Santa Cruz Good Times

Feb 12th
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Pay to Park

news1 parkingHow free parking garages became a thing of the past in Downtown Santa Cruz

When retail manager Megan Hunter arrives in Downtown Santa Cruz for a shift, she drives past the city’s pay-to-park garages and lots, skirts the crowded, smaller free lots, and heads straight for her covert spot.

"I have a secret parking spot,” says Hunter, who works at clothing store Sway. “It's actually in a lot for a certain job, but I park there anyway. Paying for parking is a pain, and it's frustrating. It's like I'm paying to go to work."

Hunter shared her story in response to questions about recent changes at the River Street parking garage. The first floor of the facility was converted from free to paid parking beginning July 15, when rates were matched with those of all other municipal parking garages.

The parking rates are now a minimum of $1 for the first two hours and then $1 per hour with a maximum of $5 per day. The cost of monthly parking permits at the River Street garage also increased—from $16 to $31 per month—to match the other garages. 

Twelve of the city’s 20 downtown lots and garages are still free, comprising of 450 of the city’s 2,250 total parking spaces north of Laurel Street. Prior to the River Street conversion, there were 900 free parking spots, says City Manager Martin Bernal. Downtown workers buy an average of 1,500 parking permits each month, with some areas having a waiting list for permits. However, the top two floors were mostly empty at River Street garage, says Marlin Granlund, City of Santa Cruz parking programs manager. 

"The model we were using with that garage just wasn't working," Granlund says. "We also wanted to make our parking garages consistent with the cost of each other."

All four garages have been converted over time, starting with the Locust Garage in 1996, the Soquel/Front Garage in 2000, the Cedar/Church Garage in 2010 and, now, the River Street garage in July. Additionally, two lots were converted in the last three years. When asked why the city has gradually moved from free to paid parking, Granlund says the shift stems from January 2008 recommendations from the Cedar/Cathcart Financing Task Force, a group created in 2006 to study a potential five-story parking garage. The project was put on hold due to the economic downturn that started in 2008, when Granlund says many developers and businesses canceled plans for projects that were expected to require additional parking.  

The 2002 Master Transportation Study, created by the city and UC Santa Cruz to evaluate local transportation needs, is also cited for influencing the change. According to the MTS, “the ultimate goal of the study [was] to news1-2As of July, all four public parking garages in Downtown Santa Cruz have been converted from free to paid parking.develop a set of paid parking recommendations that, if implemented along with other MTS policies, would encourage the use of transit and other alternative modes of transportation." It concluded with many suggestions, including the reduction of public parking downtown.

Granlund explains that the shift means they collect less revenue from parking tickets—which are paid to the city’s general fund—and more from parking fees, which stay within the parking department. After the city converted the Cedar/Church garage and Cedar/Cathcart lot from free to paid parking in 2010, the city’s revenues from parking tickets decreased from $42,080 in Fiscal Year 2010 to $31,407 in Fiscal Year 2013. The department saw a rise in income from parking fees, however, over the past three years from $931,000 in 2010 to $1.4 million in 2013. Granlund says this money helps pay for public restrooms, parking maintenance, security and more.

In the last five years, he says $137,305 was spent on security cameras, $242,441 on restrooms, $142,092 on lighting upgrades, $292,175 on painting projects and $75,000 on a sidewalk scrubber. However, he says the price tags of these projects did not influence the conversions to paid parking.

"We are constantly trying to improve and maintain our parking garages, and revenue from parking user fees and other related fees from businesses pay for these improvements," he says.

Downtown businesses pitch in to the department each year, as well: Parking Deficiency Fees paid by these businesses totaled $794,504 last year. The city itself is not required to pay this, despite having around two dozen free parking spaces around City Hall that some complain are filled by city workers early each weekday morning.

Regardless, Granlund says there are currently no plans to convert further areas to paid parking because he says the current downtown supply and demand is balanced overall.

