Our intrepid reporter follows up on newly implemented parking fees
March has arrived and, with it, new downtown parking fees. From the talk about town and the impassioned comments in response to Good Times’ Feb. 18 article, “Pay to Park,” it appears that Cruzans are up in arms over the charges.
I spoke with Les Gripkey, who created a website in response to the parking fees that provides the contact information for city council members and some “Free Parking Talking Points” (gripkeys.googlepages.com/parking). A Boulder Creek resident who regularly shops in Santa Cruz, Gripkey says his main goal in starting the page is to dispense information.
“I want people to be able to more easily get the information I was looking for when I became upset about the issue,” says Gripkey. “I wanted to know who to contact and let them know my opinion … I felt like I’d do my little bit, let the city know I’m not going along with it.”
Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty is one of the contacts on Gripkey’s list. Coonerty says he has received a few remarks about the parking issue, but the response has been decidedly small. “I’ve gotten about four e-mails where people were unhappy with the rate increase…in the same amount of time, I’ve had 10 e-mails about the moth spray,” says Coonerty, putting it in perspective. “Overall, I’ve been surprised by how little we’ve heard about it. There are people without a doubt who are unhappy and I totally understand their frustration, but overall the response has been minor.”
Marlin Granlund, parking program manager for the city, is also unaware of a backlash and attributes the negativity online to “the nature of blogging.” Granlund says the comments he’s getting have been “mainly supportive.”
The debut of the pay lots seems to tell a different story: both the Farmers’ Market and two-story garage lots, where one is usually hard-pressed to find a space, looked eerily vacant throughout the first two weeks of March. Rows of empty parking spaces were punctuated with the occasional car. Maybe it’s only a matter of time until people catch on, but for the time being it appears people are staying away.
While none have taken to picketing city hall with protest signs, most of the employees and business owners at the 15 downtown businesses I visited said they do not like the fees, will boycott the pay lots, find the fees unfair to employees who live far from downtown, and will continue to seek free parking elsewhere.
For the sake of research (and wishing to avoid another $40 parking ticket like the one I had received a week prior), I decided to give the pay lot a try, only to have my money rejected by the machine. A parking attendant on standby informed me that they wouldn’t be issuing citations while they are working out the kinks in the system.
As of press time, Granlund had assured me that the bugs will be worked out, the machines will be up and running, and I will indeed need to pay two bucks for four hours downtown—not a huge imposition for me, since I come downtown once a week, but a bigger cost to those who work downtown full time.
Which brings us to a main bone of contention: Where are employees supposed to park?
While the occasional shopper may not balk at paying $1.50 for a three-hour shopping trip, many downtown employees will face a $100/month drain on their finances if they continue parking in these lots.
For employees who live out of biking/walking range (or for rainy days and days when you need to lug a bunch of stuff to work), here are some ways to cope with the fees:
Purchase a parking permit at the Locust Garage ($31/month) or the River/Front Garage ($48/quarter). “That’s just a little more than 50 cents a day,” says Granlund of the latter. “At River/Front, we probably have about 100 spaces that are not being used on a daily basis that are permit only.” Locust Garage also has plenty of open spaces. It’s not free, but 50 cents a day sure beats five bucks.
Encourage your employer to enroll in the Transportation Membership Services program offered by Ecology Action. The program offers discounted bus passes, 0 percent interest bike loans, and emergency rides home to employees of enrolled companies. “It’s a relatively inexpensive program—$5 or less per employee,” says Piet Canin, program director for EA’s Sustainable Transportation Group. “The employer gets to not only help out their employees, but show the community that they’re reducing their carbon footprint and helping mitigate downtown parking problems.”
Follow Elsa Roybal’s lead and start carpooling. “One car is better than two,” says Roybal, manager of Erik’s Delicafé. Indeed, you can cut parking costs in half by splitting them with a coworker. Or, find a friend with similar hours who works elsewhere but passes through downtown on their commute. See if they can drop you off and pick you up on their way home (you may need to bribe them with coffee or lunch).
Park at a ‘blue-pole meter,’ one of the 12-hour meters. These are the cheapest rates downtown, only 25 cents an hour. And keep in mind there are still “550 parking spaces in 11 parking lots downtown that are free,” says Granlund. You can always attempt to snag one of them (but be prepared to do some pedestrian stalking and possibly drive in circles for awhile).
Voice your opinion on future parking issues. Go to a city council meeting or public forum. The meetings calendar and agendas can be found at cityofsantacruz.com.
Above, the Farmers’ Market lot, once a preferred parking area, is less than half full at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 3. Photo by Elizabeth Limbach