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Time Is About to Expire on Free Parking in Seal Beach Business District

The cash-strapped city will install meters on downtown streets. The move is expected to raise $500,000 a year from shoppers and diners.

February 15, 2004|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Seal Beach is losing its distinction as the last of Orange County's coastal communities to offer free downtown parking.

The installation of 303 parking meters along a three-block stretch of Main Street and on Ocean, Central and Electric avenues has been cleared by the California Coastal Commission and by a 3-2 vote of the City Council.

Together, the meters are expected to generate about $500,000 a year for the cash-strapped city.

Installation is expected to be completed by May, said Mac Cummins, an associate planner for the city. "We're trying to do everything we can do to make this as easy as possible for the residents," he said.

However, some residents said the meters will do more harm than good.

"I don't know how people make the rent as it is," said Bob Wood, a resident. "You see people going out of business all the time," and the meters will only "drive customers away."

Seal Beach has resisted on-street metered parking over the years, with an exception in the 1960s when meters were placed on Main Street to help pay for a city employee parking lot at 8th Street and Central Avenue. The meters were removed after five years, as planned.

Since then, diagonal parking on Main Street -- lined with independently owned gift shops, ice cream parlors, a bookstore, drugstore and old-time cinema -- has been free.

However, there are 80 metered spaces in city parking lots on Main Street.

Merchants, residents and city officials have long debated the effect meters might have on the city of 24,000, but in the end the city's finances swayed a council majority to install the meters.

They will cost 50 cents an hour, with a two-hour limit. Meters will be in effect 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Seal Beach residents cay pay with coins or prepaid cards. Nonresidents must use only coins.

"People want the small town, but who's going to pay for it?" said Mayor Patty Campbell, who voted for the meters. "Personally, I don't like parking meters, but it's a revenue issue. We're treading water."

The Coastal Commission had delayed the installation by requiring a more up-to-date report on the city's parking situation in its 2003 application than the one from 1996 that was submitted.

The commission, which weighed in on parking meters because it affects coastal access, approved the meters in January.

Councilman Paul Yost opposed the meters and said he hopes the fixtures won't be permanent: "We've had them in the past and they've been removed in the past, and they could be removed again."

"There's an election coming up," said Yost, an anesthesiologist, "and one of the yes votes [supporting the meters] is a contested race." He was referring to the seat now held by Campbell, an instructor of accounting and business math at El Camino College, who will be forced to leave office in November because of term limits.

Yost said the meters bring Seal Beach one step closer to losing the small-town charm that attracted him and many others.

"If I wanted to live in Laguna or Newport or Belmont Shore or other metered beach towns, I would have moved there," Yost said. "But I love Seal Beach the way it is and I'll fight to keep it that way."

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