By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After nearly two hours discussing the city’s parking problems Tuesday, the Santa Rosa City Council seemed no closer to zeroing in on just what the problem is, let alone how to solve it.
The study session was supposed to get the council up to speed on the long and often contentious history of parking policies in the city before it considers a controversial proposal to allow the Santa Rosa Plaza mall to charge for parking.
But after a presentation by four staffers, a 700-page report on the subject, and receiving comments from several residents, the council seemed hard pressed to say what its next steps should be.
“What is the big issue right now that we need to address and how do we go about that?” Mayor Ernesto Olivares asked Cheryl Woodward, the city’s deputy director of parking, at the end of the session.
After the meeting, Woodward said she would “reflect on the council’s comments” to figure out what sort of options to offer the council.
Woodward began her presentation by explaining that the city’s parking district was formed in the 1950s to finance the construction of shared parking facilities. Today, The city has 4,700 public spaces in five parking garages and 10 surface lots. Bonds to pay for two garages will be paid off in 2015, after which the district will run solely on revenue from parking fees.
Downtown employees have complained about the likely loss of free parking in the mall. Woodward said they qualify for parking permits as low as $30 a month and for $15 monthly bus passes.
Olivares said for some reason, whenever a parking issue comes up in the community “we hear about, and we hear about it loudly.”
“When you go through the slides it seems to make sense, and yet we have a parking problem, whatever it is,” Olivares said.
Council members’ remarks were all over the map. Susan Gorin asked what prevents the city from implementing “much cheaper parking fees” at the underutilized lots in the city. Woodward warned that some experiments in so-called “progressive parking” policies that change rates according to demand have not gone well.
Such policies introduced in Redwood City “have not been well received by the community,” she said, noting that the city subsidizes that program by $1 million per year.
Councilman Jake Ours liked the idea of building a new parking structure on Third Street and selling the aging garage nearby for development.
Scott Bartley said garage usage seemed down to him, and Woodward said he was right. There used to be waiting lists for garage permits, but no longer, a drop in demand she attributed to higher unemployment.
When the economy picks up again, however, Woodward said she would expect demand to return.
“Should there be any significant development in the downtown … there would have to be some additional parking constructed,” she said.
Gary Wysocky wanted to know how to get his hands on some of the $10 million in parking reserves for other downtown projects (Answer: not without changing city code). John Sawyer wondered whether garage roofs could be used for special events (Answer: They can and are).
And Marsha vas Dupre inquired how the city’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals intersect with the parking debate.