DEL MAR — There are plenty of parking spaces in Del Mar, just not enough where people want them the most.
That is the conclusion of a recently completed parking study presented at the Nov. 18 council meeting, and it confirms what many people have been saying for years.
Data collected revealed that on average, during a peak usage day in August, 83 percent of on-street stalls were occupied.
“But that’s the average,” consultant Steffen Turoff from Walker Parking said. “So there were plenty of blocks where it was well above that, and we would consider that a problem.”
He said more than 90 percent of on-street spaces were occupied on Camino del Mar, Stratford Court, Ocean Avenue and 13th through 15th streets.
But off-street parking in private and public lots at the same time was between 40 percent and 80 percent.
In some places it’s “difficult, if not impossible,” to find parking, while in other areas “demand really peters out,” Turoff said, noting that about 400 empty spaces were found.
In the overall study area, which included 1,875 stalls in the central commercial zone from the railroad tracks to east of Luneta Drive, L’Auberge Del Mar and Zuni Drive to 10th Street, on a Saturday summer night, 76 percent of on-street and 59 percent of off-street stalls were occupied, including Del Mar Plaza.
The number of off-street spaces decreased to 36 percent when Del Mar Plaza was excluded.
Turoff said one of the most important factors is turnover.
“We can say we need X number of spaces, but what really determines how many cars we’re serving is … how frequently those spaces are turning,” he said.
For visitors, those spaces should be turning quickly. “Not that we’re kicking people out,” he said, but visitors don’t stay long compared to employees.
He said an employee parked in one space for eight hours represents four to eight visitors who can’t use that space during that time.
He said 23 percent of the spaces on Camino del Mar were not turning, exceeding the maximum three-hour limit despite enforcement efforts.
“This is relatively good but it still means one out of every four or five spaces that should be available to visitors are not,” he said.
Employees and business owners generally arrive first to open. Visitors show up second and they have trouble finding spaces, which in a nutshell is what we found, Turoff said.
He said he saw “regulars” removing chalk, moving cars and parking in residential areas.
“This is really a behavioral issue,” he said. “There are parking spaces, maybe not where everybody wants them.”
“Everybody fits” with the current available parking, he said. “You just have to manage it a little differently.”
Turoff recommends developing an employee parking program that includes incentives for workers to park in designated areas, “which can be challenging but it can be done,” he said.
He said turnover can be increased by extending enforcement hours from the current 6 p.m. to about 9 p.m.
He said the incentive to park farther away and walk to one’s destination should be free parking. In Del Mar it is currently the other way around, with free spaces in the higher demand areas along Camino del Mar, with metered parking under L’Auberge.
“That’s part of the parking management problem,” he said.
Turoff also recommends creating a residential permit program.
City staff is also working on a shared parking plan so private spaces for daytime businesses can be used for public parking at night.
“There is an abundance of parking on private property,” City Manager Scott Huth said. “To maximize that use the city needs to step in and play a management role.”
Planning Director Kathy Garcia said the suggestions are supported by the Traffic and Parking and Business Support advisory committees. She said TPAC also recommends using towing as an enforcement option.
Council members also support going forward with the recommendations.
“This employee parking program is going to have the most immediate impact until next summer,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “And by next summer we should be talking about changing the parking time, getting more paid parking.
“I think free parking right in the middle of downtown doesn’t work,” he added. “If there’s a fear that putting in more paid parking is going to push people into the neighborhoods then we have to have residential permits, too.”
Councilman Al Corti said he would like to see specifics on how to implement the ideas.
“I hope that the study would say, ‘And here’s possible ways of doing it,’ Corti said. “If … there’s recommendations on how to do it, I’m all ears.”
Staff will report back to council on the progress in about six months.
The downtown parking study is the first step in creating a comprehensive parking management plan for the city.