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Council Approves Cheap Beach Parking Rates in Time for Summer

By Teresa Rochester

Testing the waters before diving in, the City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved a pilot program meant to alleviate traffic-choked streets and parking woes along the city's beach front this summer.

The 7 to 0 vote allows for parking rates in the city's two southern most beach lots to be slashed and the creation of short term parking in the three lots south of the pier.

Despite pleas from Pier and Main Street business representatives for more short-term parking, the council opted for a more conservative number of 230 two-hour spaces recommended by city staff.

Council members argued that it would be more judicious to wait until the financial impacts of the pilot program are analyzed at the end of the summer before increasing the number of spaces. The council agreed to evaluate the program as quickly as possible after the program ends on Labor Day.

"I would like us to return as early as possible to evaluate the results of this program," said Councilman Richard Bloom. "We are dealing in some ways with an unknown quantity here."

For $1.00 an hour beach-goers will be able to park in the 75 two-hour slots in the 1640 Appian Way lot adjacent to the pier, the 87 spaces in the 2030 Barnard Way lot or the 68 spaces in the 2600 Barnard Way lot.

"We envision that it will be the short-term parking that will create incentive for people parking in residential areas," said city planning director Suzanne Frick.

The program also will attempt to lure visitors away from the overcrowded lots near the pier and behind the trendy Main Street shopping area by offering $5.00 all day parking in the 2030 and 2600 lots year round. It currently costs $7.00 to park in the summer and $6.00 in the off season in those lots, which sit virtually empty.

City officials say they expect to suffer a $295,000 loss in beach fund revenues, which go to fund everything from bathroom maintenance to lifeguards, during the pilot program. The city also will lose approximately $29,500 in parking tax revenue that goes into the city's general fund.

The creation of the short term parking coincides with the construction of 39 new on-street parking spaces that will soon be implemented on Ocean Avenue, Bay and Ocean Park Boulevard.

Concerned that additional parking on both sides of steep Bay Street may prove hazardous to skaters and bicyclists, Councilman Michael Feinstein called for staff to look at the safety implications on the street.

"It's a very steep incline," Feinstein said. "It may not be wise to max out all of the parking here."

Another component of the program is a marketing campaign to bring visitors to the new cheaper parking. Frick said the campaign may include radio advertisements, signs throughout the coastal area and flyers describing the new program.

Community members and business representatives told the council the only way the program will be successful is with an aggressive marketing program.

"Visitors become a nuisance when they can't get to their destination," resident Linda Sullivan told the council. "Thirty percent of visitors who don't reach their destination in Santa Monica never return. You need a good signage program showing where the spaces are."

"A well developed marketing plan and very aggressive and well planned signage around the area is critical," said Jan Palchikoff of the Pier Restoration Corporation, which runs the pier.

Other community members, including the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Merchants Association, called for more short-term parking in the lots, particularly in the 2600 lot, saying the pilot program doesn't go far enough.

"We sincerely believe there is some very positive momentum here," said Dan Ehrler, executive director of the Chamber. "We believe the demand would be greater than the 68 [spaces] would allow for."

"We would like to see you be brave and raise the number of short term parking," Fred Whitlock the chair of The Church in Ocean Park. "I say get behind the plan."

The call for more short term parking closely resembles the recommendations made by Kaku & Associates in their study of traffic circulation in the coastal area. The city based their recommendations on the study and extensive community input.

Calls for such a pilot program were made last year, but went unheeded as the city wound up negotiations with the California Coastal Commission over preferential parking in Ocean Park.

In January the commission told the city to look for ways to supply short term and possible free beach parking. The council's vote comes just weeks before the city goes back before the commission for a final decision.

"Perhaps it was worth it that we waited," Bloom said. "I congratulate staff and the community for pulling together."

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