Guest Column: Parking meters on Main Street are a bad idea (again)

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The city has hired yet another consultant, this one to examine parking.

Predictably, the consultant recommended, among other things, that parking meters be installed on Main Street. This recommendation plays to the city’s need for additional revenue, hence the predictability.

However, this idea was proposed once before and the meters were acquired and set for installation, until the citizens of Seal Beach rose up in opposition. The end result was that no meters were installed and the city had to pay a restocking fee of $20,000.

Before our elected officials rush headlong down the path of parking meters, it makes sense to consider the likely effects that such an action would create.

First and foremost, the placement of parking meters on Main Street would create a tax on the visitation of our shops and restaurants.

Make no mistake, parking meters create an economic cost to visit, where none existed before with free parking. The likely result will be less visitation, less customer traffic in our stores and less patronage of our restaurants.

As an example, if someone wants a fine seafood meal they might consider Walt’s Wharf. However, there are other potential choices, such as the Original Fish Company in Los Alamitos. They both provide excellent food with great service. However, if parking meters are installed, there will be an additional cost to visit Walt’s, both in terms of the economics and the hassle factor of meters. The Fish Company has lots of free parking.

A second effect of meters is that we would lose a distinguishing factor, namely free parking, that provides a competitive advantage versus neighboring cities. Visitors to this area have choices as to which beach town they visit. Belmont Shore is a neighbor, but also a competitor to us for tourist dollars. Belmont Shore has parking meters and is a difficult place to park in order to access the shops there. Seal Beach Main Street has free parking, which provides a friendlier vibe in addition to the money saved by tourists. Why should we remove our competitive advantage versus Belmont Shore?

A third likely effect of parking meters is that parking in the Old Town residential neighborhood would become more crowded, as visitors seek to avoid the meters.

This would plainly be a negative consequence for the quality of life in Old Town residential areas. It would also change the atmosphere of Old Town, from a relaxed, easy-to-access charming village to something more difficult and tense.

A fourth effect is that patronage of the Main Street shops by local residents, particularly from the Hill, would decline. Right now it is easy to pop down to Old Town for an errand, quick shopping trip or lunch. But throw parking meters into the equation and there is now a cost to those impromptu trips and the hassle of paying with coins, bills or your credit card. In the off season for tourism, our merchants and restaurants depend on local visitation for critical support.

In summary, the installation of parking meters would almost certainly create a negative effect on our local economy, which would have the secondary effect of generating less business tax revenue for the city.
In business and economics, everything important happens at the margin. You can’t increase costs to consumers and expect no reaction. Increases in government regulations, fees and taxes depress economic activity and this would be the downstream legacy of parking meters.

We don’t need fewer customers at our shops and restaurants, which could lead to increased business failures and empty buildings on Main Street. To our City Council and other decision makers, please do not install parking meters on Main Street.

Paul Wayne is a Seal Beach resident.

Guest Column: Parking meters on Main Street are a bad idea (again)