By Jorge Casuso
September 9, 2009 -- Visitors to Downtown Santa Monica will have to pay more for parking in an effort to free up the spaces in the public parking structures closest to the Third Street Promenade.
Under the Downtown parking plan approved 6 to 1 by the City Council Tuesday night, no new public parking structures would be built, a turn-around from the original plan approved by the council three years ago that called for as many as two new structures totaling some 1,000 spaces.
Under the new prices, the daily maximum rates will increase from $7 to $9, evening maximum rates will rise from $3 to $5, and monthly passes will fetch $121, including tax, up from $82.50.
The council has not yet decided when the new rates -- which had not been changed since 1997 -- will kick in.
Council members praised the study by Walker Parking Consultants that made the adopted recommendations, calling it "fabulous" and "revolutionary."
"This report is fabulous and long overdue," said Council member Richard Bloom, who made the motion to adopt the plan. "We've had an inefficient approach to manage our parking over the years…. This will help us further our sustainability goals."
"Your study has turned out to be a revolutionary document," said Council member Kevin McKeown.
At the heart of the new parking policy is reversing a pricing policy that has contributed to traffic congestion in and out of the Downtown structures -- the cheapest spaces are those closest to the Promenade, which draws an estimated 10 million visitors a year.
Parking officials expect to free up some 400 spaces by raising the prices in the six public parking structures on 2nd and 4th streets behind the Promenade and in the structure on 4th Street just north of Wilshire Boulevard and by providing only one hour, instead of two hours, of free parking.
Many of those spaces are currently occupied by Downtown employees who move their cars every two hours and, in effect, end up parking the entire day for free, according to consultants. Making only the first hour free would discourage workers from engaging in what consultants call "the employee shuffle."
"We're rewarding people for circling in our structures," said Council member Gleam Davis. "A lot of these proposals would enhance business."
"Driving around generates tons of pollution and a lot of aggravation," said Council member Bobby Shriver.
"I don't think we are imposing a tremendous hardship on employees," McKeown said. "We'll be helping the businesses where they work."
Only Council member Bob Holbrook opposed the new rate structure, arguing that it would discourage shoppers from coming to Santa Monica when they can park for free at the Westside Pavilion on Westwood and Pico boulevards.
"We need to stay at two hours free parking," Holbrook said. "Raising the evening rate to $5 really bothers me. I think it's import to get people to Downtown Santa Monica for dinner and a movie."
Council members plan to lower the rate at the new Civic Center parking structure and at the new parking garage at the Main Library, both of which are some four blocks from the Promenade.
The lower rates, along with shuttle buses, should encourage area employees to park there, council members said.
In addition to raising the rates, the council indicated the City would likely need to hire someone to make sure the plan is implemented.
"We need to have a clear, focused effort," said Mayor Ken Genser. "This won't happen unless there is someone ultimately assigned to do this."
"Putting somebody in charge of making this happen is an important point," Shriver said. "It won't happen if that doesn't happen."
Except for the change in the number of free hours, the parking plan approved by the council was endorsed in July by the Bayside District Board, which runs the Downtown.
But before approving the plan, the board warned that little would improve unless Santa Monica hires a full-time “parking czar” and upgrades the parking technology.
On Tuesday Bayside Executive Director Kathleen Rawson echoed those concerns.
"We have to look at this from a global approach," Rawson told the council. "We just can't say, 'Let's raise prices and see what happens.' We have to have someone who's actually going to manage this."