An attempt by the City of Santa Monica to help parkgoers has rankled a particular segment of the local population: parkgoers.

Ahead of the opening of the Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica, the City installed pay-to-park stations with 3-hour limits at two parks near the light-rail line.

City officials said the $1-per-hour meters were put in place to prevent Metro riders from leaving their cars in the park lots all day and taking up spaces that are intended for park users.

But local residents are upset that they’re now forced to pay for spaces that were previously free to account for a transit system that they don’t necessarily intend to use.

The pay-to-park stations launched at Memorial and Stewart Street parks in mid-February to prepare for the Expo Line extension, which opened to passengers Friday.

Memorial Park, which is located south of Colorado Avenue between 14th and 16th streets, has 63 parking spaces and is easily accessible from the 17th Street/Santa Monica College light-rail station.

Stewart Street Park, west of its title road between Olympic Boulevard and Interstate 10, has 32 parking spots and is walking distance from the 26th Street/Bergamot station.

“We want these spots to maintain their status as parking specifically for the parks,” City spokeswoman Constance Farrell said. “Putting in the meters with a 3-hour limit makes it less likely that someone will use them for the Metro.”

Farrell said the meters were installed to help the City achieve its goal of protecting parking spaces for people in the community who are regular parkgoers.

“Having the meters makes it more enforceable and even less likely that folks who are driving there to use the Expo Line will take up those spots,” she said. “That was the intention. It wasn’t to limit park users or to make it more difficult. … Having the meters increases the likelihood that it’s just the park users in those spots.”

Residents who frequent the parks, though, are feeling the squeeze. In a Facebook group for Santa Monicans that has more than 11,400 members, posts about the new pay stations have generated hundreds of comments, many of them critical of the City’s approach.

One user said that while she understands the thinking behind the new system, its effects are still negative. Several people noted that park visits sometimes last longer than 3 hours, particularly for youth sporting events that include pre-game activities and post-game gatherings.

“It’s not like you can bike a whole car of kids over there for a game,” one commenter said. “Santa Monica is becoming a very unfriendly city to its residents.”

The parks in question have had parking time limits for years, according to Farrell. Some residents believe the City should enforce the existing time limits by chalking tires and issuing tickets to violators rather than asking parkgoers to pay for parking.

Phil Brock, chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission, said it might be time to consider a resident parking card with privileges.

“The failure to establish park-and-ride lots in Santa Monica was a critical mistake,” he said. “The City must find a better method to help parkgoers access our parks without charging them for parking.”

Parking remains an issue around town as the City ramps up its $500,000 marketing campaign to promote alternative transportation.

Farrell said the City has no plans to add pay-to-park stations at other parks in Santa Monica. She added that both affected parks have bike racks and Breeze bikeshare hubs nearby.

“Santa Monica has made significant investments in last-mile connections and access to regional options,” she said. “We want people to try these options. Try a bike. Jump on a Big Blue Bus. Walk to your destination. Use ride-share. That’s a goal of GoSaMo: to eliminate the hassle of parking.”

jeff@www.smdp.com