SM BEACH — Eco-friendly Santa Monica isn’t the first place where you’d expect to find a hotbed of vocal opposition to Proposition 21, the state ballot initiative that would charge California vehicle owners an extra $18 in registration fees in order to shore up a $500 million annual revenue stream for park upkeep and maintenance.

Yet some voters here are raising concerns about the initiative, which, if passed on Tuesday, would pose significant operational challenges at Santa Monica’s state-owned beaches, City Hall officials say.

That’s because in exchange for the higher registration fee, the initiative would give all state vehicle owners free parking at state parks, including Santa Monica Beach, where City Hall would become responsible for managing 5,000 newly-free parking spaces.

Santa Monica currently manages the beach parking lots and charges drivers a daily entry fee, raising roughly $7 million per year for the beach fund.

After discussing the potential passage of Prop. 21 with representatives of the State Department of Parks and Recreation in recent days, Barbara Stinchfield, Santa Monica’s director of Community and Cultural Services, said City Hall still believes the initiative could make things difficult for Santa Monica.

There’s still, she said, uncertainty about when and how Prop. 21 would be implemented should it pass.

While the initiative would take effect Jan. 1, she said it’s not clear exactly when Santa Monica would be required to shift to free beach parking. It’s also unclear how much money the city would receive to operate the beaches, though Stinchfield said parks like Santa Monica Beach that charge for parking would get priority for reimbursement from the state.

“There’s really no more clarity than there was a couple of months ago,” she said, though she noted “real openness on the part of the state parks staff to work with us.”

The biggest concern about Prop. 21, which is backed by a number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, she said, is how to keep people from using the free spaces during non-beach visits and how the sudden availability of 5,000 free parking spaces near Downtown would impact parking revenue in City Hall-owned structures.

Don Patterson, who oversees Santa Monica parking operations, said the passage of the initiative would require significant revision to City Hall’s parking strategy.

“The parking dynamics are going to be significantly different” should Prop. 21 pass, he said. “And people are going to make choices based on price and convenience.”

There’s no official estimate of how many people who come to Santa Monica to work, shop or see a movie would choose to park at beach lots in an attempt to avoid the $9 maximum fee charged at most Downtown structures.

But, according to Patterson, it’s clear that if Prop. 21 wins voters’ approval, “It’s going to be harder to manage the parking resources as a complete system.”

nickt@www.smdp.com

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