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Parking Policy Frustrates Landlord

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

February 27 -- The City Council Tuesday night is expected to consider employee parking permits for businesses pinched by residents-only preferential parking zones, but for the owners of at least one commercial property, the proposed pilot program could be too little and too late.

“They’re always talking about wanting to upgrade the Pico Neighborhood,” John Lindahl says. “And now we’re being punished for it. That’s what it feels like.”

Lindahl’s family recently pumped $1.2 million into a 70-year-old building they have owned since the early 1960s.

The once run-down property at 1012-1016 Pico Boulevard is now a modern-looking office building with glass partition walls and high ceilings -- the kind of space in demand by Santa Monica’s high-tech small businesses.

The idea was to attract new tenants. But two years after construction, the Lindahls’ building is less than half rented.

Lindahl blames preferential parking for the problem.

“We could have rented this place the first month we had it up,” Lindahl says his leasing agent told him. “Every time someone doesn’t lease, it’s because there isn’t any parking.”

Many of the city’s older commercial buildings have few on-site parking spaces; Lindahl’s doesn’t have any and it never had. On-site parking wasn’t required when his building was built in the 1930s.

But not having a parking lot was never a problem, he says, because his tenants could always park nearby on residential streets.

Planning for the building’s renovation began in 2000. The Lindahls pulled the necessary permits and construction began in 2002.

Then, in 2003, four months before the project’s completion, the City started a preferential parking program in the neighborhood.

Lindahl found out about it one day when he drove in to check on his building’s progress. He pulled into his favorite parking spot and looked up at a new sign. The street had become off limits to everyone but residents.

“What do you mean I can’t park here?” he thought.

Lindahl felt he had been blindsided.

The City never told his family that the parking policy was going to change, he says. If they had known, they never would have poured so much money into the 20-month-long remodel.

“The Lindahls are kind of a unique situation,” says Thomas Larmore, an attorney representing the family. “They feel they kind of got hammered on this.”

Lindhal has taken his complaint to the City Council twice and even did his own parking study, counting cars on the neighborhood streets some 60 times over six months.

He’s sure to be back at City Hall again Tuesday, when the council considers a pilot program for a limited number of employee parking permits for businesses in his area.

If the council follows staff’s recommendations, 20 parking permits for neighborhood streets would be given to businesses around 10th Street and Pico Boulevard. A permit would be good only on its designated street and only during the day.

Because demand is expected to be greater than supply, the permits would almost certainly be issued by lottery. The City would review the program after one year.

The program would be the first of its kind. So far, only residents have been able to get permits to park in the neighborhoods.

But Lindahl says the proposal doesn’t go far enough to do his family any good.

“It’s basically useless to us,” he says.

Lindahl says it will take more than 20 permits to help the businesses. He also says the neighborhood could handle much more than what is being proposed and still have plenty of parking to spare.

Walking along a block of 10th Street north of his property, Lindahl points out that nearly half of the parking spaces are empty.

The street has 97 spaces and on an average day 43 of them aren’t taken, he says. Those are the City’s numbers, he adds.

Yet the City recommends only eight employee parking permits on that block. He thinks that number should be increased.

Also, Lindahl says a one-year pilot program is too short. Prospective tenants looking at a three-year lease in his building wouldn’t be willing to gamble on a parking space they might lose before their lease runs out, he says.

In addition, he wants the permits to be transferable from one business to another when a leased space changes hands. Otherwise, he says, it will be hard to find new tenants when a lease expires.

In the meantime, Lindahl says his family is going deeper into debt each month their building stays half empty. In a letter to the council, he says his mother will have to sell it at a loss if the situation doesn’t change.

“Something’s got to break pretty soon,” he says.

But if the past is any indication, Lindahl shouldn’t expect City relief to come quickly.

The question of employee permit parking is a political hot-potato the City has been handling for years. Residents with preferential parking privileges oppose the idea each time it comes up.

The council has looked at the problem at least a half dozen times. Several times it looked like a pilot program would get the go-ahead. But each time the problem was sent back to staff for more study.

“It feels hopeless because you’re dealing with the City bureaucracy,” Lindahl says. “But I know they’re trying. I think they have as big a problem as we do.”

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