Although city officials say they can’t tell private parking companies how much to charge for their spaces, they would like to develop a parking strategy that maximizes parking for more drivers at any given time , which includes working with building managers to open lots when they would otherwise be closed.
“I think of parking like housing. If downtown as a whole doesn’t have affordable parking or it gets out of hand, there’s no ‘perceived’ problem anymore,” says Frank Alessi, chief financial officer for the downtown redevelopment agency, Centre City Development Corp. “People are not going to come downtown to the Gaslamp to pay $25 to go to dinner.”
The city is tackling the problem using myriad approaches , including paying public and private lot operators to keep lots open when they’re otherwise not in use, and in one case funding a valet service.
According to a report by transportation and infrastructure consultant Wilbur Smith Associates of South Carolina, vehicle occupancy varies widely at downtown lots.
Garage Space Options
Privately operated garages in most downtown neighborhoods , with the exception of the Gaslamp Quarter , are typically filled during the day and virtually empty at night.
In Little Italy, for instance, daytime occupancy is 73 percent compared to 9 percent at night, and in Cortez Hill, garages are 82 percent full during the day and 7 percent full at night, the report says.
Alessi says CCDC is paying San Diego-based Ace Parking Management to operate an office garage at 600 Ash St. in the Gaslamp Quarter during evening hours Thursdays through Saturdays. The agency is paying for added expenses to cover extra security detail and utility costs. If the program is successful, CCDC can turn it wholly over to a private operator, Alessi says.
The group is also in discussions with the San Diego Unified School District to use parking lots at Washington Elementary School in Little Italy.
Valet In Little Italy
However, the most surprising initiative by CCDC took place in September when it agreed to pay $130,000 for a “universal valet” service in Little Italy that was pushed by the neighborhood merchants’ association. Ace Parking will operate the valet service.
In about a week, motorists will be able to drop off their vehicle in one of two locations for $10. Officials hope to recoup up to $50,000 of their initial outlay.
Alessi says he would eventually like to see a city parking garage in Little Italy.
“I think the general perception is that we have parking issues. When Comic-Con is going on or a ballgame is going on at the same time as some other Gaslamp thing on a Friday night, yes,” he said. “But I don’t think we develop parking to the 100-year worst case scenario.”
Thinking long term, the CCDC has been working with Wilbur Smith Associates since last fall to update its 1997 Downtown Comprehensive Parking Plan. The update contract value is $542,338.
Wilbur Smith has been looking at driving patterns, demand for parking places throughout the day, and the availability of street spaces and private off-street parking lots.
The firm is modeling how existing conditions would progress in 2010, 2015 and 2030, and will make recommendations to address long-term and immediate parking issues, says Sam Morrissey, a Wilbur Smith consultant.
“Some items the City Council is trying to put forth immediately , like (changing) meter times, hours of operations and rates for parking meters,” Morrissey says. “Our recommendations definitely reinforce some of those things with the city’s standpoint of managing on-street resources and better management and allocation of off-street spaces that are privately owned.”
A draft of the plan will be publicly available in November and could be approved by the City Council as early as January.
Some recommendations will be easier and more cost-effective to implement than others, says Tara Lake, a CCDC associate planner on the project.
“We have to develop a plan from what we want to start with first and what we can fund,” she says. “We’re starting our capital improvement process soon and deciding what we want to work on this year or next year.”