paying up: City Hall's Planning Department is considering a pilot program expanding the use of parking meters on select residential streets near major arteries like this one on 14th Street. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)
paying up: City Hall’s Planning Department is considering a pilot program expanding the use of parking meters on select residential streets near major arteries like this one on 14th Street. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — City officials are looking into a new way to charge for parking, this time in residential neighborhoods near commercial districts where customers, employees and residents fight for spaces.

The proposed pilot program would use some of the 350 new parking meters planned for the city to line streets that branch off of major commercial corridors like Wilshire, Santa Monica or Lincoln boulevards in an attempt to discourage parking in the adjacent neighborhoods.

The idea is an experiment to see if the installation of additional meters down those side streets would prevent people from parking deeper into the neighborhoods, while still exempting those with preferential parking permits, said Don Patterson, assistant director of the finance department.

“Lincoln Boulevard is the biggest example of this,” Patterson said. “The boulevards have meters, and the first two spaces on the side street have meters, then two spaces with the first two hours free.”

The arrangement results in visitors parking in the neighborhoods, which forces residents to park three or four blocks from their homes.

There are still many outstanding questions about the program that would be answered over the course of the pilot period, which would probably last between three and six months, Patterson said.

The meters may just have the effect of pushing visitors deeper into the neighborhoods, shifting the problem down without actually solving it. It would also require the installation of individual meters, which some see as an eyesore.

It would also result in a decrease in street parking because meters would need marked spaces that fit SUVs and Smartcars alike. Officials don’t know if the loss of those spaces would outnumber those that were vacated by visitors and employees, Patterson said.

City Council members first heard about the concept Wednesday night during Planning Director David Martin’s presentation regarding his department’s work for the next two years.

While the idea of freeing up parking for Santa Monicans appealed to the council, they took issue with the idea of hundreds of unsightly meters popping up like weeds in front of houses.

Instead, they favored less obtrusive parking kiosks, preferably “pay and display” models that let people buy a ticket and put it on their dashboard. It would preserve parking on the streets, said Councilmember Ted Winterer.

That method is considerably more expensive — it costs $800 per parking meter and upwards of $20,000 for a multi-space meter — and harder to enforce, Patterson said.

City officials did a test of single versus multi-space meters and found that the former not only worked better, but provided the most reliable data for real-time parking maps.

It also prevents people from having to walk to and from their cars to pay, which they like, Patterson said.

Residents, however, don’t seem completely on board with the idea of a horde of new meters in their neighborhoods.

“They’re too unsightly and intrusive and they might actually encourage more cars to park there,” said John C. Smith, vice president of Mid-City Neighbors.

Instead, existing preferential parking areas, which require a special permit, should have better time limits with better enforcement, Smith said.

“If a customer or employee can only park one or two hours in a spot, they either won’t be there that long, or they will spend too much time moving their car several times a day and end up getting tickets,” Smith said. “It’s one reason I bike to [Santa Monica College]. I don’t have to pay for parking, it’s faster and I always have a spot for my bike.”

Patricia Godon-Tann of the Borderline Neighborhood Group off Lincoln Boulevard couldn’t imagine a place on her street where meters would fit, either.

Officials hope they will be able to find a neighborhood somewhere in the city that will welcome the meters, if only for a short time to test out the idea, Patterson said.

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