Council discusses paid parking on Main Street

No action taken as presentation was not an agenda item

During a recent presentation to the council the city’s parking consultant suggested the next steps should be public outreach on the question of paid parking on Main Street.

The council took no formal action. According to the city attorney, the consultant’s presentation was not on the agenda and council could not take action.

District Two Councilman/Mayor Tom Moore called on the council to put off town halls on the subject for a few years. He wanted more data.

So did District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic.

However, District Three Councilwoman Lisa Landau and District Five Councilman Nathan Steele did not see a need to delay town hall meetings on the subject.

District One Councilman Joe Kalmick did not like the idea of paid parking, but he cited the financial reality of the city’s need for more revenue.

First, a look at what the consultant said. Then a look at what the council members said.

Parking consultant update

Last week, Julie Dixon, of Dixon Resources, provided the council with an update on the city’s parking program.

Dixon has been the city’s parking consultant for more than 10 years, according to Police Chief Michael Henderson. Chief Henderson said she had worked with the Police, Finance, and Public Works departments to help Seal Beach achieve its parking management goals.

There was a council presentation on May 22. Presentations don’t come with staff reports and come before items on the agenda.

Dixon said this was a team effort.

Dixon started with a slide showing the paid parking revenue from fiscal year 2018-19 to April 2023. She said Seal Beach was slightly below the normal performance for this time of year. She attributed that to the tremendous amount of rain the area had experienced this year and also because the SBPD was in the process of training animal control officers, which took some parking enforcement officers off the street.

Dixon said this year, the city completely eliminated single space meters and replaced them with pay stations. According to Dixon, the customers can pay by pay station or by text.

Dixon said that there were questions at her last visit to council about parking occupancy rates related to dining parklets. According to a slide she presented to the council, the Main Street parking occupancy was 44% in February 2021, 53% in February 2022, and 63% in April 63%. (The slide provided only percentages, not specific parking figures.)

According to Dixon, parking occupancy has increased since the parklets were removed on Feb. 1.

“And don’t ask me why that is, I don’t know if it’s that folks were intimidated by the structures and didn’t want park close to them,” Dixon said.

She said the city had 44 spaces that were allotted for parklets; only 37 of those were used.

According to Dixon, when you get to 85% occupancy, that’s when parking management decisions become important, whether it’s changing hours of operation, changing time limits, or potential consideration of paid parking.

She showed the council a slide of parking occupancy (again, comparing parking with and without parklets). According to Dixon, there were minor differences between parking by time of day. She said the council could see, again, that occupancy had increased without parking.

Dixon then turned to comparing parking in different beach cities.

“I do want to highlight that today we do not charge for on-street parking,” Dixon said.

“Our Main Street lots today are a dollar an hour,” she said.

Dixon said she wanted to highlight Hermosa Beach. According to her slide, Hermosa Beach charges $2 an hour for on-street parking.

“Hermosa Beach has been in the news quite a bit these last couple of months because they did a substantial change to their paid parking program, not only increasing the rates on paid parking but also changing the rules regarding their permits, including a rate increase as well—all that went through Coastal Commission,” Dixon said.

The right side of the slide compared the daily maximum parking rate for beach parking lot parking. Seal Beach, at $10, had the lowest parking rate of 13 cities.

“You can see that Seal Beach is at the lower end of the threshold,” Dixon said.

She said Dixon Resources wanted to prepare an application to the Coastal Commission to increase the parking rates. According to Dixon, the city would be able to leverage the fact that Seal Beach charges less than other beach cities.

“This is something that we’re trying to leverage the 1993 opinion that was published by Coastal Commission, that would allow us to increase the rates based on those rules,” Dixon said.

(As the Sun reported in the May 25 edition, SBPD Capt. Nick Nicholas wrote that Seal Beach would need a Coastal Development Permit to increase parking rates 25% or more in one year, and 50% or more in three years. Nicholas cited a 1993 memo from the executive director of the California Coastal Commission.)

Dixon then showed a slide comparing Seal Beach parking permit rates with other cities. According to Dixon, Seal Beach was in the middle for residential parking permits. According to the slide, a Seal Beach residential parking permit is $20; the same permit in Placentia is $10; in Santa Ana the residential permit is $72.29.

