Train commuters unhappy about losing free parking spaces to a new, $2-per-day garage claimed Wednesday that downtown merchants are gaining customer parking at their expense.
Merchants claimed just the opposite.
"For years, the commuters have been taking our parking spaces and walking past our shops," said Mike Darnold, co-chair of the Downtown Merchants Assn.
City resident Robert Ross, who acts as spokesman for a loosely knit group of daily commuters on the well-traveled Amtrak line between San Juan Capistrano and Los Angeles, said that a boycott of downtown shops is being considered.
He said the boycott would be in retaliation for what commuters view as a move by city officials to force them to pay for parking.
"The (merchants) around the train station have been making noise that they need the additional parking when they really don't," said Ross, a six-year commuter. "We figure that if we make an impact on their business, maybe they'll retract their request."
Darnold scoffed at the idea that the train riders, with their 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours, could affect local trade, which he said is largely dependent on tourist dollars.
"I doubt very seriously that these people are our customers in the first place," he said.
Most merchants near the train station and Mission San Juan Capistrano for years have put extra parking high on their wish lists, Darnold said.
Responding to that demand, Community Redevelopment Agency officials made a deal with Franciscan Plaza developer Paul Farber to lease 131 spaces in his multilevel parking structure for commuters, beginning Jan. 2. The $2 fee--the first of its kind for rail commuters in Orange County--is being imposed to offset costs of maintenance and security.
At the same time, the 99 free spaces at the lot at the Capistrano Depot will be limited to three-hour parking.
For those unable or unwilling to pay the $2 fee, free parking will be provided on a dirt lot at the corner of Yorba Street and El Camino Real, about one block from the train station, said Jeff Parker, assistant to the city manager.
"We've had a lot of calls and letters," Parker said, noting that most people complained about how the fee would be charged. A meter accepting eight quarters will be used.
Notices about the change were circulated about two weeks ago and came as a surprise to most commuters, Ross said.
Mayor Gary L. Hausdorfer said the fee ensures that city taxpayers won't be footing the bill for commuters who live in other South Orange County cities and park their cars in San Juan Capistrano.
Commuters interviewed Wednesday varied in their opinions.
"I think it's very reasonable," said Ronald Barr, who for two years has ridden the train to Anaheim. "It would be nice if it was free, but I'd have to support the facility."
Others said it wasn't fair to levy charges on a group of people who already are paying fares of up to $15 per round trip in an effort to reduce freeway traffic and corresponding smog.
"It's one more nail in the Southern California coffin," Ross said. "This should be supported with tourist dollars and people who go to the movies, rather than those who are trying to get cars off the road."