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Pay to Park

news1Two main downtown lots to start charging parking fees
As of March 1, two free downtown Santa Cruz parking areas will become pay lots. Anyone wanting to park in the Cedar and Church streets Parking Garage (Lot 3) or the Cedar and Cathcart streets Parking Lot (Lot 4) will have to pay $.50 an hour or $5 a day. These lots, more familiarly known as the two-story garage by Regal Cinemas (formerly Cinema 9) and the Farmers’ Market parking lot, were previously free three-hour parking areas.

According to Marlin Granlund, City of Santa Cruz parking programs manager, the new fees “will go to the parking district and will be replaced back into parking district services.” This includes the maintenance of public restrooms, streetlights and sidewalks, in addition to the parking garages and lots themselves. Part of the profit will also pay for an additional patrol officer.

“The city council authorized pay parking in the Farmers’ Market lot to pay for some security measures,” says Granlund. “One is to fund an additional police officer for the downtown area.” The pay stations are expected to generate about $100,000 annually.

The switch to pay parking was partly prompted by the Master Transportation Study, a joint effort by the City of Santa Cruz and the University of California, Santa Cruz to create a community-based transportation plan. “The MTS spells out about moving away from free parking to pay parking. This is one of the ways we’re going forward,” says Granlund, adding that it is the only MTS transportation demand item they are currently acting on.

Now faced with fewer free parking options downtown, Granlund recommends that residents utilize the Ecology Action or Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission websites for information about alternate forms of transportation. In an email to Good Times, Piet Canin, program director for Ecology Action’s Sustainable Transportation Group, says that more cities are reducing their subsidies for parking a car by increasing parking fees “to reflect the true cost of garages and on-street parking.”

“I think in general [Ecology Action] is in favor of reducing the subsidies for parking,” he says. “But in order for Santa Cruz to reduce its carbon footprint, the city needs to have more incentives for alternate transportation, in addition to disincentives for driving. If you want to increase mobility for people to the downtown sector there are other ways to do it.”

In addition to complying with the MTS and raising revenue for the city, Granlund says the new pay stations are intended to cut down on employee misuse of the parking lots. “There is so much abuse from employees that park there for three hours, and then move their car every three hours,” he says. “That’s been a problem since we switched the lot from two hour to three hour parking back in the ’80s.”

Granlund demonstrates the new pay machines, which have also recently replaced the machines in the Calvary Church parking lot (Lot 5), explaining that there will be a person on site at the new lot on March 1 to assist downtown visitors with using the machines. Granlund says the machines, which cost about $15,000 each, are far superior to the old machines.

During the demonstration, a downtown business owner approaches to tell Granlund how unhappy he is with the change. The owner, who goes just by Kelsey, his last name, believes that the parking fee may discourage potential shoppers from stopping by. Kelsey has owned New Deal, a clothing boutique on Pacific Avenue, for two and a half years. He is strongly opposed to the switch to pay parking, and thinks it will hurt his and other local businesses.

“What the hell was wrong with our system before? It was actually admirable … it was so nice to just zip downtown and park your car, and then get out of there,” Kelsey tells GT in a separate interview. He worries that people will go somewhere else to shop. “People will walk five blocks to return a shirt because they saw it somewhere else for two dollars cheaper,” he says. “You can’t tell me people aren’t going to resent the fee. In this economy, they should have left it alone. If I’m wrong and it increases shopping, great. But I just don’t see that happening.”

Kelsey adds that he finds the new pay stations to be too expensive and not user-friendly. “They’re way too complicated,” he says. “I’m an average Joe guy, and I had trouble with them—if they had to have someone out there explaining how to use them, something’s wrong.”

Granlund believes that the change may actually make parking easier for downtown customers, as there will no longer be a three-hour limit, which infers a $40 ticket for those who overstay their time. “The complaint we were getting was that people couldn’t park longer than three hours,” Granlund says. “You don’t get free parking anymore, but you can stay as long as you want—it gives you a whole lot of options.”

Responses from other downtown business owners and employees range from indifference to anger. Some were unaware that the change was even happening, while others say they have already heard from annoyed customers and think the anger and frustration will increase once the fees are in place. One employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that she’ll be personally affected by the fee: she parks in the Farmers’ Market parking lot because it’s right by her work and she gets off late at night. “I don’t want to be walking around alone at night, especially downtown,” she says.

Employees at another shop, who also wishes to remain anonymous, were less concerned. “I look at it this way: our customers will come downtown regardless,” says one, adding that he was pleased the money would fund an additional patrol officer. “If the money is going into something positive, then great.”

Christy Paul, the owner of Lolly Tree Toys, was concerned that the fee may “negatively affect the businesses right around here.” She also mentioned the hundreds of dollars that downtown businesses already pay to subsidize the parking costs and wondered if the parking lots are now charging a fee, will they still need to pay the several hundreds dollars?

According to Granlund, the answer is yes. The parking deficiency fee required of downtown businesses (buildings built within the City of Santa Cruz are required to have a certain amount of parking spots; since downtown businesses don’t, they pay a fee) will remain. In fact, Granlund says that “the city council looked at increasing the deficiency fees by 3 percent, but decided to make the Farmers’ Market parking lot a pay lot instead. They decided to have the public pay for parking instead of businesses.”

This switch to pay parking follows not long after a controversial proposal to build a five-story garage where the Farmers’ Market lot currently sits. The switch to a pay lot doesn’t mean that the proposal is completely off the table. According to Granlund, the five-story garage is “a possibility down the road.

“With the economic downturn, it just wasn’t the right climate for building a $30 million structure, so it’s kind of been put on the back burner,” he says. The garage was also put on hold because many other projects that had been planned for downtown and would have necessitated more parking are not happening.

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