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West Hollywood may curb its free street parking

West Hollywood may be the next city to try extending the hours and hiking the price of meters, to keep street parkers moving. The extra money would be nice too.

October 13, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
  • West Hollywood is studying a change in street parking meter hours that would extend paid parking by several hours, like at this meter on Santa Monica Boulevard.
West Hollywood is studying a change in street parking meter hours that would… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

In West Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard has long been the odd street out.

It is the only one where parking meters tick until 2 a.m. Not so on other streets in this 1.9-square-mile city, not even along Santa Monica Boulevard, where metering ends at 6 p.m. So as clubs and restaurants fill up along the storied Sunset Strip that begins in Hollywood, it's a sure bet many of those folks parked for free — even all night — in WeHo.

That could soon change.

Parking meters: In the Oct. 13 LATExtra section, an article about potential changes to West Hollywood parking meter hours misspelled the last name of UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup as Shoupe. —

A plan being drafted by the city's Transportation Commission would extend the hours of more than 2,000 parking meters. City officials say the proposal is in response to the notoriously bad traffic and scarce curbside parking, thanks to being part of one of Los Angeles County's night-life hubs.

"Businesses sometimes think free metered parking is great for them," said Oscar Delgado, director of public works. "But the reality is, a meter that doesn't turn over is hurting the business."

In the current draft, most meters along Santa Monica Boulevard would need to be fed four to eight hours longer each day, beginning early next year. All city meters would charge on Sundays.

This would stop people from nabbing a space and staying there all night, parking operations manager Jackie Rocco said. It also would prevent workers and valet companies from taking curbside spots.

West Hollywood would not be the first to do this, of course. Beverly Hills has extended meter hours to 9 p.m. along its busiest commercial streets. This summer, Santa Monica made a series of changes to hours and rates in beach lots and downtown garages. And in May, Los Angeles launched a one-year experimental program that changes the price of parking spaces depending on how many cars are looking.

Charging later into the evening, or charging more for curb parking, is part of a larger parking philosophy that's begun to take root in Southern California as cities wrestle with rising demand, UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoupe said. Studies have shown that when rates are higher or meters charge later into the night, long-term parkers are more likely to head off in search of a garage, leaving spaces open for short-term parkers to slide in and out more quickly.

All West Hollywood meters cost $1.50 an hour. Meters on Sunset charge eight hours longer than most, netting up to $12 more a day.

The first city to experiment with the idea of encouraging shorter-term street parking? Pasadena. In 1993, in response to complaints of scarce street parking in Old Pasadena, the city installed meters with high hourly rates and built parking garages with lower fees. The profit from the meters paid for street maintenance. The area now boasts spotless sidewalks and easy parking.

"Old Pasadena pulled itself up by its parking meters," Shoupe said.

What Pasadena tried almost 20 years ago has become more popular with the advent of smart meters that accept credit cards and charge different rates at different times, Shoupe said.

The current proposal in West Hollywood has a similar bent: According to the official fiscal year budget, the additional $1 million that the city would net would go toward hiring additional sheriff's deputies, who serve as the city's police, and private security patrols.

About 85% of the meters should be full at any given time, said parking consultant Mott Smith, who's worked on studies of West Hollywood. A higher turnover rate typically decreases the number of cars circling and double-parking, which could reduce the city's traffic congestion by 30%, he said. "If the meters are a good idea, it's not clear why they become a bad idea after 6 o'clock," Shoupe said. "No one wants to pay for parking, including me, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be a principle of public policy."

Opponents of the plan, including Transportation Commission member Scott Schmidt, say the city shouldn't count on a plan that hasn't been approved as a way to bring in revenue. For the 2012-13 fiscal year, the City Council included a predicted $2-million increase in parking revenue: $1 million from the proposed extended hours and $1 million from a meter fee hike in May that raised citywide rates from $1 to $1.50 an hour.

Charging later at every meter would also create a parking desert on the east side of the pistol-shaped city, where the average income is lower and there are fewer city-owned garages, Schmidt said.

The city waited to begin the planning process for extending metered parking until officials were certain there was enough off-street parking, Delgado said. Currently, West Hollywood owns nearly 1,000 off-street parking spaces and estimates there are close to 15,000 spaces total, including those owned by private companies.

Businesses have voiced concerns, however, to the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Chief Executive Genevieve Morrill said. She sent out a survey last week, asking businesses whether they would support the change in parking hours — and if so, whether their employees would need special parking permits or somewhere else to park.

The survey touches on other key questions: Whether parking should be free on Sundays and whether implementing the new hours over a two-month period would give businesses enough time to adjust.

"We've heard from Sunset Strip that it does help with turnover in front of businesses," Morrill said. "But until we know more about employee parking, we can't take a position."

The Transportation Commission hopes the City Council will have the proposal in hand by November.

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