Almanac

News - August 3, 2011

Paying for 'overtime' parking in downtown Menlo

• City approves multi-space meters for plazas 1 and 5.

by Sandy Brundage

Start saving your quarters: In three months, plazas 1 and 5 in downtown Menlo Park will sprout multi-space parking meters. You enter your money and parking space number in the machines, and you can park beyond the two hours of free parking.

The City Council voted unanimously on July 26 to buy six pay-by-space meters from vendor Parkeon for $53,364 — four for Plaza 1 (off Oak Grove Avenue between El Camino Real and Chestnut Street), and two for Plaza 5 (off Menlo Avenue between Evelyn and Crane streets). An additional $2,000 will let the city install modules to allow the meters to take coins as well as some type of credit or transit cards, if that option seems necessary.

The first two hours of parking will still be free. The third hour would cost $1; the fourth, $1.50; and additional time, $2 per hour. Engineering Services Manager Chip Taylor said enforcement hours will be the same: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The meters give the city a way to test whether the capability to pay to park longer than two hours will resolve the unhappiness expressed by downtown merchants and their customers, who complain that the current two-hour limit doesn't leave enough time to run errands and enjoy a meal.

"The biggest feedback we had was that people were losing customers because they couldn't get three hours (of parking)," Mayor Cline noted during the meeting. "Losing customers at that clip wasn't sustainable; we've had some restaurants actually leave and say that was the reason."

After five years in business in downtown Menlo Park, Boutique 4 closed its Santa Cruz Avenue location in February. At the time, Tamara Michel, co-owner of the boutique, cited the city's extremely aggressive parking enforcement as a factor. "We had many customers who refused to come downtown to shop," she told The Almanac.

Mayor Cline thought meters would give the city the flexibility to adjust the plan if it doesn't work out. A veteran of the battle over downtown parking, he said at one point, "You can do a great thing with parking, and people won't think it's a great thing."

Councilman Peter Ohtaki explored whether leasing the meters instead of purchasing would be a wiser option, but discarded the idea after the city attorney explained that a leasing contract with Parkeon could not be canceled.

The city also considered simply extending the parking limit to three hours, but staff concluded that would only lead to more downtown employees taking up parking spaces, leaving fewer available for shoppers.

Mr. Taylor estimated that the meters would go live by October at the latest; the city will need to paint numbers on each parking space and install signs. One month before that happens, the city plans to hand out fliers to downtown businesses, customers, and drivers explaining the change.

A one-month grace period and a telephone hotline open during the first six months will ease the adjustment, according to staff.

Go to tinyurl.com/plaza-163 to see a map of the parking plazas.

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