San Luis Obispo is attempting to put a stop to benevolent meter-feeding during the holiday season. A loosely knit group of insurgent storeowners banded together to ensure that their customers would not get parking tickets, but the city says it wonâ€™t allow it. The group, calling itself Dimes for Downtown, feeds change into downtown parking meters while customers leisurely stroll the streets and shops, said one business owner who didnâ€™t want his name to be used.
â€œThe last thing we want to see happen is people spending money downtown going back to their cars and getting tickets,â€? he said. â€œLetâ€™s not let our clients get discouraged.â€?
Dimes for Downtown hopes its efforts will bring more customers downtown and away from shopping centers that have free parking. The business owner who spoke to the New Times said he hoped other local business owners would monitor the parking spaces in front of their stores.
â€œItâ€™s been very well received so far â€” a lot of good Christmas cheer,â€? he said.
Group members were using red Santa hats to identify themselves as they walked the streets with satchels of change. Now, fearing reprisal from parking-enforcement officials, they are resorting to more clandestine measures, said the business owner. The nickel fairies are using walkie-talkies to coordinate their efforts and avoid run-ins with the law.
The group said it consulted a lawyer before plunking silver into SLO parking meters, but now, after a prickly letter from SLO City Attorney Jonathon Lowell, the change fairies may be banned.
As long you donâ€™t extend oneâ€™s parking time past the two-hour limit, itâ€™s legal, said the anonymous business owner. But Lowell said that only the operator of a vehicle can legally put money in the meter, when he parks the car. The two-hour time limit must be respected in order to keep cars moving. This allows other customers to shop downtown, said Lowell.
According to city code 10.52.060, it is â€œUnlawful to increase or extend parking time. No person shall follow the operational procedure or any part of the operational procedure for the purpose of increasing or extending the parking time of any vehicle beyond the legal parking time which has been established for the parking space adjacent to which the parking meter is placed.â€?
â€œOperational procedureâ€? is legal speak for putting change into a meter, said Lowell.
The city projects that it will get $3.6 million from parking meter revenues in 2005, said Bill Statler, city finance director. Change from parking meters makes up $1.2 million while parking fines provide about $763,000 a year.
Downtown businesses can purchase tokens from the city to give to customers. A hundred one-hour tokens cost $40.
â€œWe know that weâ€™ve saved thousands of dollars in tickets so far,â€? said the business owner.