Paid parking will return to council’s agenda at the next meeting for second reading and approval

PASO ROBLES — Following the receipt of a cease-and-desist letter that caused a pause in the paid parking program in Downtown Paso Robles, the City Council has once again approved the reinstatement of paid parking despite the pleas of many business owners and residents.

With a 3-2 vote, Councilmembers Chris Bausch and Fred Strong dissenting, the city passed the motion to reinstate the downtown paid parking program. 

On Feb. 2, the city received a cease-and-desist letter from community member Gary Lehrer. During its Tuesday, Feb. 6, meeting, the council announced that it would be pausing the Downtown Paid Parking Program. At the time, 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. 

Prior to the closed session in which council members would discuss the cease-and-desist letter, some local business owners noted they had seen an increase in business since the paid parking program was paused. 

Carla Cary, part owner of Spare Time Books on 12th Street, said, “With the lack of paid parking, we have seen an uptick in business downtown. I can speak for myself and many other business owners that we saw our record high days in the last couple of weeks.”

She also saw an increase in local residents visiting downtown. 

“We’ve had patrons and people who have not visited the shop in years come by and give business to downtown and bring lots of economy to downtown,” Cary said. “Tourists are always going to come in and out, but I think in order to have a thriving and long-lasting city, I do think that workaround in parking would be beneficial.”

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, Bausch and Strong voted against the changes. The new parking regulations were set to be implemented earlier this year.

Paso Robles and Templeton Chamber of Commerce CEO Gina Fitzpatrick did advocate for the return of a parking program.

“Our Board of Directors had several healthy discussions and came to realize that a parking program is always needed in the downtown of Paso Robles,” said Fitzpatrick, who said she was representing local businesses that did not feel comfortable speaking at the meeting on Tuesday night.

However, there was an overwhelming representation from the public, with residents and business owners against the current parking program.

“To say that this council doesn’t love our community is crazy,” said Councilmember Steve Gregory, following public comment and working to reassure the public that the council does care for the community.

The city will be issuing refunds for fees paid to park in the downtown and parking citations issued and paid for failure to pay to park in the downtown between the period of Feb. 6, 2023, and Feb. 6, 2024. 

With a 3-2 vote, City Council voted to reinstate paid parking at the previous rate between $1 an hour and $5 an hour. Any changes to the ordinance above $1 will be brought to council before approval. Bausch and Strong dissented. Additionally, with another 3-2 vote, Bausch and Strong dissenting, council approved a report from the city manager on the implementation and signage for the new downtown parking program.

The paid parking program will be brought to council again at the next City Council meeting for a second reading and second chance to approve the program.

Additionally, the council approved acknowledging receipt of the cease-and-desist letter and sending a response letter. However, it passed with a 4-1 vote, with Bausch dissenting.

Paso Robles City Manager Ty Lewis told Paso Robles Press that if City Council approves the parking ordinance at its second reading on March 5, then the city will move forward with paid parking to start on April 5. At that time, parking will cost $1 per hour at minute one. The parking kiosks, app, and texts remain the same to support parking sessions, and new signage will be installed prior to April 5. 

The next Paso Robles City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m.