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Cars drive in and out of Parking Structure 4 on Second Street Tuesday afternoon. City officials are exploring creating a validation program for shoppers and allowing downtown workers to park in structures off Second and Fourth streets as part of a rate hike. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Parking in public garages is expected to come at a higher cost soon, but shoppers hoping to stay longer hours without paying significantly more money might be able to do so with a new ticket validation system.

It’s one of several changes that city officials are exploring as they develop a new parking rate plan for the City Hall-owned structures in Downtown, which will likely include higher daily maximum and monthly fees.

A working group led by Don Patterson, the business and revenues operations manager, and Sam Morrissey, principal transportation engineer, has been reviewing a recent study by Walker Parking Consultants that recommended rate hikes at the public garages as a way to alleviate the parking problem in Downtown by better distributing the occupancy of spaces.

After hearing a presentation by the consultant, the City Council in September directed its staff to develop a plan of action to institute some of the suggestions from the study, including raising the maximum daily rate from $7 to $9, the flat evening rate from $3 to $5, the monthly parking permits from $82.50 to $121 and reducing the existing two hours of free parking in Structures 1-6 and 9 to only one, charging $1 for the second hour.

The working group’s plan would look at the cost to effect the changes, including staff and equipment-related expenses. A presentation could be made to the council in January. The group will also work with a new parking implementation committee created by the Bayside District Corp., a public/private management company that oversees Downtown.

“We are looking at basically using parking pricing so that parking resources can be most effectively managed,” Patterson said.

The result could be a plan that makes recommendations that are slightly different from the Walker Parking Consultant study, though Patterson said he expects the rates to be fairly similar.

One of the more controversial suggestions from the study was to reduce the hours of free parking by 50 percent. During the council meeting in September, a Walker consultant said the current policy has allowed employees to park in structures for free, moving their cars every two hours and causing congestion.

“Any busy area where you have two-hour parking on the street you will see the employee shuffle, the two hour dance where every two hours people move their cars in order to take advantage of that convenience,” Stephen Turoff of Walker Parking Consultant said at the time.

The recommendation has drawn criticism most recently from the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition (Wilmont), which sent a letter of opposition to the City Council on Monday, arguing that lowering the free parking would make it difficult for residents to patronize promenade businesses.

In the letter, the organization’s President Jeanne Dodson suggests that city officials create a policy to address the problem of employees misusing the two-hour limit.

There’s also the concern of how the change will impact businesses, especially gyms.

“You can’t go in and take a class now and get out,” she said. “You have to pay every time.”

City officials are looking at tweaking the Walker recommendation, including possibly adding a parking validation system. In addressing the concerns of the lack of employee parking, Patterson said the group is also considering making the city garages in the periphery of Downtown, such as the Santa Monica Public Library, available to workers.

There’s also been some concern on how the rate changes would impact the local churches, including Saint Augustine by the Sea on Fourth Street.

Saint Augustine is located across from Parking Structure 1, which is frequently used by church-goers who visit in the evening for various activities, including choir rehearsal and the women’s fellowship.

The issue for the church concerns raising the evening flat rate from $3 to $5. An Alcoholics Anonymous group also meets at the church.

“There is a psychological barrier,” Rev. Hartshorn Murphy said. “One thing is people are used to the $3.

“When it goes to the $5 jump, our concern is people will say they can’t be bothered.”

Rates in Downtown were last adjusted in 1997. Even with the new rates, the Downtown shopping district would still fall below prices to park at nearby retail centers on the Westside — $22 maximum for Westfield in Century City and $24 at The Grove, according to the study.

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