Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Drivers in San Mateo may see changes when they park downtown though changes to meter rates and hours won’t be decided by the City Council until summer or fall.
Making sure parking woes never deter people from visiting downtown prompted the San Mateo City Council to move forward with changes to meter rates, enforcement hours and plan for a new parking structure that would help accommodate future growth.
On Monday, the council approved the Downtown Parking Management Plan that should help to fully utilize the city’s 1,207 on-street and 1,711 off-street downtown parking spaces while considering how to support a projected need of 400 new spaces over the next 10 years.
“In some ways, parking problems are good problems because they show there’s economic vitality and growth in downtown. Certainly our downtown is symbolic of that. At the same time, we don’t want to run into a situation where people cannot find parking and perceive they can’t find parking and then don’t want to come to our downtown,” said Assistant City Manager Matt Bronson. “So as the city, we need to make sure that we’re making parking more accessible for those who come downtown now, and more plentiful in the future given the pace of development and all the growth happening in our downtown.”
The plan could eventually increase parking rates over time up to $2 an hour in certain locations, extend enforcement hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and shorten or eliminate time restrictions based on the proximity of a parking space to the downtown core. The plan also makes recommendations to assist visitors by investing in real-time signs and partnering with the Main Library and other private lots gain extra spaces during the evening.
The council will also consider increasing developer’s in-lieu of parking fees and forming an assessment district to fund a new structure, Bronson said.
The city will hire a parking manager and fully implementing the plan could take up to three years, however staff will move with certain projects immediately, Bronson said.
“Carry out a number of quick actions such as restriping some parking stalls on B Street to get some more spaces, we’re going to be starting a car share pilot program downtown … we’ll be testing out new parking equipments and then here later on this year, we’ll be taking forward some parking policies to the council including rate adjustments, time limits and other changes to be able to generate more money and put it back into our parking system,” Bronson said.
Although the general plan has been approved, visitors don’t need to worry about paying more to park quite yet.
“I do have some concerns still about extending the parking hours past 6 p.m. and raising the rates for meters,” Councilman David Lim said. “If we do raise rates, extend hours, I think it’s something that needs to come from the council.”
Staff will bring recommendations regarding policy decisions such as increasing meter rates back to council sometime in summer or fall, Bronson said.
But the city will need to raise capital as installing the highly desired real-time parking signs, building a new structure and hiring a parking manager is costly.
Real-time parking signs are envisioned at each structure and possibly on main thoroughfares such as El Camino Real and Third Avenue, Bronson said. But they come with a hefty price tag running between $25,000 and $50,000 apiece and the current pay structure doesn’t suffice, Bronson said.
Rate adjustments would be tied to specific improvements such as the signs, improving pay stations and providing more maintenance at the garages. But building a new garage could necessitate a downtown assessment district, Bronson said.
The Downtown San Mateo Association has been in support of the project to encourage more visitors and ensure the area continues to grow, said Robert Anderson, the former San Mateo police officer assigned to the downtown and co-chair of the DSMA’s parking committee.
“Our board is unanimous in supporting the downtown parking plan. We are also unanimous to see the [plan] implemented as quickly as possible,” Anderson said.
Neighbors spoke in support of better-managed parking but want to see the council consider updating its parking requirements for new developers.
“Parking associated with future projects needs to be self contained in the downtown and in the periphery so that parking doesn’t overflow into the neighborhood,” said Laurie Watanuki, president of the Central Neighborhood Association.
Current parking requirements for downtown businesses and developments were set long ago and downtown visitors do sometimes park in residential neighborhoods, Bronson said. Although land use updates and zoning codes aren’t covered in the Downtown Parking Management Plan, it could serve as a foundation when the council looks at the future of downtown during the coming year’s work program, Bronson said.
“It’s important to do the Downtown Parking Plan to make sure we have enough parking for those who want to come to shop and enjoy our downtown,” Bronson said. “We want to make sure we’re using our facilities as best as possible and making the parking experience better for customers.”
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