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Santa Monica Officials Explore Ways to Get People Downtown Without Cars
By Jorge Casuso
March 15, 2018 -- Santa Monica's ongoing battle to balance parking needs Downtown and wean motorists from its congested streets took another turn last week, with the City Council directing staff to explore new strategies at the urging of Downtown officials.
In addition to increasing daily and monthly parking rates, City officials will consider creating a loyalty program for residents who frequent the area, instituting a validation program for employees and launching a universal valet program.
City staff also will study the possibility of working with peer-to-peer ride sharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to subsidize rides into the downtown from other parts of the city.
"As City policy moves to disincentivize driving by raising parking rates, you also need to provide incentives to use alternative forms of transportation," said Kathleen Rawson, who heads Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the agency that oversees the Central Business District.
At last Tuesday's study session, the Council agreed to maintain the current 90-minute free parking “grace period” while it explores new parking options, but it is still poised to consider an increase in parking rates.
The daily rates at Downtown's structures world rise from a maximum of $17.50 to $20 on weekdays and $25 on weekends under a proposal by City staff ("City Considers Big Rate Hikes for Downtown Santa Monica Parking Structures," March 6, 2018).
Parking Structures 1 and 3, would see the biggest increase in the cost of monthly permits from $176 to $275. The other six public parking structures in the the business district, as well as at the underground garage at Ken Edwards Center, would increase to $220 a month.
Monthly parking at the Main Library would nearly double from $82.50 to $154, while monthly permits at the Civic Center Parking Structure would remain at $160. Permits at two structures at the edge of Downtown would rise to $187.
The Civic structure, long considered a pressure for parking demand Downtown is increasingly being used for Santa Monica High School across the street, Downtown officials said.
Maintaining free parking for the first 90 minutes was a key victory for Downtown officials, who see it as a crucial way to accommodate residents who frequent the area.
Residents joined Downtown stakeholders who lobbied the Council last Tuesday.
"As residents we regularly use the parking lots for the Santa Monica Farmers Market, attending movies, eating at the many restaurants and shopping," the Board of NOMA, the neighborhood group North of Montana Avenue, wrote the Council.
"There is no public transportation for our neighborhood to the downtown and the elimination of the 90 minutes will deter further use of downtown."
Other strategies the Council will consider are to maintain uniform rates at all downtown structures, placing monthly parkers in the two structures at the edge of Downtown and eliminating them from Structures 1 and 3.
To fix and upgrade the existing parking structures, Downtown officials are urging the Council to reinvest parking revenues that currently go into the City's general fund into the 60-year-old parking facilities.
"Everyone agrees we need to maintain our parking," Rawson said. "While we are seeing an increase in those using alternate ways to get Downtown, there is a generation of people continuing to drive."
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