DOWNTOWN — The Exposition Light Rail line. California Incline. Palisades Garden Walk. Civic Auditorium renovations. Santa Monica High School’s new field. A state-of-the-art movie theater on Fourth Street. The demolition of Parking Structure 6.
The amount of construction and displacement that will happen in the Downtown area over the coming months is nothing short of epic, and poses a real threat to the already-tight parking situation.
That situation can only be worsened by the plan to destroy and rebuild Parking Structure 6, which will remove 342 spaces from Downtown.
If that were to dovetail with Parking Structure 3’s eminent demise to make way for the new movie theater project, parking could become a commodity as valuable as gold.
Fortunately, Don Patterson, business and revenue operations manager with City Hall, is a man with a plan.
The interim parking plan, approved by the City Council on March 8, attacks the problem from two sides: supply and demand.
The plan calls for 100 new valet parking spaces at the intersection of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue (1320 Fifth St. to be exact). Estimates indicate that those 100 spaces will service 550 cars in a single day, mostly Downtown visitors that shuffle through regularly.
In addition, Patterson said, city officials are in negotiations with other parking structures to open up spaces that are now marked “reserved” to widen the parking pool.
With those extra spaces, city officials hope to keep the net loss of spaces between 100 and 200, deficits that will be erased when the new Parking Structure 6 comes back online and Parking Structure 3 has become a cinema experience.
Planning Commissioners in particular have boldly stated their desire to reduce parking in Downtown to encourage residents to get out of their cars and take advantage of public transportation.
They’ve particularly targeted surface parking lots which, oddly enough, will not be impacted by this plan.
Instead, the loss of the 342 spaces in Parking Structure 6 will affect the only two groups more or less allowed to drive at will without recrimination: tourists and shoppers.
With that in mind, city officials are trying to first bribe and then force hundreds of month-to-month parkers — usually those that work in Downtown — to leave Parking Structure 5 on Fourth Street, and take up permanent residence in the Civic Center Parking Structure.
That structure lies approximately one-third of a mile away from Parking Structure 5.
To accomplish that goal, Patterson said, the first 200 month-to-month parkers will pay only $60 per month through December 2014 for their parking pass in the Civic Center Lot, compared to $82.50 for the late comers.
Regardless of their timeliness, those parkers will receive a bus pass attached to their parking card that works the same as the Santa Monica College’s “Any Line, Any Time” program, allowing people to travel all Big Blue Buses for free.
They can also use that pass to board a shuttle which will take them from the Civic down Fourth Street, and near to their respective offices.
City officials told parkers that those passes were worth $3,000. One parker, Hannah Hartnell, isn’t convinced it’s worth it.
Hartnell, who owns a design studio on the 1500 block of Fourth Street, has rented three parking spaces in Parking Structure 5 for the last 27 years.
When she asked her employee to try out the new system, the woman went back to the original lot within weeks after her large car got dinged up in what she perceived to be smaller spaces in the Civic Center.
Hartnell, a vivacious 68-year-old, also doesn’t relish the idea of carting large bolts of fabric onto a bus on 5-inch heels.
“It’s a hike over there,” she said. “Especially for someone like myself in and out of the car more than once a day. I’m willing to pay the extra money. Let the visitor park over there and get a free shuttle.”
City Hall might also hit community resistance with a plan to evaluate parking rates throughout Santa Monica.
A similar study conducted on the Downtown parking structures led rates to increase to a maximum of $9 per day, and also made month-to-month more expensive.
That could work, but only if the community is brought into the discussion in a meaningful way, said Gregg Heacock, representative of neighborhood group the Mid-City Neighbors.
“It’s more of a punitive approach,” Heacock said. “It’s not in touch with what it is to be a resident here, and how hard it is to get around. There has to be some sympathy.”
The plan might get takers if it’s approached in a holistic way that shows both the potential rates and a “give” for the community, like free bus passes or something similar.
“When we don’t see the full design, just this and that and the next, we feel penalized. It’s always a trade-off,” Heacock said.
The study has the potential to raise or lower rates. Even if it does recommend to raise them, City Hall may not choose to if it thinks that doing so will hurt businesses by discouraging customers, Patterson said.
The other thing the study will do is look at competing destinations, and come up with a plan that would get Santa Monicans out of thier cars but not discourage visitors by increase parking prices too much, Patterson said.
Like most things, it’s all about balance.