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City Council to Consider Cheaper Beach Parking Rates

By Teresa Rochester

With millions of visitors flocking to Santa Monica's beaches and searching for cheap or free parking, Ocean Park residents, Main Street merchants and their customers are hard pressed to find coveted parking spaces -- but that may change as early as this summer.

The Santa Monica City Council Tuesday night is scheduled to consider a pilot program that officials say will relieve traffic congestion and parking woes in the city's coastal area.

On the table for the council's consideration is a plan that would allow for 230 short-term parking spaces in three of the city's beach parking lots and reduced parking rates in the city's two southern-most lots. However, neighbors and businesses adjacent to the two southern lots want the council to consider creating even more short-term parking.

City officials are calling for the creation of 75 two hour parking spaces in the 1640 Appian Way lot adjacent to the Pier, 87 spaces in the 2030 Barnard Way lot and 68 spaces in the 2600 lot. The city plans to charge $1.00 an hour to park in the two-hour spaces.

In an effort to entice beach-goers to park in the 2030 and 2600 lots and away from lots that are meant to serve trendy Main Street visitors and in overcrowded lots near the pier, long-term parking rates in those lots would drop from $7.00 during the summer ($6.00 in the off season) to $5.00 year-round. Currently the lots sit virtually empty.

According to the staff report, "the shot-term spaces in the two southern-most lots, 2030 and 2600 Barnard Way, will provide an attractive alternative to beach-goers who currently park in the adjacent Main Street lots and in neighborhood streets where there is limited capacity."

The reduced rates are expected to take a heavy toll on the city's beach fund pocketbook, according to city officials. Money generated from beach parking accounts for more than 85 percent of beach fund revenue, while the rest of the fund comes from concession stands, special events and leases.

If the reduced parking and short-term parking are implemented, the beach fund is expected to lose $295,000 in revenues, which fund everything from lifeguards to bathroom maintenance. Last year, revenue totaled just over $4.1 million. The city also will lose approximately $29,500 in parking tax revenue, which goes into the city's general fund.

"This is going to be a major impact on revenue," said Ellen Gelbard, deputy director of planning and community development.

Gelbard said the recommendations grew out of community concerns over parking in the Ocean Park neighborhood and the Main Street area. The Ocean Park Community Organization and the Main Street Merchants Association (MSMA), however, are calling for a greater number of short-term parking in the 2030 and 2600 lots.

MSMA is calling for the creation of an additional 219 spaces in the 2600 lot, which is closest to Main Street's always-packed lots. OPCO and the Chamber of Commerce are endorsing a minimum of 360 short-term spaces.

"Historically there has been a parking problem," said Gary Gordon, MSMA's parking coordinator. "The problem identified in the 1998 [Kaku & Associates] study is a shortage of inventory because of three groups - residents, beach-goers and employees -- parking in what we normally think of as Main Street parking."

The 1998 study, which city staffs recommendations are based on, also calls for the creation of on-street parking. The construction of 39 new on-street parking spaces will soon be implemented on Ocean Avenue, Bay and Ocean Park Boulevard.

The council's debate Tuesday night and subsequent decision comes just weeks before the California Coastal Commission will render its decision on whether Ocean Park residents will get to keep preferential parking in their neighborhoods.

In January, the state body told city officials that before it would make its decision the city would have to come up with a plan to make beach parking more accessible to beach visitors. Gelbard said the current recommendations before the council have little to do with the commission's directions.

If the plan to reduce parking rates and implement short-term parking is approved by the council, the plan would go into effect this summer and come back for review and reconsideration before summer 2001.

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