Santa Cruz is short hundreds of parking spaces—with no end in sight
One morning, I walked out of my house to find a bright orange boot on the front tire of my 2007 Chevy Malibu. After five delinquent tickets over the course of a year, the pesky pink envelope that once hid a $58 fine turned into an angry bright orange boot.
For weeks, I had spent my days off moving my car every two hours to avoid getting a parking ticket in front of my own home. I learned that if you sleep in a little too late, they will catch you.
At 9 a.m., I sat down in front of my car defeated, and tried to imagine every way possible to remove the ugly metal contraption. I tugged on it, kicked it, took a screwdriver to it, and even considered bolt cutters. For three days, my car sat adorned with its badge of shame. The $800 fine cost me an entire paycheck, most of my very small savings and a bit of my dignity.
As difficult as it is to find parking in neighborhoods, it’s worse for people who work and shop downtown.
Anna Coloma, 20, who works at Jamba Juice, has to work about two hours to pay for her week’s parking—and that’s not counting the tickets that pile up.
“I commute from Ocean Street,” she says. “I’ve gotten two tickets while at work and I probably spend $20 a week on parking. One time, I parked in the three-hour lot for five hours, because my usual garage was too full. I thought maybe I’d get away with it, but that was a $45 ticket.”
Parking enforcement officers booted 109 cars in 2014 and towed 16 of those, earning $55,679 in fines. It has booted 31 cars and towed four in the first quarter of 2015. Money from fines goes to the city’s general fund, which pays for all kinds of city services, including police, fire and buildings.
Money from downtown parking meters funds four garages and street parking. The city collected more than $6 million at parking meters and garages last year. Three million of that total revenue comes from downtown and funds the downtown parking operation at a $200,000 deficit.
The downtown parking operation’s $3.2 million budget includes $2.2 million for 80 people’s salaries—paying those who work to maintain the parking garages and their bathrooms and collect garbage from the lots. This doesn’t include the seven parking enforcement officers, whose salary comes from another fund.
Santa Cruz sells 1,779 off-street permits and 150 permits for meters at $33 a month (going up to $35 in January), but it takes several months to more than a year to get one. City parking chief Marlin Granlund says they can’t sell any more because it would cut into spaces available for visitors.
For 18-year-old Mission Hill Creamery employee Marisa Lester, there is no point. “I work three or four days a week, and my shifts are usually five or six hours,” Lester says. “I just park in the lot behind and pay. I live in Live Oak, and sometimes I have to get here an hour early just to make sure I get a spot. If I don’t find one then I call the store and let everyone know I’m out looking for parking. Everyone is pretty understanding, because we all know how it is.”
There are 4,294 parking spaces downtown—831 on the street, 2,151 in garages and the rest in private lots. There is roughly 70,000 square feet of open office space waiting to be filled, which will require even more spaces. A study conducted in 2010 showed that there was a deficit of almost 700 parking spaces in downtown Santa Cruz—but it’s probably even worse with the growing economy, says Granlund.
It costs 50 cents an hour to park in the city’s lots and $5 a day. Meters vary from 50 cents to $1 for the first hour and as much as $2 an hour after that. The city has phased out much of its free parking, converting its once multiple free lots to pay-by-space lots one by one.
Is there any hope?
The city is considering a new garage for as many as 800 cars, but the timetable is uncertain.
“It could take about five years,” explains Downtown Commission Chairman Jesse Nickell. “If we are really aggressive about it, maybe two years”
Meanwhile, the city is spending $2 million over the course of the next two years maintaining two garages at River and Cedar streets that are leaking and deteriorating.
Three possible locations for a new garage include Cedar and Cathcart streets, Front and Cathcart streets and by the new Metro transit center. Each space in a garage costs $35,000-$45,000 to build, or about $30 million for 800 spaces.
Granlund had another idea that flopped. He was going to rent 60 spaces at the Holy Cross Church at 126 High Street and charge $20 a month for a space. He called everyone on the waiting list for a permit, but only five were interested. It wasn’t enough.
“We’re finding that a lot of people don’t have a Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. job anymore, so it’s not working for them,” says Granlund. “It’s also at the top of the mall about three blocks out, so it’s not able to serve the people at the southern end of the mall where there’s not enough parking.”
PHOTO: Parking lots are full, free lots are almost gone, and rates are going up. SARAH HIRSHLAND