MAIN STREET — Small business owners have enough to worry about these days thanks to rising rents and a still-struggling economy. The last thing they need to fret about is their deliveries.
But they have been a source of frustration for some along Main Street who have seen their delivery truck drivers ticketed in recent weeks for parking illegally, something they say they must do because of a lack of proper loading zones. The insufficient number has drivers parking in the red or in center left-turn lanes, something that concerns Santa Monica police officers because the large trucks block visibility.
“It’s really tight over there,” said Derek Chasin of Chasin Produce, which has clients along Main Street. “If they did put in more loading zones it would be really nice for me. I don’t want my guys to be in the middle of the street, either. Guys aren’t just parking there for the hell of it. They have nowhere else to go.”
City officials have heard the complaints and are working to rectify the problem. Sam Morrissey, City Hall’s lead traffic engineer, told the Daily Press that plans are in the works to add 20 commercial loading zones, increasing the number to 30 along Main Street. City officials have in the last year added roughly 40 of those zones in Downtown to address demand.
The effort comes after city officials sent a warning letter in August and July of last year to businesses informing them of the parking restrictions, including bans on parking in red zones or in front of a curb ramp, and within crosswalks. The letter also warned drivers who use parking meters to make sure to pay or risk getting a ticket.
“We [sent the letter] with the intent to initiate conversations with merchants to see where we need more loading zones,” Morrissey said. “We’ve added more zones, primarily in Downtown, but we’ve been working since last summer with Main Street.”
And therein lies the problem for some business owners, said Gary Gordon, executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association. Merchants can’t understand why it has taken so long to get the loading zones added.
“These little things make a big difference in the lives of businesses,” Gordon said. “There’s really no legal places for [delivery drivers] to park.”
Morrissey admits it has been a “relatively long process,” but that’s because there are many different uses on the street and various requirements. Some businesses need parking earlier in the mornings for customers, while others prefer to have deliveries later in the day, such as restaurants and bars.
Morrissey went from parking meter to parking meter from the southern city limits to Pico Boulevard with Gordon to speak with merchants about their needs. It became more complicated when new taxi zones were added.
“I think we’ve gotten past that now,” Morrissey said. “We’ve ordered a bunch of new signs for the meters and side streets and we are going to add many commercial loading zones. We’re hoping to have the signs in the next couple of weeks.
“We don’t want to stomp on businesses. As much as we can accommodate their needs, we try to.”
Morrissey said there is a balance that needs to be struck. But in the end it all comes down to safety.
Santa Monica Police Lt. Jay Trisler, who manages the Traffic Enforcement Unit, said officers do have discretion when it comes to issuing tickets. Many write drivers up because the illegal activity is egregious and dangerous to pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. The biggest concern is obstructing views.
“If people complain, we address those issues,” Trisler said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Montana Avenue, Wilshire, Santa Monica or Main Street. We enforce the rules equally throughout the city.”
That’s not the case, Gordon said. He’s heard from business owners who said enforcement is spotty. Sometimes tickets are issued and other times they are not, creating a lack of consistency.
Chasin echoed that.
“We never get ticketed by parking enforcement,” he said. “But we’ve gotten several from police officers. So it’s luck of the draw. … We have to figure something out.”