City gears up for downtown parking changes

City gears up for downtown parking changes
Council members recently approved changes to the downtown parking rules that should help improve what many say is a parking shortage in the area, especially during peak times. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — Changes to the downtown parking rules received a green light from council members at the Sept. 19 meeting. But the modifications are still subject to two public hearings and approval by the California Coastal Commission before they can implemented.

Insufficient parking in the commercial zone has long been seen as a problem, although some will argue there are plenty of spaces but in all the wrong or too distant places.

Decades of studies have proven the latter to be true, often indicating that during peak times on-street public parking is usually full while spaces in private areas are empty.

The private supply is fragmented and controlled by several property owners who generally focus on the required parking for their businesses rather than actively helping to find approaches to serve the larger commercial core, according to the staff report.

The existing parking plan, established in 1959, has been amended through the years but there has not been a comprehensive review for about three decades despite changes in technology, car types and parking strategies.

With council guidance, staff members have been working on a citywide parking management plan for quite some time. In January 2015 they presented a proposal focused on just the village that featured potential strategies in four categories: parking management, parking supply, financial and technological considerations and parking standards.

Recommended code changes in the last category, considered the “low-hanging fruit” in the downtown area that could quickly address some of the issues, were presented Sept. 19.

The suggestions were based on input from the Planning Commission and Business Support and Traffic and Parking Advisory committees, all three of which approved the proposed changes.

To encourage better use of property, charging for required parking by way of a conditional use permit will be allowed. Charging is currently allowed for nonrequired parking.

The calculation of required off-street parking will be based on use categories by updating the terminology and incorporating a more user-friendly format. However, parking ratios will not change.

The requirement for a city-provided shuttle to and from off-street parking will be removed from the code, which currently mandates its creation once 50 spaces had been identified for the in-lieu program.

“We’ve tried having shuttles in the past,” senior management analyst Jon Terwilliger said. “They haven’t been very successful. Based on that track record, having a code restricting us and binding us to that, we felt … was a little bit onerous.”

City Manager Scott Huth said the shuttle concept was based on a belief that parking lots would be far from the downtown area. With the addition of public spaces at the Civic Center complex now being built, that is no longer the case.

Huth said it will only be about a three- or four-block walk to most businesses and restaurants.

“The removal of the shuttle is an admirable idea,” resident Bill Michalsky said. “We couldn’t afford it anyway.”

He said the money would be better used for other projects, such as street paving.

The new rules will also permit businesses to use the in-lieu program for up to 75 percent of their required parking. The 50-space cap will be eliminated.

The code changes will allow valet parking to be used for up to 50 percent of a business’s required spaces. They will also promote alternative transportation by providing bicycle and clean-air vehicle parking incentives.

To maximize the use of paved surfaces, varying stall designs and dimensions will be added to accommodate electric car charging stations, motorcycles and micro and compact cars.

“We don’t have codes that reflect those modes of transportation,” Terwilliger said.

Certain requirements for landscaping in planting areas will be removed to allow more flexibility.

The times between uses for shared-use parking will be reduced by 30 minutes since most offices close at 5 p.m. and restaurant business starts to pick up at 5:30 p.m. Currently, those establishments sharing spaces cannot do so until 6 p.m.

As part of the downtown parking management plan staff identified current parking issues and needs and tried to anticipate future needs and implementation strategies to address those needs and concerns, Terwilliger said. He added they are hoping to activate two-thirds of the inventory.

There are about 1,875 available parking spaces, most of which are off-street, private.

Huth said staff has identified at least 300 private spots that are underused during peak times.

“We were trying to figure out avenues in which to release those and get them to work better,” he said. “Not that all these are going to be silver bullets to solving our parking problem but it really allows us to be … more coordinated in our efforts to … free up some of those parking (spaces) to share amongst the commercial area and … reduce the burden of employees and people parking in the residential neighborhoods.”

“I appreciate that these (changes) have been well-reviewed, and I think we should move forward with them,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “I think all these are good.”

Councilman Al Corti agreed.

“This has been a long process,” he said. “If Business Advisory and TPAC and Planning Commission think it’s a good idea, I do, too.”

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