SOLANA BEACH — Philanthropy in Solana Beach may soon be as easy as paying for parking.
Council members at the April 27 meeting directed staff to look into the details of implementing a Kindness Meter program in the county’s second smallest city.
Kindness Meters are portable, sometimes solar, parking meter replicas that accept donations for charitable foundations and nonprofit organizations.
They are usually painted and decorated to attract attention and help people differentiate them actual parking meters. Signs indicate the beneficiary.
They accept cash — up to $68 in change — and credit cards. Donations locally have ranged from 25 cents to $1,000.
The concept is not new, dating back at least six years as a means to address panhandlers and homelessness. They are in more than 200,000 locations worldwide.
But the idea has only recently become somewhat of a local trend, thanks to Carlsbad resident Carlton Lund.
He has overseen the installation of eight Kindness Meters in North County, including three in Carlsbad that have collected about $7,000 for various charities in less than a year.
“I think that kindness is something that we can always have and share,” Lund said. “The prospect (is) getting nothing but feeling good and giving back and having kindness.”
The proposal was presented to Solana Beach at the request of Councilman Peter Zahn.
“One of the things that really grabbed me about this … is it has a two-directional purpose,” he said. “It can help underserved people in our community.
“It also engages young people and older people in philanthropy … and that’s really valuable because that can stay with people for the rest of their lives if they get in the habit,” Zahn added. “And just the picture of people bringing their kids down to the meter, assuming it does get popular, is pretty neat.”
According to the staff report there would be no cost to the city to implement the program.
As a North County neighbor, Lund offered to provide the meters and pay for installation.
“I do this as a citizen of North County,” he said. “That’s it.”
The selected beneficiaries would maintain the meters and collect donations.
While Zahn’s colleagues said they support the concept, they had several concerns, including locations and the possibility of vandalism or theft.
“I wouldn’t want it anywhere near a parking space,” Mayor Dave Zito said. “It could confuse the heck out of people.”
“I don’t like the idea of this on public property,” said Councilwoman Ginger Marshall, adding that if they were on sidewalks she could see a bike running into them or people tripping on them.
Councilman Mike Nichols said he didn’t want them at city parks.
Addressing the possibility of crime, Lund said the portable meters are fairly heavy at 80 pounds and can be installed permanently.
“It’s very, very secure when you put it into concrete,” he said. “It’s pretty indestructible. … It’s been pretty flawless. You put it up. You put it in the faith of people and kindness.”
Regardless, City Manager Greg Wade said it is possible the meters could disappear.
“The mobile ones I’m sure are subject to theft,” he said. “We’ve had smaller things stolen.”
The biggest concern, however, was aesthetics.
“I like the idea,” Nichols said. “The concept of kindness, you can’t argue with that. You can’t have too much kindness in this world.
“I am not necessarily a fan of the way it looks,” he added. “If there is a way to make it look better I’d be very interested in seeing that because it just looks like a parking meter. … I think it’s kind of tacky.”
“It’s not the most attractive thing in the world but I think with the right touch it could probably be made a little bit more appealing,” he said. “You want it to stand out but you also want it to blend in.”
Marshall echoed those comments and added a few others.
“Kindness is great,” she said.” I really don’t believe it’s government’s job to teach children how to be kind. I think that’s their parents’ responsibility.”
With a 4-1 vote council asked staff to return with alternative proposals for how to proceed with a process to place one or two meters around town and select beneficiaries.
“I can support your concept of trying to explore it further,” Nichols said. “I’m on the fence so hopefully we get some good examples of this. … Right now it’s kind of iffy but I’m willing to continue the conversation.”
“It just looks like city’s getting into being a … charitable organization,” said Marshall, who cast the dissenting vote.