Minor price revisions are coming to Downtown parking lots in the near-term but drivers could experience a radically different parking landscape in the coming years as City Hall prepares to potentially overhaul the entire downtown system.

Staff approached the Planning Commission this week with a set of minor revisions for most Downtown lots and a more substantive change to the Civic Center lot.

At structures 1 through 9 and the Ken Edwards Center, the free time would remain 90 minutes. The next hour would increase by 25 cents to $1.25, each additional 30 minutes would increase from $1.50 to $1.88 and the daily maximum would increase to $17.50.

All access monthly rates would increase by $16 to $176, weekday only rates would increase by $12 to $132 and weekend/weeknights would increase by $7.50 to $82.50.

In Parking Structure 10 and Downtown Lots 27-30 each 30 minutes will increase by 25 cents to $1.25 and the daily maximum will increase to $17.50. The monthly weekday rate will increase by $12 to $132 with weeknight/weekend rates increasing by $7.50 to $82.50.

The free period at the Civic would increase from 30 to 90 minutes. Additional time would increase from $1 an hour to $1 for the first hour and $1.50 for every additional 30 minutes. The daily maximum would increase from $5 to $14. Staff is considering a $3 evening flat rate (from 5:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.) and maintaining the $5 daily maximum on weekends. Monthly passes would increase from $65 to $160 and weeknight/weekends would increase from $50 to $75.

The commission quickly formed consensus on the immediate projects. They were generally in favor of increasing the rates citywide, moving the Civic to the same price point as other lots with a phased approach, keeping free time at the Civic lot to 30 minutes and modifying the monthly keycard program.

A representative from the school district opposed any changes to pricing at the Civic lot, saying Santa Monica High School purchased many monthly passes at the Civic lot for use by staff displaced by construction. In response to his concern, the Commission asked staff to minimize the impacts to the school district.

Several commissioners questioned if park and ride would become a problem and said adopting polity to preempt a problem, without any sign that problem will emerge, might be premature.

“This park an ride problem may be really severe or it may be non existent, and we kind of almost have to try the experiment to see so I don’t’ think we need to design a parking rate structure to solve the park and ride problem is it turns out to be quite minor or virtually nonexistent,” said Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi.

However, given the opportunity to address parking, the commission quickly began pitching a multitude of ideas and concepts beyond those on the table.

Vice Chair Amy Anderson said the entire concept of free parking should be eliminated because Downtown is an international draw. “There’s no lack of demand for people to come so I’m just going to take this opportunity to say that I think it’s one of the most ridiculous things imaginable to say that people are not required to pay for parking in Downtown Santa Monica,” she said.

Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy floated the idea of congestion pricing as part of a comprehensive parking plan.

“This all works together like a puzzle piece so we could explore congestion pricing including the foreseeable consequences but the benefits too,” she said.

Chair Richard McKinnon said the city needed to consider variable or dynamic pricing that could change with demand.

“The ability of us to charge different prices and use technology must certainly be a key factor in controlling what people are doing on the roads,” he said. “That’s what parking is, it enables people to drive. And if there’s one thing that in our city, the residents are concerned about it’s the amount of traffic and congestion in downtown.”

Commission Jason Parry questioned the philosophical purpose of prices.

“We want the downtown to be very accessible to Santa Monica residents,” he said. “That gets me thinking is pricing the tool for reducing trips in our case or is pricing a tool for guiding what type of user parks where in the downtown? And that leads me to the question, when we’re thinking about the 85 percent utilization goal, what net effect would that have on trips?”

Throughout the meeting, Salvador Valles, Assistant director of Planning and Community Development, said his office had presented a fairly narrow request because there is a pressing need to bring the Civic lot in line with the rest of the city by the time Expo opens on May 20. However, he said staff is working on a significant parking study to take place over the next year with the goal of returning in the winter of 2017 with a broader and more significant revision to parking rates and policies citywide.

He said Council will hear the limited discussion on May 10 of this year and his staff is going to engage in a significant outreach campaign to discuss some of the other topics. In addition to various stakeholder and public meetings he said there would be a series of follow-up workshops with the Planning Commission on some of the specific parking topics.

editor@www.smdp.com

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...