CITY HALL ¬ó Stock up on quarters and check your credit card balances ¬ó parking rates are officially going up in Santa Monica.

The City Council approved an array of changes to parking rates throughout the city on Tuesday night, in most cases raising the amount that it will cost people to park in beach and business districts.

According to the staff report, the changes are expected to raise an additional $3.5 million in parking revenues each year.

City officials use parking rates to encourage residents and visitors to park farther away from Downtown and other popular areas by charging more than they do for lots and structures just a few blocks away.

They hope that the new pricing structure will cause people to look beyond the crowded Downtown lots and structures to those nearby that don’t see the traffic, said Don Patterson, the assistant director of the Finance Department.

“We’re using pricing to incentivize long-term parkers to use parking that is two to three blocks away from the Downtown that are underutilized,” Patterson said.

One of the most obvious examples of this is the planned increase to the rates in Downtown structures while cutting the daily maximum in the Civic Center structure and Main Library lot in half to move parkers farther away from the Downtown core.

Officials will decrease free parking in the Downtown structures from two hours to 90 minutes and up the rates charged from $1 for every half hour to $3 for each hour.

That could effectively increase the amount for the first hour by between $1 and $2, depending when the parker entered and exited the structure.

Structures will also have a daily max of $14, a $5 increase from what parkers pay today. It would also eliminate the $5 flat rate after 6 p.m.

To compensate for the increases, rates at the Civic Center Structure near the exit from Interstate 10 on Fourth Street and those at the Main Library structure would be slashed to a $5 daily maximum.

Long-term parking at the beach lots will also see $1 and $2 increases to the current charges during the summer season. Rates will actually drop by a dollar on winter weekdays.

Short-term parkers will either rely on the free 90 minutes in the structures or parking meters, which will also see increases.

This represents the first time that parking meter rates have increased since 2003, Patterson said.

Parking meters in Downtown and near the beach would go from $1 per hour to $2, while all others in the city would increase to $1 per hour. Many now cost only 75 cents.

Changes on Main

In fact, with the exception of parking meters, the Main Street business district is the only place in the city where parking rates will remain only $1 per hour.

That comes with its own set of challenges for the district, because beach-goers park there and walk to the water to take advantage of the lower rates, said Gary Gordon, president of the Main Street Business Improvement Association.

Gordon polled people parking in the district about where they were going and if they had any intention to eat or shop on Main Street. Most were just aiming to go to the beach, he said.

The decision to increase the cost of parking at the southern beach lot detracted from Gordon’s big win of the night, a $7 decrease in the cost of a monthly parking pass at the beach lot for Main Street employees.

Employee parking is a critical issue on Main Street because it saps spaces that could be used by people who want to spend money in the district. If they don’t park in the district, they offend neighbors in the residential areas by taking up free street parking there.

Gordon has been pushing for free parking for employees in the beach lot for a decade, but staff was only willing to give a $27 per month pass until City Councilmember Bob Holbrook stepped in and introduced an amendment to make it $20 per month.

While that was a win for employees, it may be a wash for the district, Gordon said.

“What we might gain in freeing up those parking spaces, we could lose to beach-goers,” he said.

The changes approved Tuesday night have veered significantly from a draft proposal that was circulated around various community groups and organizations in June, and staff and council members alike stressed that the council’s vote was not the final word on parking in Santa Monica.

New censored meters are delivering real-time parking information every day that will allow city officials to determine an appropriate rate for each section of town. New increases or decreases may be forthcoming as more data is collected.

“While this is an important first step, this is a first step,” said Councilmember Terry O’Day. “It’s adaptive, and we’re not going to get everything right on the first try.”

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