In response to a chronic dearth of public parking spaces near the Third Street Promenade, City Hall commissioned a study to see if there was a need for additional public parking spaces in Downtown. The results were surprising. The study determined that there is plenty of parking within the city limits to deal with the volume of vehicles. The problem is that much of it is not close to the promenade.

This has prompted the City Council to consider ways to help correct the situation.

At the moment city planners are in the process of devising an implementation plan based on the study’s findings. The plan should be in front of the council and ready for consideration early next year.

The basic thrust of the plan will be to increase the fees at the major parking facilities Downtown, and to encourage the use of underutilized parking facilities further away from the promenade. They plan to do this by lowering the fees at the outlying facilities, and by improving bus service from these more distant lots.

The city planners hope to address several problems with these changes. 

First, they intend to avoid the extremely high costs of building additional parking capacity in Downtown.

Second, by making the more distant parking facilities more attractive (cheaper) to park in, they hope to ease the chronic traffic congestion by lessening the number of cars that drive into Downtown. By lowering the number of cars trawling the streets in search of non-existent parking spaces, lowered vehicle emissions in the city center and reduced fuel consumption will be added peripheral benefits of the new policy.

Third, they hope to increase the use of several under-utilized parking facilities around the city. This will make these existing structures more cost-effective and, through the higher fees and, presumably, higher turnover, to increase municipal revenues.

Finally, by making more parking available to shoppers, they hope to invigorate retail business. This increased business activity will boost sales tax revenues.

There is, of course, opposition to these proposals. Some merchants see a potential loss of customers if the access to their stores becomes more expensive or less convenient. They want a shopper-friendly parking system and an increase of parking capacity near their places of business.

Opposition also comes from people who work Downtown, and want to park for free during the day. Because the public facilities Downtown have a “first -two-hours-free” fee structure, there is no incentive for people to park in more distant parking lots and hoof-it to the commercial areas. The study actually discovered that a substantial number of people take advantage of the “first-two-hours-free” policy. It seems they move their cars out of the garage every two hours, then drive right back in, getting another two free hours.

This practice is certainly against the spirit of the policy, and, more perniciously, it takes spaces that were designed for patrons of the local retail stores and adds to the general congestion that so often bottlenecks Downtown. But it seems these people don’t want to have to park far away and walk or ride a bus to get to their work. They want to park close to their work, and not have to pay for it.

I’m a transplanted New Yorker living in Santa Monica. In Manhattan parking is a major consideration. If you own and/or operate a car in New York you play by the rules — or you pay. And playing by the rules costs money too. Parking in any sort of facility is quite expensive, and the meters can be as high as a quarter for 6 minutes. God forbid your meter runs out. A small army of brown uniformed ticket-writers patrols the streets 24/7 issuing tickets for expired meters and unjustified street parking. So, if you get caught or if you try to outwit the system, you end up with a $100 ticket. If you don’t pay the tickets on time, your car will end up with a big yellow boot or at a tow-yard in Hell’s Kitchen or a not so great section of the South Bronx.

The higher fees at the Santa Monica public parking facilities are a good idea. In fact, I think it’s a great idea, especially if the city planners can devise a system that encourages people to park further away and walk or ride mass transit. I would suggest that this aspect of the plan is the key to making the program truly successful.

Santa Monica is striving to be a “green” city — a model of sustainability and forward-thinking design. The parking situation provides an excellent opportunity to implement a program that will integrate a “green” solution to a practical problem.

Santa Monica is one of the few areas of Southern California where a person doesn’t have to drive everywhere. The weather’s almost always great and it’s a rare day that I can’t walk to pick-up groceries, stroll down the promenade to see a movie, or just mosey along Palisades Park and watch the spectacular light show as the sun slowly sinks beneath the horizon.

The health benefits of walking are obvious and undisputed. The city should encourage the activity. Walking exercises the heart, lungs, and all major muscle groups. It rarely results in injury. It’s an excellent way to burn off calories and take off weight.

Walking is also a pleasant activity. It provides an opportunity for personal meditation or conversation with friends or family. And while there are many people who can’t walk long distances, there are many more who can. If you spend and hour at the promenade it’s obvious that there are many people who could benefit from a short walk now and then.

City Hall should ensure that the support and encouragement “green” transportation (walking, bicycle riding, etc.) within the city gets due consideration in the implementation plan. And the citizens of Santa Monica should embrace these small changes and help make Santa Monica a little greener place to live and start to speak with their feet.

A.F. Cronin is a local writer and can be reached at tcronin1257@hotmail.com.

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