Santa Rosa long has been planning to use money from its downtown parking district to help fund construction of new parking spaces along the sides of the soon-to-be reunified Old Courthouse Square.

There’s just one problem — it’s not legal.

City law allows revenue from parking meters to be used only for maintaining and “acquiring by purchase, lease or otherwise, and operating suitable areas for off-street parking of vehicles.”

That means parking lots.

But the city has planned to use about $300,000 in parking revenue to pay for the construction of 44 new parking spaces on both sides of the Hinton and Exchange streets, which soon will be installed along the east and west sides of the square, respectively.

That wouldn’t be allowed under current law. So the council, with very little debate Tuesday, changed it.

The number of parking spaces in the plan has been controversial because some view them as unnecessary and as reducing the size of the reunified square’s interior. Supporters, particularly downtown business and property owners, say the spaces are key to ensuring businesses thrive and the new park space is easily accessible.

The new spaces are expected to generate about $100,000 annually for the city, said Kim Nadeau, the city’s parking manager.

It was likely that the city, when it created the downtown parking district in 1988, crafted the language that way because it didn’t anticipate building any new streets downtown, Nadeau said.

Work on the $10 million project is expected to get underway in earnest in early June.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.