Residents and merchants share their thoughts on parking program controversy

PASO ROBLES — Paid parking in Downtown Paso Robles has been a controversial hot topic for residents since its implementation in 2019. With numerous back and forths between the local community and City Council on the program’s regulations, one resident took a step that paused the paid parking until further notice. 

On Feb. 2, the city received a cease and desist letter from resident Gary Lehrer. During its Tuesday, Feb. 6, meeting, the Paso Robles City Council announced that it would be pausing the Downtown Paid Parking Program.

Just after the closed session of that Tuesday meeting, the city’s legal staff announced that the city had received a cease-and-desist letter from Lehrer, who raised concerns regarding modifications to the Paid Parking Program alleging violations of the Brown Act and other state laws. 


Lehrer told Paso Robles Press how he wants the city to move forward: “Frankly, I want all money returned that was collected, fees, citations, and senior passes. I want a full investigation into all of the decision-making processes and why legal counsel wasn’t more on top of this.”

In November 2023, the City Council approved making changes to the parking program that would eliminate the two hours of free parking and implement a mandatory $2-an-hour parking fee. However, City Councilmembers Chris Bausch and Fred Strong voted against the changes. The new parking regulations were set to be implemented earlier this year.

“Recently, I have been advised by people that parking is just a sneaky way for the city to raise money,” claimed Lehrer. “This has now turned into a matter of principle, and I am researching the full extent of laws that have been broken. I am hearing that the whole system is unfair to businesses that exist in the perimeter, too, because they take up spots and then shop close to the center. At this point, my top priorities are fairness, transparency, justice, and the well-being of the entire downtown area. I find it hard to compromise when those are the issues.”

Paso Robles Press reached out to various downtown business owners who shared opposite views of the parking program woes.

Earlier this year, Bijou on the Park owner Camilla Burns expressed to Paso Robles Press that she has seen a drastic decline in local customers, which in turn has taken a major hit to her business. From listening to customers, she said it was apparent that many locals were boycotting downtown in effort to hurt the city, but not without hurting the downtown businesses first.

But with the recent pause in the paid parking program, Burns says many of her local customers have returned, and downtown was immediately busier. 

“Literally the next day, all the [parking] spots were taken,” she said. “People were coming into town. We’ve seen tons of locals and regulars come back into town to shop. I think that proves a point.”

However, other local business owners worry that now their customers are struggling to find parking spots — the same problem that ignited the parking program over five years ago.

“We’re a thriving downtown that people want to visit,” said General Store Paso Robles owner Joeli Yaguda. “The parking program, though a work in progress, has helped our customers find quick and easy spots to visit our store. We’re deeply concerned to be going backward.” 

We spoke to some local residents enjoying dinner at Street Side Ale House and Eatery on 12th Street on Tuesday night, Feb. 13, who shared their views on the paid parking program.

Karen Tiffany, who is actually a retired branch manager for a large parking company in Southern California, worried that eliminating the free parking hours and aggressive parking tickets would begin to deter not only locals, but also tourists. 

“I didn’t mind the two hours free and $1, then after … they need a parking structure. They need a place for the employees to park,” said Tiffany. 

Tiffany noted that in the last week, it has become much harder to find parking spaces downtown and that, ultimately, the city needs to create more parking for visitors and employees. She also added that the parking kiosks and app continue to present issues for parking.

Some other residents enjoying drinks that night agreed that while they don’t mind paying a few dollars for paid parking, eliminating the free hours will deter them from visiting downtown as often.

The City Council will return to discuss the paid parking situation next week at its Tuesday, Feb. 20, meeting.

This is a developing story that Paso Robles Press is following and will provide updates as they become available.


2024 Paso Parking | Camille DeVaul.jpg

Paid parking signs have been taken down and kiosks covered while the parking lot fills up with visitors in Downtown Paso Robles. Photo by Camille DeVaul