Santa Monica proposes to raise downtown parking rates, and it’s all over the news in the Southland – nationally, in fact, when one looks at the Web and the blogs. If, as writer Ron Koslow said, real estate was to the 70s what marijuana was to the 60s, then it seems to be parking and traffic that is to the 00s.
The proposed increases in charges for parking downtown were presented to a gathering of about 40 Santa Monicans at an October 15 meeting sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce’s Land Use Committee. The assembled group, which had been moved from the Chamber’s offices to RAND Corporation to accommodate the turnout, responded to City officials and the City’s parking consultant with multiple questions and comments.
The key elements of the proposed hikes are:
· maximum daily fees to go from $7 to $9, the first increase since 1997
· monthly rates to go from $75 to $110, the first increase since 1998
· evening flat fees to go from $3 to $5
· the two-hour free period during the day to be cut to one hour, with a $1 charge for the second hour
· street meters to go from $1 to $1.50.
Steffan Turoff, the project manager for Walker Parking Consultants retained by the City, explained that the current parking rates were not being used to manage downtown parking, and that it was both cheaper and “greener” to price parking in a management strategy than to build more parking spaces. He also compared Santa Monica’s mostly lower rates with Beverly Hills, the Grove, and other locations.
Turoff reported that Parking Structures 1 through 6 and 9 represent 30 percent of the spaces downtown but handle 70 percent of the cars parked in that area. (Structures 1 through 6 are the ones behind the Promenade on 2nd and 4th Streets between Wilshire Boulevard and Broadway; Structure 9 is the one on 4th Street just north of Wilshire.)
Those structures not only handle the bulk of downtown’s business patrons, but also a large number of employees who do “the two-hour shuffle,” said Turoff, moving their cars at intervals in order to park free all day – a practice that not only interferes with employee productivity, but also impacts parking availability and prevents the distribution of parking resources by means of price management.
City Director of Housing and Economic Development Andy Agle opened the meeting by explaining that a City task force to develop a parking strategy for downtown had concluded some years ago that 1,700 new parking spaces were needed, and the task force recommended rebuilding two of the smaller existing structures (Nos. 1 and 6) and building a new structure on 5th Street to provide those spaces. Because those findings may have become outdated, the City recently engaged the Walker firm to determine how much parking was really needed and to identify revenue sources for the undertaking.
Parking Spaces Now Available
Walker’s Turoff said that the 1,700 figure was premised on projections of new building that did not occur, and that there are now many parking spaces available downtown even during peak periods (but not in Structures 1 through 6 and 9). He recommended rebuilding Structures 1 and 6 to provide 700 more spaces, but said the other 1,000 were not needed. What is needed, he added, is a pricing structure to encourage people to park further away from their destination, coupled with programs to encourage alternatives to single-occupancy cars and to shuttle people within the downtown area.
The increased parking fees, expected to generate $2.5 million per year according to Turoff, will be used for these programs as well as rebuilding the two structures, said Agle. It became clear from the comments, questions, and responses that followed that the proposed fee increases announced that day were only the beginning of a monitored process that will be developed in order to manage downtown parking conditions.
As to the timing of all this, the City’s Business and Revenue Operations Manager Don Patterson said the City “will have an implementation plan in place before the end of the year,” but he explained in answer to questions that this did not mean the new rates would be in effect by that time, but only that “a plan to prioritize and order implementation of each recommendation” would be in place.
Other elements of the overall plan under consideration include:
· Further increases in the street meters when new payment mechanisms (read: credit cards) are installed, on the theory that six quarters is about all the City can expect people to have in their pockets
· Contracts with private parking facilities (e.g., office buildings) for public and employee parking in off hours (e.g., evenings)
· A public valet program to use private parking facilities for shoppers and diners; such a program would not produce any net revenue, said Turoff, but it would make more spaces available
· Shuttle service between the heart of downtown and, for example, the underused Civic Center parking structure
· Increased bicycle parking as part of the rebuilding of two parking structures
Comments and Reactions
Executive Director Kathleen Rawson said that the Bayside District Corporation supports the parking fee increases, but only if they are implemented together with the other pieces of the comprehensive plan. She acknowledged the problem that the rate hikes would pose for downtown employees, and stressed the need for shuttles and the like.
In answer to a question about demographic studies, Rawson said that parking/traffic are consistently in the top three gripes recorded, but that customers were more concerned with parking accessibility and structure cleanliness than with price.
Turoff added that the Walker firm did not think that the price increase would deter customers.
Former City Councilman John Bohn asked whether the City’s parking revenues went into the general fund (they do, said Agle), and he observed that when he was on the Council parking revenues were targeted for parking improvements. (To which a voice was heard to ask, “Why don’t you run again?”) Agle did say that the City wants to segregate the revenues generated by this parking rate increase.
Comments were made about the relative pricing of different parking structures (“The library should be free!” or “Why are the highest prices at the Civic Center where people go to attend public meetings?”), and Turoff replied that such subjects might be addressed in the future.
Lawyer Chris Harding, who co-chairs the Chamber’s Land Use Committee, supported the proposed increase, thought even the proposed rates were low, and pressed the City and consultant Turoff on the subject of monitoring the effects of their plans.
Turoff acknowledged that “monitoring is crucial” as the plans move forward, and he emphasized the parking management strategy behind the plan, saying that the goal “is not to set rates but to set occupancy.”