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Council to Hike Parking Meter Rates

By Oliver Lukacs

Dec. 18 -- In an effort to help bridge a looming $8.5 million budget gap a quarter at a time, the City Council Tuesday night voted in concept to hike parking meter rates for the first time in more than a decade and to seek locations for additional meters.

The proposed rates -- approved with a 5 to 1 vote -- would increase the cost of meter parking in the Downtown and along the coast from $.50 cents an hour to $1 and from $.35 to $.75 an hour in the rest of the city.

In addition, 360 new meters will be installed on Pearl and 16th Streets near Santa Monica College and John Adams Middle School and along the side streets of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards.

The rate hikes and additional meters are expected to boost the revenues generated by the City's 6,000 current meters from $4 million to $7 million a year, said Lucy Dyke, the City's transportation planning manager.

The hikes -- the first since 1991, when the city was in a recession -- were opposed by the Chamber of Commerce, which warned that the higher rates would hurt businesses during the crucial shopping season, dampen the economy in the long-term and constitute "a jab to retailers."

"Right now our businesses are having a hard time attracting customers," said Kathy Dodson, the chamber's executive director, "and even a conceptual proposal such as this sends the wrong message, especially just a few days before Christmas."

Mayor Bloom pointed out that some of the added revenue would be channeled to improve parking and traffic in the Downtown, but Dodson didn't waver, saying that while traffic and lack of parking are problems, "parking prices are a huge issue."

"The parking meter increase," said Dodson, "really touches a sore spot with businesses that rely on customers coming in by parking in front of their stores." She added that "certain (budget) cuts would be more appropriate," instead of the raise.

Inspired by a speech he saw on a televised session of the State legislature, Councilman Michael Feinstein said, "We need to have the guts to raise revenues at the same time that we're looking at making budget cuts so that we aren't simply cutting services."

The lone dissenter in the vote, Councilman Bob Holbrook opposed the raise, saying it would give Santa Monica's competitors a leading edge.

"It strikes me that our really, really close competitor is West L.A. They're right on our border," Holbrook said, "and they're at 50 cents, and we'd be raising it above theirs in the Downtown, double theirs."

Holbrook also pointed out that of the complaint letters he has received over the years, the most bitter decried parking tickets, not meter prices. "Those issues are really huge issues that really drive people away for ever."

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown focused on the benefits of updating the City's parking meters. "This is not just a revenue change, this is a technology change that's long overdue in our city."

At the behest of Councilman Ken Genser, red-zoned storm drains will be explored as possible new revenue streams.

"What about off of Montana… and looking at removing red-zones over storm drains?" said Genser, wanting to maximize curb potential. Saying some red curbs have the potential to accommodate three parking spaces, Genser added, "that's also potentially revenue for three more parking meters."

The rate hikes and parking expansion would cost roughly $2.4 million to implement and involve an upgrade from mechanical to electronic meters. The system would pave the way for replacing the cumbersome permit process -- with 5,000 permit requests a year -- with a "non-coin stored-value card" for long-term daily parking, and could eventually lend itself to credit cards.

The council directed staff to solicit input from the community and initiate the procurement process. The decision to implement a rate increase will be taken up by the council on February 23.
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