CITY HALL — Being a senior citizen has its perks — reduced prices on movie tickets, cheaper coffee at McDonald’s and a claim to choice seats on public buses.

Add to that a lesser-known benefit: parking in Santa Monica.

Finding a place to put your motor vehicle in the city by the sea can be pricey, especially near the beach, but it’s a lot easier on the over-65 crowd who have been receiving steep discounts from City Hall for decades.

Seniors who live anywhere in California ¬ó yes, anywhere in the state ¬ó can purchase a year-round parking pass for the beach parking lots for a measly $2.20, roughly 18 percent of the summer rate accepted by the City Council for the central beach lot on Tuesday.

It’s a long-standing practice, and one that’s well known within the senior community, said Don Patterson, assistant director of the Finance Department at City Hall.

Maybe, but it was a shock to most of the people listening to a conversation about increased parking rates at a City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

“It surprised everyone except the parking people,” said City Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who qualifies for the discount but didn’t realize he could take advantage of it.

If the word’s out, Santa Monica has a large population of abstemious seniors.

According to the 2010 census data, there are 13,416 people aged 65 and older in Santa Monica, and 4,246,514 statewide, all of whom technically qualify for the beach parking discount.

City Hall has issued only 3,000 passes for the current year, Patterson told council members.

If the deal sounds sweet, it’s actually a downgrade from what City Hall offered just two years ago when the same fee would buy you a lifetime parking pass for the beach lots.

“If this gets out, 100,000 people will buy them, and that’s great,” Holbrook said. By his reasoning, most people who buy the pass will come to Santa Monica only once in awhile, meaning a flood of income and relatively low usage.

While it sounds good on paper, it actually wouldn’t pencil out, Patterson said.

“It doesn’t even cover the cost of the sticker,” Patterson said.

If requests start pouring in for the passes, the Finance Department may have to reexamine the amount it charges if only to keep from running further into the red, he said.


Free parking for Emeritus students

Under the new parking plan, Santa Monica seniors would also get a break when they visit Santa Monica College’s Emeritus College on Second Street.

While the amount of free parking in the Downtown parking structure is set to drop from two hours to 90 minutes, the City Council gave the Finance Department the go-ahead to negotiate with the college to install a validation machine that would get seniors a full two hours free when they take a class.

It’s important for the college’s elderly clientele, said Ron Furuyama, an associate dean at SMC.

“Our program really helps with all aspects of students’ health and well-being,” Furuyama said. “We are trying to make sure the city considers how Emeritus provides for the well-being of program participants.”

Seniors benefit from activity, both mental and physical. A lack of either can negatively impact their health, and result in isolation in their homes. If parking costs are a barrier to seniors getting out of their homes, it can negatively impact the quality of an elderly person’s life, wrote Grace Cheng Braun, president and CEO of WISE & Healthy Aging, a nonprofit that helps seniors in Santa Monica, in an e-mail.

“It’s the isolation that so often creates other problems that otherwise can be prevented,” Cheng Braun said.

City Hall has acknowledged that fact, and the parking rates are part of a citywide policy to help seniors stay healthy and active.

“So many of our seniors are struggling with limited financial means,” Cheng Braun wrote. “It’s great when the city recognizes the special needs of our seniors.”

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