Also, according to the slide, the annual beach permit in Seal Beach is $180 ($117 for a resident); in Hermosa Beach it is $372; in Redondo Beach $110. She said the beach parking pass for residents was definitely on the lower threshold.

Dixon then turned to paid parking on Main, a subject she brought up in January 2023.

“This would have to go through Coastal Commission for review and approval,” Dixon said.

She said 221 spaces would be incorporated into this approach, including 15 loading zone spaces and a beach drop-off location on Ocean Avenue, next to the pier, for special events.

Then she showed the council a slide depicting revenue projection, which Dixon described as conservative. According to the slide, after costs, charging $1 an hour in the Main Street Zone would generate a projected net gain of $214,287 in the first year; charging $2 an hour would generate a net gain of $612,972, and charging $1 an hour with $3 an hour after two hours of parking would generate  a net gain of $435,698.

Turning to the Eighth Street city parking lot, she said year one would have a net gain of about $35,000 and over five years there would be a cumulative gain of about $200,000.

Dixon said Dixon Resources would also like to do a town hall, a door-to-door survey, and an application to the Coastal Commission.

Council reaction

District One Councilman Joe Kalmick asked for more information about pay stations.

Dixon said that the phone is the means of managing parking going forward. She said she thinks there are several opportunities to leverage mobile devices. The biggest challenge, she said, would be chronic abusers. According to Dixon, in most communities the chronic abusers tend to be the folks who work or own businesses in the downtown area.

“That’s one of the reasons why we have the no re-parking ordinance on Main Street, to prevent folks from playing parking roulette,” Dixon said.

“It just depends on how many amenities that you want to provide,” Dixon said. She also said it depended on Coastal Commission approval.

Kalmick asked how the city could help educate residents to make the transition, to make it easier for them.

Dixon said a lot of that comes down to what she called the parking ambassadorship program.

Dixon said they have a 300-pound kiosk that they use to teach the community how to use the program.

According to Dixon, it has worked well when Dixon Resources set up a kiosk at City Hall and showed people how it worked.

She said when they introduced paid parking in Paso Robles, they put up a banner that said try it, it is free.

“We got some really interesting messages on that one as well,” Dixon said.

According to Dixon, the human presence is important to make sure people are comfortable with such a program.

She said it would be important to place the equipment, so it is in sight and accessible to the community.

District Two Councilman/Mayor Tom Moore said he asked for a parking update because the newly elected council hadn’t had a chance to talk about it in public. He said he wanted to hear from the new council members.

Then Moore said paid parking would change the entire dynamic of our small town. “It’s a quality of life issue,” he said.

“One of the nice things about our town is not having to worry about parking when you come down for breakfast, lunch, or coffee, or a haircut,” Moore said.

“Focusing on the data,” he said, “The last time you came the data was not accurate because of the parklets.”

Moore said the city needed to push this out a few years to get more accurate data.

“I’m just wondering if we can get a quick consensus to hold off on the town hall meetings for a few years, until we have more accurate data,” Moore said.

Kalmick asked if he said days or years.

“Years,” Moore said.

District Three Councilwoman Lisa Landau said she loved the app. She encouraged everybody to

download the parking app because she would park in the beach lot, walk all the way to the kiosk, and find that she forgot her license plate number. Then she would have to walk back to get her license plate number, Landau said.

She said she knew a lot of elderly people who use the app in the First Street lot. “Once they get the hang of it, it makes it so easy to just go on your phone, pick an hour, two hours, or all day,” Landau said.

Landau thought the app was a benefit versus the kiosk. She suggested educating people to download the parking app. She said when she walks by the kiosk and she sees someone struggling, “I’m all ‘download the app.’”

District Five Councilman Steele. He agreed about the small town character due to the fact that you can pull up to the curb on Main Street and go do your business.

“That’s a quaint thing about our town,” Steele said, referring to the Parking 101 session he attended. According to Steele, he learned that paid parking encourages car turnover in the parking places.

