Op-Ed: City Council to Make a Decision on Parking Meters Wednesday

(stock photo)

By Anna Marie Gott

A consequential Santa Barbara City Council meeting will be held regarding metered parking on Wednesday May 15, 2024 at 1pm.  For those of you who can’t make it to City Hall, attendees can Zoom in or write a letter. (See instructions below.)

For the record, I do not support metered parking and I do not support using Measure C funds to bail out the Downtown Parking Fund. Why? On-street parking meters, which, to my knowledge, are not used anywhere else in the entire county, will turn customers away from downtown businesses, and places an additional burden on those that have lower incomes, are disabled, or elderly. Furthermore, voters did not pass Measure C to use this revenue to pay for downtown parking infrastructure.

The Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) was formed decades ago to buy and build surface parking lots and structures to encourage shoppers to shop downtown. I believe that the BID participants should be paying more into the fund, OR the City of Santa Barbara should, at minimum, test reopening most, if not all, of State Street to cars for 6 months or 1 year to see if parking revenues increase rather than moving to metered parking.

I personally believe this change will drive more people to park in the public parking lots and shop downtown again. This might solve much of the deficit in the Downtown Parking Fund and the City Council won’t know if they don’t test it. They also have a fiduciary responsibility to solve this deficit for the long term. If they continue down this road of closing off State Street to cars the Downtown Parking Fund will continue to be a money pit.

With this said, the Staff Report discusses two options: pass their recommended changes, or an alternative change which would see Measure C funds used to pay for capital expenditures.

MAJOR ISSUES SEEN WITH PROPOSAL TO INSTALL PARKING METERS

INSTALLING PARKING METERS DOWNTOWN & COSTS TO DO SO

The April 30 Staff Report states that implementing pay-by-plate on-street parking (between Chapala St. and Anacapa St. from Gutierrez St. to Sola St.) would bring in $2,522,265. However, it doesn’t explain how the hard costs to implement metered on-street parking would be paid for or what these costs are. Based on Staff’s own descriptions they state they will need to procure “pay stations, signage, payment apps and mobile web services, LPR enforcement equipment and enforcement vehicles, handhelds for fee notice issuance, and safety equipment.”

I estimate that two kiosk pay stations per block (for a total of at least 88) will be needed. These kiosks will require installation, electricity, internet connectivity to receive credit card payments, will need to be able to accept cash and provide change, be accessible, and connect with parking enforcement for real time ticketing. The kiosks, including installation and design review, must run close to $1,000,000.00 yet no mention of any costs are made in the Staff Report. It is curious why these costs are not mentioned. Kiosks are NOT free.

If City Staff doesn’t plan on installing kiosks, were they planning on utilizing apps to secure payment? If so, it is well documented that 15% of the population doesn’t have either a smartphone or credit card. This means a substantial part of the population will not be able to pay for parking downtown and they will risk running up a hefty parking bill that will arrive by surprise via USPS. Bills left unpaid could result in the revocation of a person’s driver’s license. Using an app-based solution disproportionately harms lower income residents, seniors and those with disabilities. An app-based solution should not be implemented for these reasons and one other reason. This pay-by-plate parking scheme may drive more people away from shopping downtown. Why? Creating a difficult on-street parking scheme will drive visitors elsewhere.

SLASHING OVERNIGHT PARKING FEES

Slashing overnight parking from a daily maximum of $33.00 to $10.00 should be a nonstarter. Hotel guests from the Canary and the other planned hotels, which do not provide sufficient parking for their guests, will benefit far more than the occasional person who takes a taxi or Uber home from a night out drinking. If the City wants to subsidize parking for those who need to take a taxi or Uber home after a night out, bar owners should set up a program to subsidize overnight parking for their patrons.

PARKING STRUCTURE TIME AND COSTS

Reducing the amount of free timed parking in parking structures from 75 minutes to 60 minutes is reasonable. But instead of charging $2.00 per hour the charge should be $3.00 per hour or $1.50 every 30 minutes. This is a reasonable cost.

SURFACE PARKING LOTS TIME AND COSTS

Reducing the amount of free timed parking in surface parking lots from 75 minutes to 15 minutes is not reasonable. It is also unreasonable for the proposed fee changes ($3.00 per hour) in the surface parking lots to be more expensive than the proposed fee changes ($2.00) in the parking structures.  Parking in surface lots and parking lots should be the same. Which is why I recommend that the City move to reduce the amount of free timed parking in parking structures from 75 minutes to 60 minutes and charge $3.00 per hour or $1.50 every 30 minutes.

EMPLOYEE PERMIT COSTS

The Staff Report also wants to reduce employee parking permits which range from $145.00 to $165.00 to $70.00 with the claim that this will increase turnover on the streets. However, the streets in question have timed free parking of 75 minutes and drivers risk a ticket if they park longer.

While I don’t agree with their argument, I could see reducing the costs to see if the City could encourage more people to park in the parking structures than on residential streets. However, instead of slashing the cost by more that 50% I would recommend that it be reduced to $120.00. – $30 per week to park is very reasonable.

