WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa may spend $172K to bring back parking meters


Four years after ripping out hundreds of parking meters downtown, Santa Rosa is considering putting them back in, this time with high-tech versions meant to be more user-friendly than the much-maligned pay stations.

The move is in response to downtown merchants who say customers overwhelmingly prefer modern single-space meters, which accept credit and debit cards, to the city’s current multi-space kiosks, which spit out paper tickets drivers must place on their dashboards.

Downtown business owner Bernie Schwartz, whose survey was signed by more than 2,000 people, said there remains “significant dissatisfaction” with the current parking system.

Valerie Domenichelli, right, of Santa Rosa uses a parking meter kiosk on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa on Wednesday. Officials with the city are considering, with pressure from downtown businesses, whether to put in individual meters and forego the kiosk system. (Kent Porter / PD)

Valerie Domenichelli, right, of Santa Rosa uses a parking meter kiosk on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa on Wednesday. Officials with the city are considering, with pressure from downtown businesses, whether to put in individual meters and forego the kiosk system. (Kent Porter / PD)

“Our visitors and workers deserve the best possible parking experience, as do our current and future downtown residents,” said Schwartz, owner of California Luggage on Fourth Street.

The City Council will consider the issue on Tuesday. They’ll be asked whether to seek bids for the purchase of about 215 single-space “smart” meters, which accept credit and debit cards and can be programmed to charge different parking rates based on demand.

Mayor Scott Bartley said he’s in favor of investing in the new meters, even though the existing kiosks haven’t reached the end of their seven to 10-year life cycles. Downtown parking is a sensitive issue, and Bartley said he was pleased to see merchants stepping forward with a solution.

“We’re being responsive to people that have to deal with it intimately on a daily basis, and I think that’s a good thing,” Bartley said.

After a small pilot project in 2008, the city began replacing many of its 1,500 aging coin-operated meters with walk-up kiosks in 2009. The new system for the first time gave drivers the option of paying either by coin or card, considered a significant convenience in an age when fewer and fewer people carry cash.

Another advantage was that drivers who didn’t use all their time could take it with them. City leaders also said eliminating the rows of parking meters would declutter the downtown sidewalks and reduce the parking district’s operating costs because the larger kiosks wouldn’t need to be emptied of coins as often.

While many drivers adapted to the system, others bemoaned the change. Some were confused or annoyed by the need to find the kiosks, pay for time, and return to place the receipt on their dashboard. The disabled or merely lazy complained about the extra steps involved, even though the kiosks were rarely more than a few yards away. Some drivers reported getting $25 citations while trying to pay for parking.

Schwartz said the city worked hard to improve signage and help people get accustomed to the new system, but the steady stream of complaints from his customers persists.

Kim Nadeau, the head of the city’s parking division, said the multi-space meters were the right way to go at the time, but technology has advanced since then in much the same way cellular technology has changed.

It’s now possible to have all the functionality of the kiosks in a single-space meter without the need for slips of paper.

“In many instances customers find that it’s more convenient to have a meter right there at the space and have expressed that it’s a more intuitive experience for them,” Nadeau said.

Only about 30 of the 85 kiosks would be removed, and only those that are on the streets. They cost $7,150 each at the time. Those in parking lots, where they generate fewer complaints, will remain in place, Nadeau said. Many of the 30 units will be reinstalled in parking lots that don’t yet have them.

About 215 new single space meters costing about $500 each would be needed to cover Third, Fourth and Fifth streets between B and E streets. When the cost of new housings, poles and installation are considered, Nadeau estimates it will cost the district about $172,000 in total.

That money is already in the parking district budget for the next phase of the kiosk rollout, she said. The approximately $4 million in parking fee revenue per year funds the operations of the district. Ticket revenue funds the enforcement personnel while bonds financing the five parking garages are funded by property assessments, she explained.

The new units will be more expensive to operate, in part because each requires a monthly fee of $5.75 plus credit card transaction fees that typically run about 13 cents per swipe. That works out to about $20,000 more in operating expenses per year, though the actual figures won’t be known until the bids are submitted, she said.

