San Mateo parking

Parkers in downtown San Mateo will have digital assistance after the City Council approved new signs to show garage vacancies.

Finding a place to park should get easier in downtown San Mateo, following a decision by officials to install digital signs showing vacancies at garages, hang new signs directing drivers to nearby lots and update meters and pay stations.

The San Mateo City Council voted 4-1, with Councilman Rick Bonilla opposing, to hire the IPS Group to improve the parking infrastructure in the city’s core commercial corridor.

The decision Monday, Oct. 7, sets a $2.5 million budget for the project which officials plan to finance through a combination of a $1.5 million federal grant, $500,000 in funds leftover from another initiative and a $500,000 city contribution. However, the bid approved by officials for the project is an estimated $1.4 million, with a $218,000 contingency fund set aside for unexpected costs.

To help those hunting for parking find a spot, digital signs will be hung near entrances of city-owned garages declaring the amount of available spaces in the facility.

The digital signs will only show the total number of open spaces, and not specify floors or rows where spots can be found, said parking manager Sue-Ellen Atkinson, according to video of the meeting.

New standard signs will also be hung downtown directing drivers to the location of city lots. All parking stations will be replaced too, which will accept credit, cash and mobile payments. Atkinson said the new stations will be easier to read and use for drivers, and also more convenient for city staff when seeking to adjust rates or times. As it stands, workers need to manually change each station when times or costs are amended.

The new parking system will be accessible through a mobile phone connection too, and drivers will be able check availability or add time to their meter remotely. Public Works Director Brad Underwood said those who frequent downtown San Mateo should soon learn their license plate number though, because the new system will identify cars by their plates rather than parking space location.

The decision stands to bring to an end a long process for officials, who twice put the project to requests for proposals in 2017 and 2018 but received no bids. In the most recent round of bidding, the city received two applicants — IPS and Suarez & Munoz Construction.

IPS bid $2 million on the project using domestic materials and $1.4 million using foreign materials, which was ultimately selected by officials. The competing applicant bid $4.6 million, using both materials.

Noting the wide discrepancy between amounts, and the lack of price adjustment for the Suarez & Munoz bid, Bonilla raised concerns with the process.

“It’s really my contention that we don’t have a real two-bidder project,” said Bonilla.

Atkinson said no concerns were raised during the bidding process by either firm, but that perspective did little to allay the concerns of Bonilla, who suggested officials put the project back out to bids again.

“I think there is something wrong with this and I think we should actually reject this bid and put this thing out to bid again,” he said.

Questioning why the Suarez & Munoz proposal did not change with materials, Bonilla suggested the process was somehow flawed, which ultimately could lead to officials approving an unqualified bidder.

“I’m afraid we are going to end up with somebody who doesn’t really know what they are doing,” he said.

Mayor Diane Papan though expressed discomfort with speculating over the process for formulating bids, while Councilman Eric Rodriguez said he was at ease with blessing the IPS proposal.

“We have tried it three times, and these are the only people that have replied and somebody who replied can’t put a bid together, I think we are very lucky they replied and I think we should approve it,” he said.

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