Steele said paid parking encourages people to get in, do their business, and get out of town, which is good for the merchants because every time a car pulls up to the curb, a new wallet shows up.

“So, the case was made, convincingly in my view, that paid parking is good for the city in terms of revenue and its good for the merchants as well in terms of new wallets and increased revenues,” Steele said.

He asked Dixon if he was correct.

“You’re right on track,” she said.

“I’m enthusiastic about revenues,” Steele said. “I like revenue, but I don’t disagree about the quaint nature [of Seal Beach]. So, at this point in the game I am literally one way or the other.”

He said it was counter-intuitive to think that paid parking would encourage more revenue for business. “But there are a lot of things in economics and in life that are counter-intuitive,” Steele said.

Steele said a personal friend of his told him about her experiences at a beauty salon. He said she had to be there for four hours. She had to go out and move her car and was reprimanded for not moving her car at least 150 feet. He said this system could actually accommodate four-hour parking.

“That’s personal for me and my friend,” Steele said.

District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic apparently wanted clarification about what Dixon meant about 85% parking capacity.

Dixon explained that that was when the city needs to make a parking management decision. “So, it basically means you need to do something different,” Dixon said. “You could change your time limits, change your hours of operation or potentially implement paid parking.”

Dixon explained that 85% occupancy meant you were near or at full capacity.

Sustarsic said she was not entirely on board with paid parking encouraging you to get in and spend and leave.

Sustarsic recalled a time when she was 11 and her family got a ticket because she took too long to pick a comic or something.

Dixon said that since they launched paid parking in Paso Robles, the downtown area has had a 44% increase in sales tax revenue. “That’s specific to the area that’s managed by parking versus the remainder of the city where they’ve actually had a decrease in sales tax.”

According to Dixon, the city manager of Paso Robles did a study that made that finding.

Sustarsic said she had a concern that if you charge people for parking on Main Street, that would push people into the neighborhoods.

Referring to the slide with parking occupancy rates, Sustarsic said she wasn’t sure if the data compared apples with apples.

Dixon said they had the 2021 and 2022 numbers. She said the numbers were based on the available parking spaces on Main Street and also on the adjacent parking spaces.

Sustarsic said with COVID, how could they be sure that it was all due to the parklets.

Dixon said that was the request Mayor Moore had made to understand the impacts of parklets.

Sustarsic said she would like a little more data.

Moore said charging for parking made sense from a revenue and business perspective, but as a 30-year resident of Seal Beach it didn’t make sense. He said residents of Leisure World struggle with the parking technology.

Kalmick said as a 50-year resident of Old Town, he has found that his experience has been somewhat different. When he was a Main Street business owner and there was a proposal to put in parking meters that required coins, Kalmick said he was very much opposed to them.

“Those issues are no longer relevant,” Kalmick said.

“We have many elderly residents who are technology challenged,” Kalmick said.

He’s had emails from residents who said they don’t like paid parking on Main Street.

“Well, neither do I,” Kalmick said.

He said he didn’t like paid parking everywhere, but the city is facing financial realities. “At some point, we have to take a hard look at what are the alternatives that we have to produce revenue,” Kalmick said.

Landau asked Moore to clarify if he wanted to wait years for town halls.

Moore said he wanted to have several more years’ worth of data.

“I don’t think we need a couple of years,” Landau said. She thought Dixon had done a great job of compiling data.

Moore suggested pushing out the town halls one year.

Moore said he did a poll of his residents. He said 70% opposed paid parking. He called for a quick vote to postpone discussion of paid parking for one year.

City Attorney Nick Ghirelli said they were seeking informal direction from the council because the item was not on the agenda.

He suggested that staff was looking for direction on whether to continue with the town halls, door-to-door and online survey.

Moore wanted consensus and whether to postpone a town hall meeting on paid parking.

Sustarsic said she wouldn’t mind waiting through this year.

Sustarsic felt that with COVID and the parklets there were a lot of variables in the data they had, and she would be happy with more data.

Steele said he didn’t see a need for a delay. “I would take it as new business as we go,” Steeles aid.

Landau agreed with Steele.