Those who drive into the heart of Downtown Santa Monica this summer will still be able to park for free for the first 90 minutes, but if they choose to stay longer to shop, dine or run errands they will be asked to pay slightly more after the City Council approved an increase to parking rates in downtown structures.
The current daily maximum rate of $17.50 will be raised July 1 to $20 on weekdays and $25 on weekends, rates that are on par with other private shopping centers in Los Angeles, but above public parking facilities operated by neighboring cities such as Culver City, Long Beach and Pasadena.
The strategy behind the rate increase is to make sure more parking spaces are available at all times by better distributing demand, while continuing to encourage downtown visitors to use other modes of transportation, whether they be Big Blue Bus, Expo Light Rail, Breeze Bike Share of car-sharing services.
The hope is that by offering cheaper rates outside of the downtown core, those who do continue to drive to visit the Third Street Promenade or other areas in downtown will choose to park farther out and free up spaces in the structures on Second and Fourth streets. That should improve traffic flow and make the whole process of visiting downtown less frustrating.
"Using rates to manage demand has been in place in private lots since their beginning, and it is becoming the norm in public lots, whereas 20 years ago it wasn't," said Juan Matute, associate director of the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies. Matute also serves on the Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. Board of Directors. "Having different rates at different lots, with lower rates at those that are less popular, is the way to go about it.
Matute believes more efficient management of existing parking, coupled with investment in alternative forms of transportation and wayfinding signage instead of building more parking facilities is what the future holds for Santa Monica.
In adjusting the parking rates, the city's goal was to make sure that at least 15 percent of the downtown parking supply is open at all times. To accomplish this, the city is moving monthly parkers to structures with more availability, as well as encouraging people to take alternative modes of transit.
Following suggestions by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. and business owners within the district, the Council also voted to continue offering drivers 90 minutes of free parking. DTSM, Inc. felt strongly that preserving the 90-minute grace period was important given the struggles of retailers on the Third Street Promenade. It is an amenity that regular, loyal customers and residents have become accustomed to. Many other downtowns and private shopping centers offer some level of free parking, some as much as two hours while others as little as 30 minutes.
In addition, DTSM, Inc. is advocating for a program that would reduce the cost of parking for Santa Monica residents.
DTSM, Inc. also stressed the need to reinvest money generated from parking operations back into the parking structures and to fund programs to help with access and circulation throughout the downtown.
Another program DTSM, Inc. is actively pursuing, with support from the city, is a centralized valet program to reduce congestion as people circle blocks looking for parking.
The DTSM, Inc. board supported the modest increase in parking rates as a means to better manage parking, which is a scarce resource.
Along with the new parking rates, the council decided to extend a downtown employee parking discount validation program for one year, providing a benefit for lower-wage workers in the retail and restaurant industries who play a vital role in the success of the local economy.
The new rates for Parking Structures 1-8 and the Ken Edwards Center are as follows:
• First 90 minutes free
• Next 30 minutes $2
• Next one hour $1.50 each 30 minutes
• Next one hour $2 each 30 minutes
• Next one hour $2.50 each 30 minutes
• Next one hour $3 each 30 minutes
• Daily maximum $20 on weekdays, $25 on weekends.
Those who use the structures to go to religious services or perhaps hit the gym on a Sunday will still be able to park for free from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Drivers get a break if they use Parking Structure 9 or 10 off Wilshire Boulevard. The daily maximum is $17 on a weekday and $20 on weekends. Over at the Main Library parking jumps to $14 on weekdays, but remains $5 on weekends. It's still the most affordable parking option for visitors if they plan to spend the day in downtown.
Monthly parking permits will also be slightly more expensive, with rates going up for both weekday and weekend-only permits.
City staff will be required to report back to the council annually, but will also have the capability to make adjustments more frequently if the council decides to go that route.
City staff developed the new rates using a formula that incorporated current and historical data on parking occupancy, as well as information gleaned from a study of private and public parking facilities throughout the county.