City officials are considering raising parking fees in Downtown structures like this one, raising the daily rate from $7 to $9. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Parking in Downtown public garages could soon force visitors to dig deeper into their wallets.

The City Council next month is expected to take up the question of whether to increase rates at Structures 1-9 along Second and Fourth streets as per recommendations outlined in a recent study about parking occupancy in private and public facilities.

The suggestion by Walker Parking Consultants is to increase the maximum daily rate for parking from $7 to $9, raise the evening prices for vehicles entering after 6 p.m. from $3 to $5, the monthly permits from $82.50 to $121, and reduce the free two-hour daytime parking to one hour. The consultants will make a presentation about the study to the council at its meeting.

The Bayside District Corp. board of directors recently made a motion to support the increases with the condition that City Hall hire a parking czar who would be dedicated to such issues in Downtown. The board decided not to back the recommendation to reduce one free daytime hour.

Kathleen Rawson, the executive director for Bayside, a public-private management company that helps City Hall manage and promote Downtown, said that the revenue from the rate increases would help pay for the parking czar as well as improving parking and access in the heart of the city.

“We believe that parking is such a major issue for anyone who lives, works or plays in Downtown Santa Monica,” Rawson said. “It’s top of mind for everyone and it has to be handled well and it can’t be in addition to someone else’s other job.”

In the report released late last month, the consultant found that there was a significant number of private and public spaces that remained unoccupied even during peak hours because of substantially under market pricing at the public garages, which left visitors competing for the most conveniently located and cheapest structures.

There are public garages that do remain underutilized, including the Civic Center Garage. The consultant suggested running a shuttle between the garage and the Third Street Promenade.

One of the many recommendations in the 190-page-report to alleviate the parking shortage is to encourage visitors to use all available spaces by bringing the rates for the public garages closer to market value.

“Quite honestly, if we were to compare to our current Downtown private parking lots, the municipal facilities are almost 40 percent cheaper,” Frank Ching, the parking coordinator for City Hall, said.

Officials said they don’t expect the new rates to deter visitors from coming to the Bayside District.

“Generally, in terms of Los Angeles, we have some of the least expensive parking in the region,” Rawson said.

Even with the new rates, the Downtown shopping district would still fall below the prices to park at nearby retail centers on the Westside — $10 for all-day parking at the Beverly Center; and $22 for both Westfield’s Century City and The Grove.

Mayor Ken Genser, who has not yet reviewed the study, agreed that it will be important to better coordinate between the public and private garages.

“There are often shortages of parking within our structures but there are other parking spots nearby and I think we should make the most efficient use of those as possible to best serve the public,” he said.

The consultants said that while the study initially explored raising rates to fund additional spaces, they have concluded the extra revenue is secondary to the money that City Hall and property owners would save if they don’t have to acquire land and build new garages. Instead, they need to better manage what exists.

John Warfel, the vice chair of the Bayside Board, said he was surprised to learn that there is a substantial amount of unused parking in the area.

Bayside officials stressed that hiring a parking coordinator who is dedicated to circulation in Downtown will be key to alleviating the problem.

“In the past there has not been a comprehensive management of circulation and parking,” Warfel said. “The Walker study pointed that out many times in many areas and this is hopefully the beginning of that.”

Hanna Hartnell, who has three monthly permits for Structure 5 on Fourth Street, expressed concerns over the recommendations to increase the rates, specifically as to how it will impact employees. Hartnell, a bridal dress designer who has a shop just a block away from the garage, has had the permits since 1985, using one for herself and two for employees.

“This isn’t just for people shopping, but people that are here anywhere from eight to 14 hours a day,” she said. “They have to park and they can’t afford something like that.”

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