The meter is now running at Santa Rosa Plaza, as this week marks the beginning of paid parking at the downtown mall.

Though at least one shopper Tuesday drew parallels with places like San Francisco, where parking is often a nightmare, the first 90 minutes of parking is free. Thereafter, rates rise with the clock, from $2 for the first three hours to $9 for 24 hours.

"It's not going to deter me," Dana Biggs of Santa Rosa said Tuesday after shopping for home items including bedspreads.

"In fact, if it's going to make parking easier, I'm pleased with that."

Mall officials have said that the parking fee will likely free up spaces for shoppers, who are often squeezed out of prime spots by people who work downtown.

On Tuesday, drivers paused at the intersection of B and Ross streets and appeared confused by the large orange barricades blocking the entrance to the parking structure north of Macy's.

Signs of the new policy were posted near all of the parking complex's nine newly gated entrances. Parking assistants were stationed at each of the entrances to help motorists with the new procedure.

Mall spokeswoman Kim Hall said Tuesday there haven't been any problems. She said it's too early to tell whether the new parking fee with deter shoppers from visiting the mall. She said back-to-school shopping brought many people to the mall Monday.

"Yesterday, the mall was really busy with a lot of shopping, a lot of bags," Hall said.

Other parking fees are as follows: Three to four hours of parking will cost $4; four to six hours will cost $8; and there is no overnight parking. Cars left overnight will be towed at their owners' expense.

The mall, which is owned by the Simon Property Group, did not allow interviews with shoppers in the parking lot. Hall said it was the company's policy not to allow "man on the street" interviews.

Biggs, who was contacted by phone about an hour and a half after she left the mall, said she was able to get in and out of the mall before her 90 minutes were up. Still, she said she sympathized with those who used the mall for extended parking.

"Parking is a premium downtown," she said. "There's just not that many places to park and the mall was one of those places."

CiCi Zellerbach of Healdsburg, who was also shopping for linen Tuesday, said the new parking policy reminded her of San Francisco parking woes. She said she hasn't visited the mall in 15 years and after Tuesday she won't come back.

"I was shocked," Zellerbach said during a phone interview, adding that she made a point to keep her stay under the 90-minute limit for free parking.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or