Santa Rosa council votes to bring back parking meters

Santa Rosa is moving forward with a plan to rip out dozens of relatively new downtown parking stations that merchants said were baffling to their customers and bad for business.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to move toward purchasing 215 new single-space meters meant to be more user-friendly, but which will also be more expensive to maintain.

Downtown business owners gathered more than 2,000 signatures on surveys showing customers preferred the newer single-space meters over the existing system.

The new single-space units, now common in cities like San Francisco and Portland, accept credit and debit cards as well as coins. The multispace stations did the same thing but required drivers to first find the station, get a slip of paper from the station, and then return to their vehicles to put that slip on their dashboards.

"As the owner of a convertible with a manual top, the current system does not work," said Mayor Scott Bartley, who owns a vintage Mercedes sportster. "I cannot put a little piece of paper on my dashboard with any hope that it'll remain there."

Several council members said they supported the switch largely because business owners hadn't just complained about the problem but had identified a viable solution.

"Thank you to the merchants downtown ... for really holding our feet to the fire and making sure that we re-evaluate the meter system to make sure we get something that works for everybody," Councilwoman Julie Combs said.

City parking officials are proposing to remove 30 of the 85 kiosks located on sidewalks on Third, Fourth and Fifth streets between B and E streets. They would be replaced with the 215 new meters at a cost of about $172,000.

The funds would all come from money set aside in the parking district budget specifically for parking improvements. For now, the pay stations will remain in downtown parking lots and other areas such as Railroad Square.

Bernie Schwartz, owner of California Luggage on Fourth Street, said he knows parking issues in Santa Rosa can be "a real can of worms," but he appreciated the council's willingness to try something new.

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