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Paso council votes against staff recommendation on parking program

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Paso Robles City Council members met for nearly three hours over the weekend to decide whether to increase the cost of parking downtown so the program would stop losing money. The verdict? Things will stay the same—at least for now.

Julie Dixon, a parking consultant hired by the city, and Paso's Downtown Parking Advisory Commission both recommended removing the two-hour free parking period, changing the hourly rate to $2, and adding 30-minute short-term parking spaces at the end of each block.

PARK AND SHOP Paso Robles City Council decided to stick with its current parking program at an April 9 special meeting. People parking in the maroon areas will continue to get two hours free and then pay $1 an hour after that. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF PASO ROBLES
  • Photo Courtesy Of City Of Paso Robles
  • PARK AND SHOP Paso Robles City Council decided to stick with its current parking program at an April 9 special meeting. People parking in the maroon areas will continue to get two hours free and then pay $1 an hour after that.

Against staff recommendations, the council voted 3-2 to keep the parking program as it is: Two hours of free curbside parking in the downtown core, and then $1 an hour after that. The council also directed staff to explore options for funding a parking structure, and to revisit the decision in six months.

Dixon said in her presentation that on certain days and times, downtown parking is often full or close to it, making it difficult for residents and visitors alike to patronize local businesses. She said increasing parking costs would not only help manage this issue, but also help the city's parking program to become cost neutral.

"We need to definitely do something to mitigate the curbside," Dixon said.

As it stands, the program is losing money every year—not to mention the nearly $750,000 loan the city gave the program to get it started, which hasn't yet been repaid.

But Mayor Steve Martin sees it differently.

"I would suggest that this loan is actually an investment in municipal services," Martin said. "We invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in other services, and we don't call it a loan. I think we need to look at this as an investment in this program, which in the long term will pay off in more profitable businesses and a more profitable city."

The council also heard from members of the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission, which recommended the parking increase.

But owner of Park Cinemas and now-former parking Commissioner John Roush was concerned about how an increase in parking costs would affect his business. The theater is currently allowed by the city to validate its customers' parking for up to three hours so patrons can watch a film without paying for parking.

"I must request this parking committee recommend and the City Council agrees to an assurance guarantee that the theater will continue to get the three hours of free parking," Roush said during the discussion portion of the weekend meeting. "Without this guarantee, we need to reconsider investing any further funds in the theater. ... It's very possible the theater may then go away, and you will never get another theater in Paso Robles."

As he was giving his comment, Paso City Attorney Elizabeth Hull suddenly asked to take a five-minute break. When the meeting returned, she explained why.

"It became apparent during Mr. Roush's comments that the impact of the parking is unique to his business, which could have a direct financial effect on him," Hull said. "I felt it was appropriate to take a brief recess and raise that issue so as not to result in a violation of the Political Reform Act."

Mayor Martin requested that Roush step down from the Parking Advisory Commission, and Roush agreed to do so. Martin apologized for what he called an "awkward and embarrassing" situation.

Councilmembers John Hamon and Steve Gregory both opined that changing parking rates was necessary so the program would stop losing money.

"There's one way to do this where we get pretty close to revenue-neutral and not change the parking rate, and that is just drop down to one free hour and $1 an hour afterwards," Gregory said. "... I think it's a cleaner and better way to go, and it shows in earnest that we're trying to financially deal with the future of our parking issues in Paso."

Ultimately, the council majority disagreed, deciding to stick with the status quo and keep the parking program as it is. The council will return to the issue in six months. Δ

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