If you're in the market for parking meters (slightly used), you may soon find them on eBay, Craigslist or wherever unwanted parking meters are sold.

Yes, the Santa Rosa City Council is scrapping its latest misadventure in parking. Many of the slick, new pay stations, rolled out with so much enthusiasm four years ago, will be sent to that great parking meter auction in the sky.

Customers never liked them (and the customer is always right). Thus, the merchants who recommended them soon changed their minds, as well.

Also, parking tags to be placed on the dashboard became a hassle for Mayor Scott Bartley whenever the top was down on his vintage Mercedes. (Even if he was kidding, I'm betting Hizzoner wishes he'd kept it to himself.)

Let us take a moment here to regret that city officials and the merchants who wanted these new pay stations didn't discover their disutility before the money was spent.

The 30 kiosks to be jettisoned immediately cost the city $214,500. Their replacements, 215 single-space meters, will cost $172,000. The new meters also cost more to maintain and operate than the old ones — which likely means that parking fees will be increased to pay for them.

City officials insist some of the stations will be re-used, but you can only put so much lipstick on this thing. It is what it is — a mistake.

Meanwhile, Councilman Jake Ours suggested parking fees may also be raised for downtown maintenance costs.

Welcome to downtown!

Mistakes happen, and parking is like baseball. Everyone's an expert.

What works in one town won't necessarily work in another. People who complain about not being able to park 30 feet from their favorite store in downtown Santa Rosa don't give it a second thought if they have to walk three blocks to their favorite store in San Francisco.

A year from now, we can be sure that someone won't like these new parking meters either.

Still, Santa Rosa City Hall has shown an unfortunate propensity for missteps when it comes to downtown parking. Over the years, the litany of common complaints include overzealous enforcement, high fees and costly fines, parking meters that don't work, dark and dingy garages and yes, inconvenient pay stations.

City Hall also has served up a couple of decades of false starts and mixed signals.

In 2009, the council invited a UCLA parking expert to advocate for real-time demand schemes, increased fees and reductions in off-street parking.

In 2008, the city invited a team of urban design experts from the Mayors' Institute on City Design and the National Endowment for the Arts who recommended that the city raise parking fees and taxes to finance downtown improvements.

There were others. Space here doesn't permit a listing of all the downtown organizations, the visiting teams of experts and the blue-ribbon commissions which filed voluminous reports later consigned to some dusty closet at City Hall.

What we've learned is that city officials find it hard to walk their talk when its comes to downtown.

Over time, Santa Rosans have heard promises to re-unite Old Courthouse Square, embrace transit-oriented development, build a food and wine center at Railroad Square, transform the abandoned AT&T building into a tony arts complex and redesign the Santa Rosa Plaza. There's been lots of talk about public art and vibrant public spaces, about walkable streetscapes, about mixed-use development and about making bicycle travel safe and convenient.

In this economy, nothing comes easy.

But too often, these grandiose plans announced with great fanfare created expectations that came to nothing, leaving a residue of disappointment and disillusionment.

These false starts and diversions continue to haunt efforts to revitalize downtown. The result has been drift and uncertainty — and a downtown that is healthy enough but not what it could be.

Decisions made a long time ago do make it more difficult to create a unified downtown. If we had a second chance, we would resist proposals to put a freeway through downtown or a city street through the middle of the city square; we would resist plans for a shopping mall designed to turn its back on downtown.

For Santa Rosa, it doesn't help to face comparison with downtowns in nearby cities. The Healdsburg Plaza recently was declared one of the most beautiful town squares in America.

Keep in mind, however, that Healdsburg wasn't always Healdsburg either — that is, it wasn't always a jet-set destination.

At the last, the future of downtown in Santa Rosa will depend on residents' willingness to recognize that every city is defined and judged by the vitality of its downtown.

The future of downtown also will depend on city officials who mean it when they say that downtown is important to them. Everything else is just talk.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.