ON-STREET & PARKING LOT BOTH OFFER 75 MINUTES FREE

The Staff Report states that the parking revenue is down because people park on the street. This makes no sense. On-street parking is free for the first 75 minutes, just like the parking lots. Furthermore, drivers risk getting a ticket if they park longer on the street while they pay an hourly rate in the parking lots. – Parking in the parking lots is the best choice for anyone who is parking long term downtown.

THINGS THE COUNCIL SHOULD CONSIDER

ARE WE COLLECTING ALL PBIA FEES?

In the past I have requested the list of those that pay PBIA fees for the business improvement district. Based on my review of the list, the businesses paying fees within the PBIA was incorrect. Meaning, that the City may be missing out on funds it is owed due to the use of an inaccurate list of the businesses that operate within the PBIA.

I highly recommend that the City pay a third party to get a more accurate list of those doing business within the PBIA to ensure that it is collecting all the money it is owed.

WHY DON’T WE INCREASE REVENUE BY INCREASING TOT?

The Council should consider increasing the transient occupancy tax from 12% to 17%. Currently the general fund receives 10% while creeks receive 2%. This tax has not been raised in years and it should be at least 2% for the general fund alone. We should also consider increasing it by another 3% and place this money into an affordable housing fund for the City of Santa Barbara Housing Authority.

Despite any histrionics by hotel owners, an increase in TOT will not drive tourists elsewhere and 17% is not too high. In fact, last year the TOT rates in some cities throughout California were much higher than the City of Santa Barbara’s and all revenue went straight to their general fund unlike ours. (Anaheim (15%), Ojia (15%), Santa Monica (15% for hotels/17%% for STRs), Malibu (15%), Laguna Beach (15%), Culver City, (14%), Los Angeles (14%), and Palo Alto (15.5%).)

I urge the City Council to place this item on the ballot this year and let the people vote on it. – 17% is not an outlandish sum for TOT – It is just right.

CONSIDER OPENING UP STATE STREET TO CARS FOR 6 MONTHS TO 1 YEAR

I believe that the City Council has shot itself, or the Downtown Parking Fund, in the foot by closing State Street to cars. It should not be a surprise that people are not driving downtown to park in the parking structures to shop when it has closed State Street to cars. How many people drove a few blocks on State Street to see the shops before parking? I, for one, was one of those people. Driving down State Street to park in a city parking lot reminded me about the shops on State Street that I might not regularly frequent. Today people can’t do this. I wouldn’t be surprised if closing State Street to cars, the length of the closure, and dangerous e-bikes have caused people to go elsewhere to shop rather than park downtown to shop.

Has the City Council ever considered just closing larger portions of State Street only on the weekends or just over the summer? These might be something to consider if it doesn’t want to fully embrace opening up State Street to cars year-round.

ATTEND THE MEETING OR WRITE TO CITY COUNCIL

If you want to weigh in on this matter you should attend the May 15th 1:00PM meeting in person, write to the City Council (Clerk@SantaBarbaraCA.Gov) or attend the meeting by Zoom. The in-person meeting will be at City Hall. The instructions to attend the meeting by Zoom can be found on the first page of the Agenda.)


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14 Comments

  1. “no mention of any costs are made in the Staff Report. It is curious why these costs are not mentioned. Kiosks are NOT free.”

    Costs are not addressed in the report? What the heck?!?!
    That’s mismanagement. That’s unacceptable.
    How can a decision be made without crucial information? This is maddening.

      • The City of Santa BaBarbara doesn’t allow parking meters. This is why kiosks need to be purchased and used.

        The Circulation Element says: Downtown Public Parking Pricing. Work with stakeholders to develop a
        public on-street parking program that will reduce commuter use of the
        customer parking supply and increase the economic vitality of Downtown.
        Any parking pricing program shall not include the installation of individual
        parking meters.

    • MIKE920 – yep. The City/County, all municipal leadership around here for that matter, knows exactly what their constituents want but they just pretend to care and then do the exact opposite.

      Look at the recent zoning of Glen Annie for 1000 new residential units….

      They don’t give AF what their voters want.

    • Yes, 90 minutes was good. The current 75 minutes is not so good, but tolerable. 60 minutes seems stingy, and not encouraging. I’d like the city to find other ways to raise money. Charging us to park tends to discourage me to go downtown.

  2. Thanks Ms Gott for a thorough review and statement of facts and issues. Whether I concur or not, I appreciate your consistent and thoughtful contributions as a citizen over several years. The CBID needs to form and be a player along with the city and community in building cohesive world class long term plans for downtown. Needs to be done soon. We don’t have a few centuries but more like 5 years and then where things are then will be paradigm and crowded and it will be a lot harder to make changes. Tinkering like this may have significant unintended short term consequences especially when the money can be more justifiably found in TOT increase ($20 a night is not going to discourage an $400 spend and if it’s nicer overall for visitors we will all get more $$) and judicious CUTTING of COSTS (yes I know very unlikely). Those parking lots are golden developable parcels in a well planned urban core. We will actually need MORE PARKING DT SOON when 5,000 more souls are living there. I think the city needs to think out of the box and consider this issue from a longer term business perspective and as part of an overall downtown plan. Partnering with national scale developers to create larger multistory parking lots on some of the parcels and smart mixed use development on others could generate a mountain of cash up front and long term cash flow in well structured partnerships.

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