Nadeau’s predecessor, Cheryl Woodward, had long argued that the city should seek to get the full return on its investment in the kiosks before entertaining new technologies. She retired last year.

“It’ll just be interesting to see where the decision ends up going,” Nadeau said. “There really are pros and cons to both.”

One of the exciting things about the proposal is that the new meters will allow the council to finally pursue demand-based parking principles that change prices based on demand, Bartley said.

For example rates could be $2 per hour during the evening dinner rush and 25-cents per hour on weekends or off-hours. The last time the city explored the idea, it “landed with a thud,” Bartley said.

But the new meters could make experimenting with such principles easier, he said.

“The technology in these meters will open the opportunities to do all these other things we’ve been talking about,” Bartley said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater)

24 Responses to “Santa Rosa may spend $172K to bring back parking meters”

  1. Nate Myers says:

    I wonder why the large and numerous parking garages are always under utilized. It seems like they are never full but they are in great locations for parking downtown. Maybe if they were based on demand (the price lowered until they got full on a regular basis) or if they were just a public services (free) then more folks would use them and park/shop downtown.
    I also like Mockingbird’s idea. Additionally, Improving the bus system might encourage more people to use it and save the environment while supporting local shops downtown. Also, no I wouldn’t mind if Mr Bartley raised the tax I pay to help fund that improved system or the free parking garages.

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  2. Mr. Obvious says:

    I don’t care what kind of parking meters Santa Rosa has. I AVOID downtown Santa Rosa anyway. I don’t need the hassle pay-to-park in order to go shopping.

    Recently we had an expensive piece of furniture picked out in a “neighboring” County. On our way to drive down and order it, we decided to swing by the furniture store in town on 5th — just to see if there was something we might like as much and save us the long drive across the bay.

    There was a parking spot right across the street from the furniture store. But when we got out of the car and while confronting the parking meter we asked ourselves; Do we really want screw around the the hassle of even 50 cents or a buck just to “look around”?

    50 cents for just a “look” was too much for us. We were content to burn a tank plus bridge toll to go get what we already knew we wanted. So we hoped back in the car and headed south.

    In the end, both Santa Rosa and SMART missed out on some potential tax money to waste. So at least in that regard it was a win-win. But it was not such a good thing for Pedersons. Even though they probably didn’t have what we wanted to buy that day, if we had been less discouraged from walking across the street to “look” we might have seen something else we liked.

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  3. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    The capitalistic demand pricing is the trend, but I wonder when capitalistic demand pricing will work its way into other businesses, like restaurants. Wouldn’t they make more money if they charged more when demand is high? Then the city could increase business taxes to pay for the more expensive meters. Good old capitalism.

    Maybe the Petaluma model of just enforcing time limits would be best. Everyone gets the same amount of time for free. Good old socialism.

    The uncluttered look is my preference. We’ll find out more tomorrow.

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  4. Joe.Donegan says:

    They spent millions creating a pedestrian mall. Then bit by bit dismantled it, allowed cars to park on the sidewalk, and refuse to properly maintain it. Now they want to spend thousands more. What is the point to obtain expert advice, if you refuse to listen. 90% of the citizens of Santa Rosa love their downtown as it is. Yet if people show up to enjoy it like when the farmers market was on Thursdays, the city takes steps to end the success. We need a true mayor elected by the people for a four year term to right the listing ship.

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  5. Dave Madigan says:

    The City does not need to spend $172,000 to fix this problem. Simply remove the parking kiosks and go back to a 2 or 3 hour free parking policy. The parking enforcement officers can chalk tires just like they used to!

    Think of the goodwill this would generate between the City and the business owners as well as with the customers who will feel better about coming to Downtown and not have to worry about a $40.00+ parking ticket!

    It’s time for the people of Santa Rosa to tell the City Council to fix this problem! We don’t need to waste money on yet another fancy parking meter.

