Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 2:58 am | Fair 56º


Local News

Council Gives Green Light to Downtown Parking Proposal

But the issue will be open for protest until it's heard again on May 25

Some of the biggest business users of parking in downtown Santa Barbara could see increases in the fees they pay to help subsidize free parking, according to a proposal the Santa Barbara City Council addressed Tuesday.

Businesses in the city’s Parking and Business Improvement Area pay to help keep parking free for the first 75 minutes, but how the bill is divided among them was the subject of the staff report.

Council members, with the exception of Michael Self, approved the report, but the issue will be open for protest until it’s heard again at the May 25 council meeting.

Making the parking fee system more equitable has been in the works for years. In 2006, the Downtown Parking Committee authorized engineering company Penfield & Smith to look at the fees paid and to see if there were ways to make the fee structure more equitable among businesses.

The businesses in the PBIA contribute about 20 cents per ticket toward the maintenance costs for free parking, and revenue generated amounted to $840,000 last year, or 12 percent of the parking budget.

Businesses specifically mentioned for increases are movie theaters, and changes for health clubs, financial institutions and hotels and motels also are mentioned.

There would be no changes in the retail and restaurant category, according to Browning Allen, the city’s transportation manager, but Metropolitan Theatres Corp. would see an increase that amounts to about $13,000 in parking fees per year.

Allen said the city had received a letter of protest from an MTC offiicial, who said the increase would triple its costs, but who added that the company could compromise and would agree to double the costs.

The Granada and the Lobero Theatre aren’t included in the changes, but the parking committee recommended that nonprofit performing arts theaters be charged a 20-cent rate for 50 percent of the seats in the theater per performance. That change won’t be proposed until next year, however, to allow the theaters to include the rate in booking fees.

If the city knows, for example, that The Granada is having a larger event, it would charge event parking to help people leave the garage quickly.

During the week, city lots are open until 9 p.m. and don’t close until 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, but people entering the lots after they close can take advantage of the free parking.

If the cars are still there before staff leave for the night, they may get a night envelope on their windshields and have to pay.

“But if they park after our staff has left, they won’t pay,” Allen said.

The Canary Hotel is also among those that would see increases, because it doesn’t have enough independent parking and uses the city’s lot, and one letter of protest had been sent from the hotel, as well as from a bank.

Despite media reports that the free parking was supposedly up for grabs and that the city was looking for new revenue, Allen refuted both claims.

“If council doesn’t approve this, we’ll have an $840,000 hole in the budget,” Allen said, adding that adjustment to the free period is not something that’s being discussed at this time. “If we were going to do that, we would probably spend a year discussing it with the public. We know the free period is a very touchy subject in our downtown.”

The city will see an increase in revenues, nearly $20,000, but it will be small change when compared with the city’s larger fiscal woes.

Increases for the Canary raised concerns with Self.

“We can tell by (transient occupancy tax), that these hotels are not full and that they are hurting,” she said. “It’s hurting our budget, and you can imagine how it’s affecting theirs.”

She also said money could be saved if the city parking lot kiosks were automated instead of having hourly employees run them. About $1.6 million goes to pay for the hourly wages of about 100 kiosk operators, out of a $6.7 million budget for the lots.

Automating those lots, or installing a “pay on foot” system, has been discussed, and Browning said the city is still exploring that option.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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