City, Bayside Officials Takes Steps to Alleviate Downtown Parking Crunch

The City Council's approval last week of new parking rates for the Downtown is just part of a multi-step plan being implemented by City and Bayside District officials that combines innovative ideas and time-tested methods.
Based mostly on recommendations from a report issued last year by Walker Parking Consultants, the plan calls for using Santa Monicas available parking options more efficiently, before building new structures. The cornerstone of the report calls for altering the parking rates and using private parking structures during non-business hours.

City and Bayside officials also are testing other Walker recommendations that include a program to provide valet parking for Downtown visitors, installing meters that accept credit cards, launching a shuttle service and funding programs to encourage use of alternative modes of transportation.

Walkers point is that there is a lot of parking in Downtown Santa Monica, but were not using it well, said Andy Agle, the Citys Director of Housing and Economic Development. There are a lot of spaces that stay vacant, and everybody is competing for a portion of the parking.

Implementing more effective management strategies and pricing the parking more competitively will allow the City and Bayside to make better use of all of the parking resources and better distribute demand across those resources, Agle said

It has been less than a year since the Walker report was released last September, but it might seem like an eternity to frustrated Downtown visitors who want the parking crunch addressed immediately. City Council member Kevin McKeown, who hailed the Walker report as a revolutionary document, said there is a good reason not to hurry.

We know parking is a crucial issue for businesses, customers, employees and residents, he said. And, while we want to implement real improvements as quickly as possible, we are being prudent and incremental to make sure the changes we make are indeed the right ones.

McKeown added that the Walker recommendations will help Downtown businesses. Committing still more scarce Downtown acreage to parking cars would mean less room for productive business activity and higher costs for businesses who locate Downtown and subsidize that parking, McKeown said. We can get more customers closer to Downtown cash registers, accommodate needed employee parking and reduce the traffic gridlock.

One element of the plan that is quickly moving forward is opening the unused spaces at office buildings and other private lots to the public during what are considered off-peak hours. This includes weekdays after 5 p.m. and all weekend hours. The private businesses will offer these spaces for a monthly fee of $30 plus tax, and some will be set aside for one-time use.

Utilizing private parking will help Downtown employees, who for years have played a game of musical chairs to avoid current $7-a-day parking fees, said Andrew Thomas, the Bayside Districts Operations Director.

Many employees currently park in the structures, which provide two free hours, then leave work, drive their cars out of the garage, then immediately turn back into the same structure or a neighboring structure to get more free parking time. This exercise is repeated throughout the workday. Other employees just pay the daily fee, which can add up.

Employees who work during these off-peak hours will have parking available to them at a price that makes it worth it to pay for parking, as opposed to having to move around four times a day, Thomas said.

A survey was sent recently to Downtown businesses inquiring if this program would interest them and how much they were willing to pay for the service. The response, Thomas said, was overwhelmingly supportive.

The owners of the private lots and garages will also determine a parking rate for those who do not pay monthly fees. Signs on sidewalks will point patrons toward the available parking.
Posting these signs requires City approval, since municipal law prohibits signs in rights-of-way. The businesses are currently working on private agreements with the City for the signs, which will receive approval at the discretion of municipal traffic engineers.

The City Council's vote last Tuesday to boost daily rates from $7 to $9, nightly rates from $3 to $5, and the monthly fee from $82.50 to $121 at the public parking structures on 2nd Street and 4th street is also expected to help ease the parking crunch. The fees will go into effect on July 1.

The increased revenue will be used to pay for shuttle services to bring visitors from more distant, lower-fee parking structures, as well as to fund programs that encourage employees to use public transit, bicycles and carpooling. Additionally, the money will go toward enhancing the parking structures, including improving the technology and making general repairs.

Those looking for lower rates will still be able to find them Downtown; they will just have to do a little more walking when they exit their vehicles. The monthly rates will remain at $82.50 at the new Civic Center parking structure and at the new parking garage at the Main Library, both of which are approximately four blocks from the Promenade. Downtown employees will be encouraged to use those facilities.

Also at the May 11 meeting, the City Council voted on a proposal to rebuild Parking Structure 6, at Second Street between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard. The renovation of this garage, as well as that of Structure 1 on Fourth Street between Arizona Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, will provide some 570 new spaces. No additional spaces need to be built for now, according to the Walker report.

The City is also looking to change Downtown's parking meter system. The Walker study recommends that parking meter fees be increased, but City officials are holding off until they can determine what technology would best encourage usage.
City officials also will soon launch a pilot program along a one-block stretch for meters that accept credit cards, Patterson said. If successful, the program could be implemented citywide.

To further help alleviate the parking crunch Downtown, the City is preparing to test a central valet service. The service will not include existing valets at local restaurants because its important that restaurant valets serve the customers they already serve, Patterson said.

The program would instead target users of the District who visit multiple locations. Users can drop their cars off at one location, and pick it up at the other, which encourages them to walk and helps businesses that do not have their own valet service. A request for proposals will soon be issued to find a consultant, and the pilot program should begin in the summer, Patterson said.

The new programs would be funded, at least in part, by increased developer fees that bankroll new parking structures or programs that promote alternative forms of transportation, Patterson said.

The Walker report recommends that the city raise its fee for developers who choose not to provide the mandated number of on-site parking spaces. The fee was set in 1986 at $1.50 per square foot of building area for which parking is not provided. Walker determined the current fee is too low. A consultant will be selected sometime in the next six months to conduct a cost study, Patterson said.

Finally, the city is working to make the parking information on its web site more user friendly with maps and other features, including the locations of the private parking options.

Through the partnership of Bayside and the City, weve done a lot so far, Patterson said. As funding becomes available for the programs, the Downtown business owners, shoppers and employees will start to see a change.

Thomas noted that the Bayside Parking Committee plays a key role in facilitating the ongoing parking issues and keeps us on track.
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