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  6. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    The idea that they JUST put in those kiosks and now that want to take them out is driving me crazy. What a waste of money to put them in. What a waste of money to replace them. Meanwhile, Santa Rosa City council approved the cuts in the bus routes.

    Now, if only people would get a clue and ride the bus downtown. All the buses go to downtown Santa Rosa. You can come downtown on Saturday by 9 AM on the bus, then go home on the last bus. You can get on the bus from downtown, go to Coddingtown, Santa Rosa Costco, or even get on the County bus and go to Walmart or the Petaluma outlets. You can bring your whole family on the bus. Hopefully, if they finally implement their day pass idea people can spend the whole day riding the buses and getting all their business or pleasure done. Buy yourself one of those little shopping carts-they hold an amazing amount of stuff.

    You can also commute to work and won’t have to worry about paying for a space downtown ON THE BUS. And how glorious it is to snooze, or read, or play with your ipod or phone and NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH DANGEROUS DRIVERS AND TRAFFIC.

    Maybe if more shoppers and commuters took the bus the city would LOSE MONEY from the meters and you won’t have to worry about finding a parking place and getting a ticket. Maybe if more people would ride the bus they could ADD ROUTES AND STOP AND PICKUP TIMES.

    Or walk, or ride your bike. It’s all doable.

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  7. Andy says:

    I really don’t care what kind of meters they have because I NEVER pay to park when I shop. I haven’t been to downtown Santa Rosa in years and haven’t been to the plaza since they started charging to park. In fact, I do 90% of my shopping online. It is no more expensive and causes fewer hassles.

    I’ve been doing clothes shopping in the Outlet Mall in Petaluma and that is great compared to Coddingtown and the Plaza. There is nothing I need from Santa Rosa.

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  8. Richard says:

    Rise the prices with demand pricing and charge for parking at the mall. Two great ideas that I’m sure all the businesses in the surrounding cities with free parking really really appreciate.

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  9. Steveguy says:

    When I go downtown, I park in 4 places, The coin lot across the street from the Library, Barnes and Noble lot, the lot behind the beer place on 5th and the Plaza for parades and events and such.

    Many times I take my bike if many different stops in the area.

    The kiosk set-up is a pain. Sorry but it is. That 5th Street lot had individual for years and was easy. Or park along the street there.

    My problem is that they will jack up the prices. A “Smart” parking meter can be hourly adjusted to extract money from the public. If you use parking fees as a revenue source, then you are harming the merchants. A break even system is the most honest one, but the City likes $$$$.

    In the end, I’d rather have a meter to feed. But I don’t go downtown like I used to. The bike race and maybe the book store. (Treehorn)

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  10. Laura González says:

    BTW, I love the illegal immigrants comment as well, which was in the same post as the anti-union one. If you don’t patronize businesses that hire illegal immigrants, then you pretty much steer clear of anything to do with agriculture, right? Also, no going to the Fair either, since the setup/maintenance contract was taken from the union and given to the guy who runs the Mexican rodeo. One has to wonder how he comes so cheap!

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  11. Laura González says:

    Getting rid of the kiosks which are convenient and easy to use, and haven’t finished out their life expectancy is RIDICULOUS.

    If you can’t operate the simple kiosks, then your life must be one complicated living hell. They’re WAY better than the coin meters we had. It’s also nice not having the meters littering the sidewalk.

    As for meters killing business, it’s still hard to get a parking place downtown at different times of the day. If individual businesses aren’t fairing well, that may be because no one needs their product, or they’re not very friendly. Hey, maybe the kiosks are why John Sawyer went out of business!

    And you’re going to MV and Coddingtown? MV is too expensive, and Coddingtown, with the exception of a few places is pretty dead. In face that’s why I prefer it, because there aren’t any crowds.

    Spending more money at this time on new meters is stupid. Let these live out their life expectancy and then look at new ones.

    BTW, love LOVE the comment about unions. They don’t have anything to do with this, and yet they were thrown in. Talk about bitter!

