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Santa Barbara Trying to Curb '75-Minute Shuffle'

Parking: Officials come up with ways to deal with shortage. Workers are now forced to constantly move their cars.

January 27, 2002|ANICA BUTLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They drive to downtown Santa Barbara each morning--the unlucky ones parking their cars on the street. Just 75 minutes later they emerge from offices and stores, get in their cars and circle the streets in search of another spot, reparking, then returning to work. They will repeat the ritual throughout the workday.

They call the phenomenon ''the 75-minute shuffle.'' Most street-side parking in downtown Santa Barbara is limited to just that time, forcing workers into a daily contest with tourists and shoppers.

Downtown has a shortage of about 1,800 spaces, officials say. They planned it that way, the better to preserve the town's hacienda-by-the-sea ambience by limiting parking lots and, hopefully, traffic.

''We in Santa Barbara believe it's not a good idea to pave paradise,'' said George Gerth, the city's manager of downtown parking.

But attempting to preserve Santa Barbara's charm has created the daily parking and traffic shuffle, a situation city officials say they also cannot abide.

The solution? The city has devised incentives to persuade single drivers to leave their cars at home.

The city offers free bus passes to downtown workers and a $100 rebate for vanpool riders; it also subsidizes the vanpool service. But the most novel innovation is cash prizes--a drawing for $200 a day for drivers who leave their cars at home and walk, bike, carpool or skateboard to downtown.

Sixty-two downtown businesses have signed up to participate in the ''Try Something New'' program, said Mindy Norris, program administrator with Traffic Solutions, the agency administering the contest.

Commuters will participate by keeping a daily log of how they get to work. At the end of each month, the logs will be turned over to Traffic Solutions. For each day that a worker uses an alternate mode of transportation, his or her name will be entered into a drawing.

The prize will be awarded in the form of a credit card with a prepaid $200 limit, usable anywhere.

The program begins with its first drawing in early February and will continue until July. The city will pay out a total of $25,000 in prizes, money that will come from fees businesses and individuals pay to park in city-owned lots, said Victor Garza, superintendent of parking and transportation management programs.

Garza blames increasing development for exacerbating the parking shortfall.

''There are more shops and businesses downtown,'' he said. ''Downtown Santa Barbara is a nice place to go, and people keep coming.''

Merchants agree.

''Sales have been going up over the past six years, and that's a good barometer that there are more tourists,'' said Kate Schwab, general manager of Borders Books & Music on State Street. ''That's great, but where are they going to park?''

Schwab, a member of the Downtown Parking Committee, said the promotion sounded both useful and fun.

''I thought my staff would be crazy about the $200-a-day drawing,'' she said, adding that even though many of her 60 employees already bike or ride the bus to work, there are some who probably haven't really considered the alternatives available.

Downtown parking manager Gerth said the city is adding 300 spaces by turning a surface lot on Anacapa Street near the county courthouse into a structure.

But the city's principal approach will still be to encourage more downtown employees to get out of their cars and leave parking spaces for others.

''We'll address the rest of the demand through alternative transportation methods,'' Gerth said. ''Employees use a parking spot for eight hours. Or five shoppers can use the space that one employee used. We get much better turnover when shoppers use the space.''

But getting workers to leave their cars home may not prove as easy as throwing cash their way.

Jackie Manley is the human resources manager for downtown law firm Hatch & Parent, which has signed up for the ''Try Something New'' program. Manley said she doesn't think the $200 prize will be much of an incentive for employees to change their single-driver ways.

''The first thing on people's minds is their convenience,'' she said.

Pedro Nava, an attorney on State Street, concurred. There are many days when he needs his car to conduct business away from the office, he said.

That leaves him on the street, searching for spaces, especially by noon, when all of the spaces in the city-owned lots are filled.

''I have a wristwatch with a timer,'' Nava explained. ''I have to set it to go off every 65 minutes.''

''You know those people who want [fewer spaces] by design,'' he complained. ''I bet those people have spots.''

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