The Bayside District Corp. is backing a City Hall scheme to raise parking rates, Downtown. I guess the recession is over. Business must be booming if we’re talking about increasing parking rates around the Third Street Promenade.

Bayside’s board of directors recently recommended that City Council approve a parking plan that provides free parking for the first two hours (as is the present policy), then $5 an hour thereafter from the present $3. Maximum daily rates would go from $7 to $9 and monthly passes (purchased primarily by employees) would soar from the current $82.50 to $121 per month, including tax. Bayside is a city-affiliated entity whose mission is to market and promote the downtown business/commercial area.

The new rates were recommended by Richard Raskin, a city-hired parking consultant from Walker Parking Consultants who says the cost to park downtown is “undervalued.” Kathleen Rawson, BDC’s executive director told the Daily Press (Aug. 4, Page 1), "We have some of the least expensive parking in the region.” Really?

The Promenade at the Howard Hughes Center, home of the Bridge Cinemas, provides 30 minutes free, $1 for the first hour and $2 for hours one through four with an $8 daily maximum. Westfield Century City provides three hours free self-parking and up to five hours for $3 with an AMC Theaters validation to a $21 maximum. The Sherman Oaks Galleria provides two hours free with validation, and four hours with an ArcLight Cinemas validation. The Grove is more pricey with only the first hour free and hours one through three costing $3 up to $24 maximum. At the Westside Pavilion, parking is free as is the Marina Villa Marketplace in Marina del Rey.

If city bureaucrats, Bayside’s directors and their consultants think that Santa Monica’s parking is too cheap, they’re not living in the real world. And, get this — they don’t expect the higher rates to deter visitors from coming to the Bayside District!

Increased parking cost is only one issue. Add the still unaddressed problems that continue to detract from a positive experience such as unattractive alleys reeking of garbage and the Third Street Promenade’s and parking garages’ distinctive urine odor — conditions that haven’t changed in years. Downtown parking garages, that were supposed to provide free parking as a condition of the bonds sold to finance their construction are antiquated, inconvenient and frustrating to use.

Many street performers are just annoying. We still have the panhandlers, screamers and bag persons who monopolize benches for hours on end. A decade ago, traffic lanes were removed for the ill-conceived “transit mall," now traffic backs up past Ninth Street during peak periods. It’s all the same misdirected thinking that predicted visitors — daters and families with kids — would ride buses to and from Downtown.

One of the things I learned when working for Six Flags and Anheuser Busch (Busch Gardens) was that the less inviting an attraction is, the fewer people will go there and the less income the attraction will generate. The best shopping environments and family attractions minimize negatives and maximize positives — a simple fact of life that folks in City Hall and with Bayside seem to continually ignore. And, the more problems are ignored, the more many of us will go somewhere else. It’s that simple.

Compare Downtown Santa Monica with surrounding privately owned malls or even public neighborhoods such as Main Street, Montana Avenue, Marina del Rey, Westwood or Culver City, which is becoming the new, hot spot for trendy eateries and shops. I am (and a lot of my friends are, too) spending more time and money away from Downtown, on streets like Pico Boulevard where prices are lower, shopkeepers are friendly, access is easy and there’s plenty of free parking nearby.

The 10 things I look for when going out: (1) clean, attractive, inviting environment with good ambience, (2) no hassles, (3) no traffic problems — easy come and go (4) convenient parking without worrying about overtime fees, (5) good price-value ratio, (6) good retail/entertainment mix, (7) seems safe because there’s no psychotic or antisocial behavior on display, (8) doesn’t feel like a tourist trap or a high school pep rally, (9) no slinkiness and (10) something new, different and exciting. I’m seeing less of these qualities Downtown, these days.

Sometime next month, City Council will review the parking increases and recommendations for hiring a “parking czar” to better manage Downtown parking. A “parking czar?" I’m still waiting for them to hire a “odor control czar.”

There’s the rub. In Santa Monica, we just raise prices and put more people on the payroll. Meanwhile, the rest of us are heading to Culver City for El Rincon Criollo’s great Cuban food.

LASTLY<p>

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When not struck in gridlock or getting parking tickets, Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.