The difficult decision to increase SLO parking rates

May 25, 2023

Councilwoman Andy Pease

Opinion by SLO City Councilwoman Andy Pease

You’re probably going to be mad about this. Or maybe, like me, you’ll go through stages of disbelief, frustration then acceptance: Parking rates in San Luis Obispo are going up. It was one of the most difficult votes I’ve had to make, but I believe it was necessary, and we’re working to reduce impacts to our residents and local businesses.

So, why are we increasing parking rates? It’s a bit of a tangled web that started many years ago with the reasonable intent to support growing businesses downtown who wanted to build on surface parking lots. Community leaders decided that the additional parking needs would be met in structures along the perimeter of downtown, so we built the ones on Marsh and Palm and planned for the final structure along Nipomo. New development paid lieu fees in anticipation of the structure; the rest of the cost would be covered by parking fees, for when the additional parking would be needed.

Fast forward to 2018. Downtown is busy and parking occupancy rates are going up. SLO Rep theater is growing and needs a new home, so it was a natural fit that the new Palm-Nipomo parking structure would be a great co-project with SLO Rep and the burgeoning Cultural Arts District. The structure would be $25 million, but the parking fund had some savings and could finance the rest.

Then COVID hit, and we made parking free downtown for more than a year, which diminished parking funds without bringing in revenue. Concurrently, there have been astronomical increases in construction costs, and the cost estimate ballooned to $52 million.

Now we’re in a pickle. We don’t have that kind of savings, so to get a loan, we need to demonstrate to lending agencies adequate revenue, thus triggering an increase in hourly meter rates from $2.50/hour to $4.00/hour, and the parking structure to $3.00/hour, starting July 1 of this year.

We looked at alternatives, and none looked great. Don’t build the structure? Then we would have parking shortages for the foreseeable future, possibly jeopardizing the new SLO Rep theater. Although perhaps someday a regional theater with no parking could work here, that’s not in the immediate future.

The structure enables not only the theater, but expanded access to the SLO Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum, the History Center, Mission Plaza, retail shops and restaurants, as well as several commercial projects in that area of town that are on hold pending parking.

Delay construction? Delays further add costs and risk the SLO Rep project. Use General Funds to supplement construction? Parking is an “enterprise fund”, set up to cover its own expenses, and we need General Funds for maintaining roads, running programs and public safety.

Faced with these realities, I and the council majority voted to build the parking structure and increase parking rates to cover the cost, because we believe this is an essential investment in our downtown and in our community.

Since that decision, we have been working closely with our community partners to address three primary concerns: Keep locals coming downtown; support employee parking needs; and provide clear communication. Over the next few months, you’ll hear more about all of these.

To start, we know that having the first hour free in the structures is well used by locals but is a considerable loss of revenue from the many visitors downtown. To balance these needs, we are rolling out the Park Local program – any resident in San Luis Obispo County will be able park in the main Palm Street Garage and retain the first hour free. There will be a simple registration process, so stay tuned for details and links.

We’ll also have technology upgrades, more ways and locations to pay, improved signage, opportunity for merchant validation, employee discount programs, and more. And, of course, we’ll continue to invest in safe and enjoyable bike lanes, sidewalks and buses for those traveling without a personal vehicle. We want everyone to have options for coming downtown.

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Talk about putting lipstick on a pig!!!

Raise the fees all you wish. There is absolutely NOTHING this, once SLO Resident now So. County, resident comes to town to do.

Well, I hope CalPoly adds more summer classes to support downtown as they are losing the older “aged” customers. I personally find it more difficult to navigate the streets with the new “bicycle markings” with bicycles zigzagging into and out of what used to be normal “vehicle traffic” lanes by just sticking their arms out to change into my lane riding at 5 MPH and I am driving at 25 MPH and then trying to find parking close to where I want to eat and shop. Not a problem anymore, I just avoid downtown and enjoy the “outstanding” restaurants in Morro Bay. The registering of college students to vote in local elections will keep this city council and their “WOKE” ideology in place for years to come.

go to the website TRANSPARENT CALIFORNIA and check out the salaries and benefits of city employees. fire captains making 400k a year, cops and deputies at 3-400k a year. cut salaries and benefits. No one will leave these jobs because of a 10-20 percent cut. Dont let them collect the public contribution to their retirement until age 65, not 50 . And people complain about welfare recipients

When will you people learn that Government loves to spend your tax money recklessly as they can always get more from you. They will spend more to install park meters and hire someone to collect it and project never pays for itself Ca speed train good example.Maybe they could give back part of their 26% pay increase as a good jester of support

I can solve this whole parking issue for pennies on the dollar and give visitors an awesome experience.

