities, they are expendable, fragile economic districts. You can kill them. Recall how one single incident collapsed Westwood as a regional entertainment district.
Maybe the Council should look at bustling Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Disney is not exactly known for giving away free stuff, but you can park free for 3 hours within walking distance of the movies and meals, expandable to 5 hours free with theater or restaurant validation. Disney is taking no chances when it comes to parking rates and neither should we.
The Walker PowerPoint presentation missed at least two issues. First, enforcing the metered parking after 6 p.m. will loose a meter maid feeding frenzy. Great. In addition to SAMO’s new $2 an hour meter rate (100 percent higher than Beverly Hills’), now some evening visitors will find $60 parking citation bombs (upped 25 percent from $48 earlier this year) tucked under their windshield wipers. “Thanks for visiting Santa Monica. Hope you had a good time. Come back soon.” How long before some angry texting and twitter gets out the word worldwide that SAMO has become a big league rip-off?
Second, it is not clear if our city’s parking division is hurting financially. If not, the rate boost is unnecessary, plain and simple.
“These [higher rates] are phenomenal ideas.” Councilman Bloom beamed according to the local press.
“Revolutionary,” was Councilman McKeown’s quote in the press as he expressed his support for goosing the rates.
Only Councilman Robert Holbrook opposed the higher rates in a 6 to 1 vote. Would someone please tell our City Council that they represent citizens, not stock holders. Their job is to deliver city services such as water and parking at the lowest possible rates, not to maximize revenue as if they were the overseers of some corporate behemoth listed on the NYSE.