"In some areas we have a surplus but in other areas we have a major deficit, as in the southern portion of the parking district," Granlund says.

He says demand could easily change if additional merchants fill existing vacancies. If further conversions are needed, they will require input from the city council. The council has supported such changes for four public parking areas since 2010, when it was decided that money from the parking department’s budget—an enterprise fund—would pay for an additional police officer to patrol the downtown area.

“There was a general fund deficit that was going to reduce the number of police officers in downtown," says Granlund, adding that the Cedar/Cathcart lot was converted in order to pay for an additional officer, as well as new security cameras, and to help cover costs of the city’s sidewalk scrubber program.

However, he says conversions to paid parking were never influenced by increases in crime.

"Security and safety was one factor, but not from any recent—or past—spike in break-ins [in parking lots and garages]," he says.

Some people see the conversions as a positive change that can guide commuters to consider alternative forms of transportation. A growing movement by people concerned about the environment would prefer to see people using public transportation or using bicycles to commute, and making parking less affordable works as an incentive in their eyes.

"The more we encourage people to use alternative types of transportation, the better," says Amelia Conlen, director of People Power, a group that advocates for sustainable transportation options.

Conlen says going from free to paid parking prioritizes parking for tourists and shoppers, and encourages daily commuters to consider biking and busing for their commute. But not everyone agrees.

"I just think it's ridiculous," says Santa Cruz resident Les Gripkey, who is not in favor of these conversions. "We have downtown [merchants] complaining about business and then the city takes away free parking?"

During the 2010 conversions, Gripkey responded by creating a web page to help people voice their opinions about parking in Santa Cruz.

"I was surprised that there doesn't seem to be much reaction from the businesses now," Gripkey says, referencing the most recent change at the River Street garage. "Converting free parking to paid parking is one more barrier to shopping in Downtown Santa Cruz."

At least one business owner is trying to see a silver lining.

"We don't want customers to go away, but if this supports safe and secure parking, then I am in favor for it," says Casey Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz. "As a Santa Cruz native, we've come to expect free parking—we're kind of spoiled. Visitors and tourists are usually impressed with how cheap our parking is compared to other cities."

Bonny Doon resident Felicia Menten also sees the parking situation in downtown as an improvement over what’s to be found in other locales.

"Out of every parking garage I've ever parked in [in other cities], this is the cheapest," she tells GT while feeding the River Street garage pay station.

Menten says she drives downtown about twice a week, often to visit the farmers’ market. She says she parked at the same garage when it was free and will continue to park there now that she pays for it.

"I don't have the time to drive around in circles looking for free parking,” she says. “It's just easier to park here.” 

Comments (13)Add Comment
maybe Santa Cruz doesn't want my business
written by sad citizen, September 16, 2013
I own a business in Capitola. I want to expand. I've been a Santa Cruz resident for > 40 years. I want to shop locally and deliver locally as well. My SC business would bring 6 jobs into SC. The cost to starting a business in SC will be $5200 (administrative fee, license, downtown association fees, parking deficiency fees) and then $3200 every year thereafter parking deficiency fees- that is, until the rates go up). Over a 10 year period I can make $32,000 more staying away form SC than opening up a business here. How sad.
Ludicrous III
written by Don Honda, September 07, 2013
All I see is this move favoring students (free mass transit for them), the downtown transients, People Power denizens, and those who choose to live there. Not anyone else, especially business. Perhaps, this is what are civic leaders want.

