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San Mateo officials are contemplating a variety of measures to ensure downtown visitors can always find a parking space.
Ensuring there is always an available parking space in downtown San Mateo may be a tall order, but it’s a goal city officials are trying to reach through a number of measures including changing rates, extending hours and using technology to best show where that ever elusive parking spot might be.
On Monday, the council discussed its new Downtown Parking Management Plan that could increase parking rates over time up to $2 an hour in certain locations, extending enforcement hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and shortening or eliminating time restrictions based on the proximity of a parking space to the downtown core.
City officials are also thinking about using advanced parking technologies like real-time signs to show drivers where an available spot is and trying to use underutilized lots like the main library. The council also discussed increasing parking impact fees for developers who don’t create parking spaces.
The city’s goal should be to ensure there is always an available parking space for a customer who wants to visit downtown, said Assistant City Manager Matt Bronson.
City staff worked with the consulting firm CDM Smith to study downtown parking needs, areas for improvement and measures to save for future parking needs.
CDM Smith projected the city will need to create 400 new parking spaces to accommodate its growth in the next 10 years.
With the proposed Essex at Central Park potentially taking over a publicly accessible parking lot on Fifth Avenue, Interim City Manager Larry Patterson said updating its in-lieu fees is an item that needs to be discussed quickly.
It currently costs a developer $9,000 per space if it doesn’t provide parking, Bronson said. This is extremely low as it costs more than $30,000 to make a new parking space in a structure and the city should consider raising the fee to reflect with the market rate, Bronson said.
Councilman Jack Matthews highly encourages raising the fees “so developers are not incentivized to say ‘no, we can’t provide parking, so we’ll pay in-lieu fees instead.’”
Another way to raise funds is to create parking rate ranges based on the proximity of a space to the downtown core, Bronson said. But any fee increases will be implemented slowly over a period of time so customers have time to adjust to new rates, Bronson said.
Councilman David Lim said he isn’t sold on the idea of raising rates. He wants to be cautious of the fine line between raising funds and discouraging visitors, Lim said.
He recognizes the need for more parking spaces and easier access, but he’s concerned rate and enforcement changes could cause a backlash and people may travel elsewhere for a night out, Lim said.
“There are intangibles that we risk tampering with if we extend enforcement hours,” Lim said.
The movie theater is a draw and the city should capitalize on encouraging people to stay for dinner and drinks afterward without having to worry about feeding the meter, Lim said.
The strongest demand for parking occurs between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays so extending hours of enforcement for on-street spaces from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. will increase turnover. Shortening time limits for on-street parking while extending or eliminating restraints for spaces on the outskirts of downtown or in parking structures can alleviate the high demand, Bronson said.
Another source of frustration for drivers is it’s currently difficult to distinguish where parking lots and available spaces are located, Bronson said. Integrating parking technologies such as electronic signs tied to real-time occupancy will allow drivers to park and frequent downtown with ease, Bronson said.
“We will make every effort to test [technologies] from a customer’s standpoint before implementing them for years to come,” Bronson said.
Some of these new technologies need to be handled with care, said Ben Toy, president of the San Mateo United Homeowner’s Association.
“I don’t want distracted drivers looking at a smartphone looking for a single parking spot in the city,” Toy said.
Using new parking signs and technology correctly can enhance pedestrian safety as it will discourage people distractedly driving in circles while hunting for parking, Councilman Joe Goethals said.
At the council’s Nov. 18, 2013, parking management study session, Lim had suggested looking into leasing private parking lots to accommodate the growing need for parking in the evening.
“I believe those are game changers,” Lim said.
The city is looking at using the library parking lot and he would like to see it approach Mills-Peninsula Hospital to use its lot during the evening visitor rush as well, Lim said.
Anna Kuhre, board member of the Baywood Owner’s Improvement Association, spoke in support of updating parking regulations because the success of downtown will depend on the people who come there.
“Let’s do something to accommodate that demand,” Kuhre said. “Because there’s not going to be anything worse than having people driving in circles looking for parking.”
City staff is continuing to finalize the Downtown San Mateo Parking Management Plan study and recommendations. It will come before the council again in late March.
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