For the second time in a year, parking has become more expensive in Santa Monica, and some area residents and merchants are none too happy about it, even though the money may go to create more parking.
"You can go on and on forever about parking in Santa Monica," said City Parking and Traffic Engineer Ron Fuchiwaki. "I've been here almost three years, and I think the level of complaints has stayed about the same. Maybe a little increase."
Maybe those complaining just haven't decided to call City Hall about it. But they certainly are complaining.
"I hate it," said Cinamon Romers, a waitress at Pescados on Santa Monica Boulevard near 4th Street. "I have to run out in the middle of my (night) shift just to feed the meters."
The expanded parking enforcement policy, which began quietly on Aug. 15, requires patrons to feed parking meters until midnight.
Miguel Garcia, a cashier at Santa Monica Stationers on 4th Street, said the new policy is a popular topic of conversation. "I don't like it," he said. "Most everybody that comes in here doesn't like it."
The owners of the upscale restaurant Border Grill have complained because it costs them more to valet park their customers' cars at night in the public lots.
And some residents, such as Ray Armendariz, said that the increase comes too closely on the heels of an increase last year and that overzealous enforcement of meters can discourage people from parking downtown.
"If you go to the movies and spend two or three hours, you come back out and already have a ticket," Armendariz said. "And tickets aren't cheap."
The expanded parking enforcement policy is expected to increase city revenue by $350,000 a year, which will be available to help pay for expansion of public parking.
The extension, approved by the City Council in May, not only affects meters in 3,000 spaces in the city garages, but also all meters on streets downtown, on Main Street north of Ocean Park Boulevard, and Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. Enforcement of metered parking on Main Street south of Ocean Park already lasted until midnight, Fuchiwaki said.
"The purpose of the additional (meter) fees is to maintain existing (parking) structures and create a revenue source to pay for additional parking that will be needed," City Planning Director Paul Berlant said.
"We will need more space," he said. "It's a question of when."
In addition to the extended meter hours, Santa Monica city officials said this week that they will hire a consulting firm to study the city's parking needs, in part in response to an unexpected business boom.
With three new movie houses and booming business in the pedestrian-oriented Third Street Promenade, public parking lots in the area are jampacked, and on-street parking is nearly impossible to find on weekend nights, according to some merchants and residents.
City officials defended the newly extended enforcement hours, saying the change was instituted not only to raise money but also to help alleviate the parking crush. By making it more expensive to park, Berlant and Fuchiwaki said, people will turn over the spaces more often, and maybe even walk instead of drive everywhere, they said.
Dave W. Paradis, executive vice president of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, said parking shortages are acute not just in commercial retail areas, but in industrial and office zones and residential neighborhoods as well.
"There is a tremendous shortfall in some parts of town, and we hear of the problems," Paradis said. Shortages are particularly bad in areas outside of the Promenade, such as on Main Street, Pico Boulevard near Santa Monica Community College, Montana Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, he said.
In many residential areas where parking has become scarce, neighbors are banding together and demanding protection through the establishment of preferential parking zones, according to Paradis and city officials.
Although a study several years ago determined that there was a surplus of parking in Santa Monica, city officials expected that they would have to commission another parking-needs study eventually because of growth.
But city officials say the success of the Promenade, which runs along 3rd Street from Wilshire Boulevard to Broadway, has prompted them to act more quickly than they had anticipated in addressing potential parking needs.
"If things had taken off more slowly, we would have conducted the study several years from now," said Peggy Curran, the city's director of Community and Economic Development. "But in light of the explosion of activity, we are moving forward now."
Curran and other city officials acknowledged receiving some complaints about parking shortages despite a significant expansion to accommodate the Promenade. But officials said the problem is not as bad as some merchants, residents and Paradis say it is.
Berlant acknowledged parking shortages "in some parts of town" but said the Promenade area has had few problems.