SOLANA BEACH — Addressing a parking shortage along Coast Highway 101 and South Cedros Avenue, City Council directed staff at a July 16 special meeting to bring back more details on four proposed solutions that include valet service, shorter time limits for areas with high turnover, rooftop lots and a change in requirements.
Council members generally agreed the first two could be implemented fairly easily, although they had some concerns.
“I don’t think it should be used in exchange for required parking,” Councilman Mike Nichols said of the valet service. “This is just to provide supplemental parking for existing businesses.”
His colleagues agreed and were also amenable to dedicating a few street spots for drop-off and pickup. But there were mixed feelings about using public lots for a private valet service and the city contracting with a provider.
“I’d like to avoid that as long as this private arrangement can really function in an effective way,” Councilman Peter Zahn said.
If the idea goes forward, it was suggested that it start slowly, perhaps Thursday through Saturday nights.
As long as business owners agree, council members support shortening parking times to 20 minutes at a few spaces in front of stores such as UPS where customers are generally in and out quickly.
“I think that this absolutely makes sense,” Mayor Tom Campbell said, adding that approval from the California Coastal Commission must be secured before moving forward. He also agreed with Councilman David Zito that the limits must be strictly enforced.
“This one will be fun,” Campbell said sarcastically as the rooftop parking discussion began. “I certainly have some concerns about this particular item. My primary concern is if we go down this road it’s really going to, I believe, change the character of some of these business districts.
“I do not want to see big-box buildings built from lot line to lot line to facilitate rooftop parking,” he added. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t consider it but there would have to be a lot of safeguards.”
His colleagues had the same concern. Council members Lesa Heebner and Mike Nichols said they would support it on the west side of South Cedros only.
“I think it might help with the employee parking as well as patron parking,” Heebner said.
As for allowing it on Coast Highway, she said, “There’s an opportunity for new buildings and I wouldn’t want to see them become large, boxy, bulky buildings that wouldn’t suit the pedestrian nature and scale.”
Based on what some other cities have done, Nichols introduced the idea of allowing existing commercial buildings to convert to restaurants without requiring more parking spaces, as is the case now.
“Most of the buildings were constructed before Solana Beach became a city, when the current parking standards did not exist,” Nichols said. “Today most buildings are underutilized because of the current restrictions. They prohibit a change in use from office building to restaurant because they can’t add parking. This is a way of finding new life for those buildings.
“Part of the character and the urban fabric and the architecture of Solana Beach … is that we have a lot of old buildings,” he said. “That charm has evolved over time and if you have … projects that come in that start to pick away at these and take them down, we’re going to end up with a streetscape … that may not look like Solana Beach. … I personally don’t want to see that happen.”
Campbell said the concept is great but not without problems.
“Something like this, in my mind, just pours fuel on the fire,” he said. “I would like to see more restaurants, too, but where are they going to park?
“I’ve got some concerns about just making these exceptions and just creating a bigger problem than we have now,” he added.
It was suggested that rooftop parking and requirement changes only be offered to a limited number of businesses. But council members and some residents questioned the legality.
Resident Tracy Richmond, one of only a few people who spoke at the meeting, didn’t support any of the recommendations.
“Solana Beach has to improve over time,” he said. “It has to upgrade. But boy, let’s keep it low key because that’s why we live here.”
He said adding more restaurants is good in theory, but they will inevitably become bars.
“Encinitas is a good example,” he said. “The vibe of the street is different. It’s not a funky beach town anymore. It’s starting to become a party town. There’s bouncers at the doors of places. … It’s not what I want to see in Solana Beach.”
He said suggestions, including the valet service, wouldn’t add more parking.
Nichols disagreed. “I think there’s some advantages to doing this because if a business is having a hard time parking … and they’re able to do tandem parking or things that you can’t do when people park themselves, you can increase your efficiencies in your existing lots.”
Nichols and Heebner make up a council subcommittee that has been working with business and property owners, residents and other stakeholders to find solutions to parking concerns.
About 40 suggestions came out of the first meeting, a brainstorming session in December where “no idea was a bad idea,” Nichols said.
All ideas were discussed, some were eliminated and others were combined into the list of four that were presented to council.
City staff will come back with more details on the feasibility of each item at future meetings.
Heebner said they all warranted further exploration.
“People are coming here to develop, and if we don’t do something that is maybe creative and a little out of the box what we’re going to see is a lot of boxes because people are going to buy these spaces, tear them down, build to the max as much as they can and provide underground parking for their parking requirements,” she said.
“That’s what I don’t want to see up and down 101,” she added. “We have to do something. That’s why we’re here talking about these different ideas — so that we can maintain the fabric of our beach town, so that we can create incentives so that some of these old buildings won’t be torn down.”