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Santa Monica Contemplates New Parking Rates  

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 30, 2012 -- Visitors to Santa Monica could see a reduction in free parking Downtown as early as September and an increase in the cost of meter parking throughout the beachside city from 75 cents an hour to $1 an hour, finance officials say.

In an effort to redirect the flow of traffic and increase turnover of parking spaces, City officials are considering eliminating the two-hour free parking in Santa Monica's Downtown parking structures and doubling the rate of meter parking in the area to $2 an hour.

To encourage motorists to park outside the Downtown, parking rates at the nearby Civic Center and the Main Branch Library would drop under a plan that officials plan to present to the City Council in July.

“Civic Center parking is some of the most expensive parking in the City of Santa Monica,” said Don Patterson, the City's assistant director of finance.

The proposed plan for the Civic Center would reduce the parking rate by more than half from $1.50 every 20 minutes to $1 an hour, with the first hour and a half free. It would also reduce the daily maximum from $9 to $5.

The library, where parking now costs $1 an hour with a daily maximum of $10, would have the same pricing structure as the Civic Center parking lot under the new pricing plan.

The City is trying to use pricing as a way to redirect traffic from Santa Monica's Downtown to nearby areas that can better absorb the vehicles, Patterson said.

“People say that there is no parking Downtown, but when parking is full in Downtown Santa Monica, there are usually 1,600 free spaces about two or three blocks away,” Patterson said.

To get motorists to those spaces, the City is considering a tiered monthly parking pricing system for the Downtown parking structures.

It currently costs $121 a month to park in any of the eight Downtown public parking structures, which, Patterson said, is below market rate.

The new pricing system would let motorists who pay $120 a month park Downtown on any weekday. A pass to park just on the weekends and nights – starting at 4 p.m. – would cost $75 a month while a pass that had no time or day restrictions would cost $160, which Patterson said is the market rate.

That's more than twice as much as an unrestricted monthly parking pass for the Civic Center parking lot would cost under the plan, which lowers the rate from $82.50 to $65.

Recently, Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus decided to cancel the shuttle service provided for those who park in the Civic Center lot and work Downtown citing poor ridership.

But Patterson said that, if the plan works as expected and more people start using the Civic Center parking lot, a shuttle won't be needed.

Monthly pass holders "can ride any Big Blue Bus on Fourth Street for free,” Patterson said. Bus service along Fourth Street is more frequent than the shuttles were, averaging one bus every seven minutes, he said

The City is also considering charging handicap placard holders for parking in Downtown parking structures. Currently, they can park for free for an unlimited time during operating hours.

“Those spaces don't turn over,” said Patterson.

City officials found that during peak hours, 97 percent of accessible parking in Downtown parking structures were occupied, Patterson said. Of those 97 percent, 92 percent were occupied for more than four hours and 84 percent were occupied for more than 6 hours.

“That limits the ability of people to find ADA accessible spaces Downtown,” he added.

State law only requires that handicap placard holders be allowed to park at meters for free, Patterson said.

Patterson emphasized that the plans are "not about revenue for the City," adding that the proposal staff will take to the council in July is “revenue neutral,” meaning that there will be no net increase (or decrease) of income to the city.

But the plan isn't set in stone, Patterson said.

“We're still discussing them,” he said. “They may change before going to the council.”

Assuming that the council approves of the plans, the changes could take effect as early as September 1.

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