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  12. dennis says:

    Calculate how much money the City Council budgets for parking meter revenue downtown in 2013. Reduce the expenditures in the annual budget by that amount and take out ALL of the meters. Use the few remaining parking bureaucrats to ride around in natural gas powered scooters and chalk tires for a 3 hour limit. Make it desirable for folks to come back to downtown Santa Rosa.

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  13. R.B. Fish says:

    I stopped going downtown except to Califronia Luggage who always has good products and great customer sevice. If I have to go always park on outside zone and walk. Also I do not patronize supermarkets that charge you for bags nor winereis or other business that I know hire illegal immigrants.
    The current parking system is archaic..worst that the labor intensive meter. NO Meters means more business, more tax revenue,less government admin work, less union crap. Keep the colors and ask shop and building owners to keep the sidewalks clean.

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  14. James Bennett says:

    If memory serves the City hired an ICLEI parking consultant from Seattle to show them how to crash small business and undermine automobile use. Both of which are ICLEI specialties.

    Now they have a new way to screw ‘em, pretending it’s in response to the merchants.

    For shame.

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  15. Kathy Robler says:

    The residents of Santa Rosa owe Mr. Bernie Schwartz thanks for taking positive action to see if the current pay parking system is working. At least he took some action which the city bureaucrats refuse to do.

    The current system of parking, getting out of your car, stuggling with a pay box and returning to your car to place a slip on the dashboard is crazy. People are not lazy or stupid who have always opposed this scheme.

    Santa Rosa needs to overhaul this parking system and make it something that will not discourage people from parking and shopping downtown. As it is now, most people think “Oh God, parking in Santa Rosa.”

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  16. starsuponthars says:

    SANTA ROSA!!!!!!!!! jeeze.

    ok, if you’re actually going to go back to meters (which i actually support) PLEASE COPY OAKLAND and san francisco and include the ability to pay by cell phone!!!

    you make an account, put in your credit card number, and there is an assigned number on the meter. you type in the number into your phone, and money is transferred to the meter. it’s even set up to text you when you’re about to expire so you can add more money.

    it is the most brilliant innovation i’ve seen in a long time.

    please, please, please take this opportunity to get ahead of the curve!

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  17. Uncommon Sense says:

    If Santa Rosa makes this change, I might start going back downtown to shop and dine. The current setup sucks.

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  18. joe says:

    OMG govt spending at its finest! How many employees will have to be furloughed to cover the cost of this mess up, amongst other ones we don’t hear about? Whats done is done, leave it alone!

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  19. Cathy Travels says:

    San Francisco is “The City That Knows How.”

    Santa Rosa is the exact opposite.

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  20. Billy C says:

    I truly dislike the current system. I try and park out side of the “zone” or just go else where to grab a cup of coffee or make a purchase. It is my assumption that cars are now concerted unwelcome and the inconvenience is intentional. If that is the intent it works on me.

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  21. Steveguy says:

    Paint all the curbs red and charge $5,000 for a parking ticket. Nahhh.

    I’ll go to Montgomery Village or Coddingtown. Sorry Downtown merchants, the City hates you for some reason, and they actively drive the public away from your establishment. It has worked on me.

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  22. Reality Check says:


    Great question. It’s the kind of question that should have been covered in the PD article and, course, be the first consideration of the city council.

    I have no problem with paying to park. But I suspect you are right, enforcement and bureaucracy probably eat up an awful lot of that “essential” revenue.

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  23. Elephant says:

    Talk about insanity! Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Maybe 20 years ago, they got rid of parking meters in Petaluma. They determined that enforcing them cost them double what they were getting back. Now they just enforce the time limits.

    If they want shoppers (like me for one)to return to downtown Santa Rosa, they will do the same and eliminate the meters completely.

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  24. Grapevines says:

    Biggest question I have is if we just did away with parking meters all together, and also eliminated the City Parking Commission/meter maids/etc; would we end up saving money? (gee what a concept)

    And other than causing Gene Crozat to have to find another way to tweak city hall at Christmas, would this benefit the businesses downtown that are trying to get people to shop there instead of online or elsewhere?

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