Bye, bye downtown Santa Cruz. Hello Capitola, Monterey, Carmel, Los Gatos. You're more pleasant to spend money in anyway.
written by Calamagrostis, September 06, 2013
Watsonville, Aptos and Capitola have very nice theaters with lots of free parking. Watsonville and Capitola also have independent bookstores with lots of free parking. There are plenty of places throughout the county where you can get excellent food, good drinks, and listen to live music and park for free. Downtown is not the center of our community, it is a tourist trap.
Ludicrous II
written by Don Honda, September 06, 2013
Along with the social engineering guiding us towards Agenda 21, this is a zero sum game where businesses and prosperity will be hurt. We are already in alignment with the State's mandate for reducing carbon footprint since Cemex closed. The proposed 30% CAP is ludicrous and is pie-in-the sky hippie dreaming.
written by Don Honda, September 06, 2013
I'm sorry, but I find this article ludicrous. We cannot compare Santa Cruz to a much larger municipality in comparing parking problems and cost of. Downtown Santa Cruz wouldn't match the size of a neighborhood in San Francisco. I've talked to a few downtown business owners, and they hate how the city arm-twists their schemes while hurting business. People will not start riding bikes and buses to come shop here, esp. families. It is much easier and cheaper to go to areas nearby with ample free parking, with much more varied merchandise selection, and cheaper prices.
As ye sow, so shall ye reap
written by Jim Jones, September 05, 2013
Limits on gov't taxation from Prop 13 have necessitated "pay for service" gov't services; there isn't the money to maintain the garages from taxes, so soak the users of the service. Government becomes a business, and the rich and the poor pay the same, with the rich not feeling it and the poor doing without. Five dollars a day won't dissuade a well-off person from parking downtown; only the poor ones. Only they have to be "good."

But your property taxes are 1/3 what a new homeowner would pay, so what do you care? Slurp down another slice of artisan pizza and kick back in Paradise.
Once often occasional
written by Ted of Scott's valley, September 04, 2013
Used to drive down a couple days per once or less...why....cost of meters and tickets....$38 ticket....I have choices where to park.
I read the city has done studies on this Uncle, a retired Mayor of a similar town, studied this issue and determined meters were a detriment for shoppers and workers. As a result the city removed meters and revenues from increased sales tax more than made up difference. Fringe benefit was moral of underpaid employees. Santa Cruz has this upside down.
written by Bobby, September 04, 2013
I now choose not to go downtown if I cannot find a free space. I live over by Natural Bridges, and I do not want to take a walk downtown just to purchase something. If want to take a walk, I will walk along West Cliff. I now will go somewhere else to do any shopping, or eating out, instead of going downtown. This includes coffee, movies, etc. It's already too expensive here, and I will not be nickle and dimed, just to enjoy downtown.
spoiled brats
written by goodguy, September 04, 2013
people complaining about having to pay for parking - er, where does one get money to maintain said parking - eh?

spoiled brats complaining about (very cheap) paid parking

go drain some other municipality's budget
It's simple extortion.
written by digitalsawdust, September 04, 2013
As a result of the attempted extortion by the city, I have stopped coming to downtown Santa Cruz and spending my money there. I refuse to pay for the privilege of spending money when there are perfectly fine alternatives where I can PARK FOR FREE. I no longer buy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and many of the other shops, and no longer go to movies in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is shooting itself in the food in its greed.
This is just wrong.
written by Hodgie, September 04, 2013
I understand the need to make money but what about us weekday employees struggling with the cost of living here already. The Money Hungry City SC has gone too far eliminating parking spaces downtown. For three years i have parked my motorcycle in a corner of lot 3 that was approved by my employer, the beat cop, the meter maid AND the postman who uses the relay boxes near it, all said no problem. One day recently I roll up and a huge NO PARKING was painted there - I am traumatized, Not only is this sign visual pollution now i have to take up a car spot and pay $5/day.
another reason to avoid santa cruz.
written by mjw, September 04, 2013
I used to park in that garage to go to Bookstore Santa Cruz. Now, I'll order from the internet. Given the congestion and unsavory interactions with crazy people I avoid Santa Cruz downtown as much as possible.
Foock Santa Cruz
written by maddog, September 04, 2013
I hate Santa Cruz, I use to like it around 1985 or so, now its just a place for rich asholes and idiot university kids who don't know their head from their asses. I avoid Santa Cruz at all costs.

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