After five months of implementation, the downtown parking program is up for review
Downtown parking in Paso Robles is a hot topic. That is nothing new. What is new is the downtown parking program, complete with parking kiosks and an app for that, which is a topic of debate between business owners downtown and the City of Paso Robles.
For some business owners, the parking program has been a positive impact on their business, and they are happy to look out their windows and see some empty spaces for their next customer. In contrast, others have reported a downturn in business over the five months since the parking program began.
With the most robust economy on record, the bottom line for business is the bottom line — is it resulting in more business and happier customers?
Steering a Ship with No Rudder
Reports are mixed, and John Roush of Park Cinemas voiced strong concerns about the current impact on nearby businesses and the downtown as a whole.
“If I’m right, and from what I’m getting, restaurants are going to close down,” Roush said. “It is my true belief that it will hurt downtown.”
Roush enjoys a certain level of symbiosis with the local restaurants — people come downtown to eat and go to a movie, and people come downtown to go to the movies and get a bite to eat.
Roush expressed his disbelief that he was not recognized during the planning process around parking. He stated he has the largest footprint in terms of parking spots of any local business, stating that on a busy night at the movies it could be 300 cars around the downtown that belong to his customers.
“I’m the one person who uses the most parking of anybody,” Roush said. “I have the largest building in the downtown, I bring more people to the downtown, and you don’t think you should make sure I know about it? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Roush has since joined the parking steering committee and is involved with the process of working with the City on making appropriate changes to the program.
There’s No App for That
On Feb. 11, a town hall meeting was held to discuss the current program and concerns. From there, the City will review input and decide on the next steps.
“I have three levels to report,” Paso Robles mayor Steve Martin said, “one is my personal experience, another is from people who offer feedback to me, and other is from organizations like Main Street and businesses.”
Martin’s personal experience reflects many of those parking downtown — parking is readily available, the app is easy to use, and getting two hours free means he has never had to pay a penny for parking.
However, that data does not convince business-owner Roush of the big picture. Many residents stated they are avoiding downtown due to the “extra step” regarding the parking process. Some have reported disinterest in using an app for parking, walking half a block to use the kiosk or simple indignation about having to participate in paid parking in their own downtown.
Bottom line for businesses is whether being downtown is enough to keep them in their current location, and some business owners expressed patience as people conform to the paid parking process. Spring is approaching, and the season will tell the tale of whether business is better or not.
Meanwhile, the City is reviewing the current program and will make decisions at an upcoming meeting.
“We implemented the program,” Martin said, “will track the data, find out what the parking patterns are, and tweak the program as we go.”
Martin admitted that the input has not all been positive, with reports on both sides of the spectrum giving food for thought as the City considers improvements to the program.
“The reports from Main Street and the Chamber are a mixed bag,” Martin said. “Some say, ‘it is great, we have parking we never had before,’ others are saying it is impacting us negatively. Most of the problems are not the program itself but an aspect of the program that needs to be changed.”
The parking program will be on the agenda of the March 3 council meeting at City Hall, and both Roush and Martin agree that community participation at that meeting will be important for the future of downtown.
“We are in the customization stage,” Martin said. “We have tracked the data, and now how do we tweak the program.”
One of the complaints comes from those just outside the paid parking zone — employees of businesses within the zone have found convenient parking in front of businesses outside the zone.
“We get to work at 9:30 in the morning and we have cars parked all around our restaurant,” Santa Maria Brewing Company general manager Sean Knoph said, “and they stay there all day.”
City law enforcement is familiar with the “squeeze the balloon” concept that often applies to homeless migration. If you clean up a problem area, it moves to another area. While the area around the downtown park is now easy to find parking, the problems that occurred on 11th and 12th streets prior to the parking program now have a home on 14th street.
A perfect solution might not be found, but upcoming City Council decisions are bound to be met with high concerns as local businesses advocate for their own bottom line.
Ongoing research and input from local businesses is underway with a Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce survey and Paso Robles Press conducting in-person interviews with business owners and managers.
This is Part I of a Downtown Paso Robles Parking Series