Anna Schuessler/ Daily Journal
Crews in San Carlos stage Wheeler Plaza construction work.
By Anna Schuessler
Daily Journal staff
How downtown San Carlos parking will be managed as the city’s main parking lot goes offline to make way for a mixed-use development planned for Wheeler Plaza is a growing concern for city officials, business owners and residents.
As construction crews broke ground this week at the 2.65-acre site in the city’s downtown, councilmembers asked city staff for further details on the interim parking plan designed to ease the changes to the city’s parking stock.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Councilman Cameron Johnson asked city staff for more frequent updates on the project as the city becomes accustomed to lines of trucks hauling building materials through downtown thoroughfares and other signs of construction stemming from the area largely bounded by Walnut Street, San Carlos Avenue and a small section of Laurel Street. The development to feature 109 condominiums for sale and 10,000 square feet of new retail space is expected to be completed by the end of 2019. City officials have estimated the new Wheeler Plaza parking garage will be open for public use by the end of 2017.
“The whole city’s going to have to go through a learning curve really quickly, and some growing pains, and I’d like to know kind of what we’re hearing,” he said.
Though the new development is slated to increase the number of downtown parking spots by 65 with a 252-spot parking structure, councilmembers expressed concern about the loss of 185-spot lot between the businesses lining Laurel Street, Walnut Street and San Carlos Avenue made unavailable during construction.
Mayor Bob Grassilli asked staff to clarify the options available to those visiting downtown while the site formerly featuring the city’s main downtown parking lot is off limits out of a concern that the interim options would not provide an adequate number of parking spots.
“This is the biggest lot in town, and it’s going away,” he said.
To deal with the shortage, Community Development Director Al Savay reported that the city has made an estimated 50 spots available at a temporary parking lot at 616 Laurel St. where the Foodville store stood, with additional public parking at the SamTrans parking garage at 1250 San Carlos Ave. expected to help with overflow. He said employee parking at the Clark Plaza parking area west of the shops on the 700 block of Laurel Street would be made available to the public. That combined with employee permit and construction parking provided at a vacant SamTrans property along El Camino Real south of Arroyo Avenue is expected to supplement the number of spots available by mid-April.
Johnson expressed concern about the last few signs directing drivers to the SamTrans garage from Walnut Street. He said he didn’t feel it was obvious where to turn into the garage since the large signs directing drivers to the garage aren’t as visible once they go north of San Carlos Avenue.
“I just would be highly sensitive if we’re putting all our eggs in the SamTrans garage basket, that people know where to make that turn,” he said.
Grassilli asked if drivers attempting to park at the temporary Laurel Street lot would have space to turn around if the lot becomes full, noting the narrow design of the parking lot and congested nature of the street.
Steve Mooney, a representative of Impark, the company providing parking attendants to manage traffic flow through downtown, confirmed there would be enough room for a car to make a U-turn in the lot, and said attendants would be advised to put a sign in front of the lot when it’s full so drivers know not to turn into it at those times.
Heidi Howard, owner of women’s clothing boutique Earthy Treasures at 1221 San Carlos Ave., said Wednesday in her shop she was disappointed by the design and lack of availability of interim parking while the site just south of her store is under construction.
“They did not do a good job organizing parking,” she said. “People are confused, they don’t know how to get into the [Laurel Street] lot.”
Howard said FedEx and UPS drivers attempting to drop off deliveries to downtown stores and restaurants have found their work more challenging as well.
Councilman Ron Collins also asked city staff to clarify how the parking attendants would assist drivers finding the temporary Laurel Street lot full, and was surprised when Mooney confirmed attendants would only park someone’s car for them until the passageways of the Laurel Street lot were full. He said attendants could not valet park cars in the SamTrans garage, but would rather assist drivers in finding the levels close to the top of the structure where the temporary public parking is located.
Councilman Mark Olbert cautioned city staff about using the word “valet” in signs and messages delivered about the interim parking as it might cause some to think they could drop their cars off to be parked by an attendant. He recommended staff and Impark attendants to be prepared to explain what is offered to those expecting valet parking.
“It’s a relatively trivial problem,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that gets people annoyed, and we’d kind of like to minimize that.”
Scott Johnson, owner of an engineering firm in San Carlos was running errands Wednesday and said he was frustrated with the fact that it took him 10 minutes to find a parking spot. He wasn’t able to turn into the SamTrans garage from Laurel Street, and opted for on-street parking instead. He guessed that city officials had underestimated how integral the former Wheeler Plaza lot had been to downtown visitors.
“It’s not very well planned,” he said, adding he is worried about congestion, increased density and whether there are resources to meet the needs of the growing population.
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