Purchase the Madonna Inn’s big grassy field for a few million. Cover it with a big parking lot with trees along the 101 and revenue-generating solar panels over the cars. Provide an access road to bypass Madonna Inn parking lot. Easy on/off the 101. Connect the new parking lot directly to the Marsh St underpass. Provide free parking for 8 hours. Run the trolly at a nominal fee that pays for itself or allow people to walk/cycle/scooter themself for free.

There. I fixed it. Andy, you can steal this idea and call it your own.

Better idea, don’t buy the extremely expensive open space that provides value to the area’s premier hotel. Instead get that money saved and expand the trolley idea. Downtown to Cal Poly, the Train Station, Madonna and all that parking in the Madonna Plaza, the Airport, down Higuera, down Monterey, down Broad. Transportation for the masses, hmmm, “Mass Transit”? And then most people won’t even need to drive downtown – why would you want to?

Agreed. Public transit would be better… We already have pretty good public transit. But I think we need to be realistic about how residents & visitors (especially the older ones who remember free parking on Court Street etc) actually behave. My point was that the “extremely expensive open space” would be far cheaper than the more expensive parking structure. Also, the loss of open space would be offset by solar production. And finally, it may not be such a loss to the Inn if a sharing arrangement could be agreed for events etc. The choppers would just have to land a little further away for Sheriff’s Day at the Ranch:-p

Court St. always had meters, and more of them after the Obispo was razed. Unless, you speak of before there were meters at all in the downtown.

Huh, LB? What you talkin about? “don’t buy the extremely expensive open space that provides value to the area’s premier hotel.” Oh, right, that would be Madonna Mountain next to the Madonna Inn. But your facts are messed up. It’s owned by the Madonnas who let the public use it.

I feel so badly for the business owners who haven’t already closed their stores. Downtown is a shell of what it once was. $4.00 an hour to park is only going to increase the exodus of shoppers. If it wasn’t for concerts at the Fremont, I would have zero reasons to go downtown.

And even for that, you can park two blocks away for free!

May I suggest another source of revenue that does not depend on parking?

Adopt a “Fare Share” toll to drive into downtown San Luis Obispo. Install “FasTrak” toll collecting electronic devices on the few streets leading into downtown — (i.e. those leading from Hwy 101 and Johnson Ave, Broad St. and Lower Higuera to the south). Automobiles registered in SLO City (and maybe SLO County as well…. [thinking of jury duty]) could be exempt, but outsiders such as tourists from the Bay Area and Socal, (where FasTrak is well known and tracking devices ubiquitous), would pay their “fare” share of driving through our happy and prosperous town.

Customers at downtown stores or cultural centers would be qualify to apply for a rebate of the toll.

SLO would be like Carmel’s 17 Mile Drive! 

Or, quit spending all the meter money on salaries and pensions, and fix the roads like the money is actually for?

SLO should consider reducing the number of parking meter workers to reduce City costs. While threatening a friend with a parking ticket, a parking meter worker refused to provide his name. When asked why he would not provide his name, he said, “Because I don’t want.” Great public service.

We should reduce the amount of on-street parking. It’s a crazy waste of space and let’s face it, only rarely available. Also reducing meters might lower costs a bit, but nothing compared to 2.2 million in meter revenue (as usual the City’s numbers can be easily Google searched, but no one ever does).

It’s never fun to have a bad customer experience, but also maybe don’t break the law and instead park legally and pay what’s due. We cant have irresponsible drivers just parking wherever they want as long as they’d like.

Exactly which law requires a parking enforcement employee to provide any random person with their full name or other personal details on request so they can be harassed and stalked? And for what purpose did your “friend” need that personal detail? Every parking ticket has the ID number of the employee who gave it and that is all the detail your “friend” would need to dispute the ticket.

The idea that every employee in the public sector needs to put up with unlimited intrusion and harassment from any individual is why it is so hard to find and retain high-quality employees because why would most people volunteer to put up with that sort of crap.