Parking just got more expensive at Santa Rosa’s downtown shopping center, and early next year the rates will rise at street meters and in public lots within the city’s core.
Not everyone relishes such changes, but representatives for both the Santa Rosa Plaza and the city defend the moves.
For the plaza, ending 90 minutes of free parking earlier this month will provide new funds to help cover garage maintenance and improvements, a representative said. Further, the shopping center has kept garage rates unchanged for five years and even now offers the cheapest price to park downtown for the first two hours, a cost of $1.
For the city, officials are hoping that higher rates in the heart of downtown will free up parking spaces on crowded streets by encouraging value-conscious motorists to park a little farther away in less-used public garages. Starting in January, those who do so will be rewarded with a free hour of parking and lower rates thereafter.
Also, low-wage downtown workers will be able to purchase a monthly pass for half price at garages on the fringe.
“It will cost you more to park in the premium places,” said Mayor Chris Coursey. However, motorists will pay less to use a garage on the edge of the commercial center.
Coursey brought up the January parking rate increases when asked for a reaction to the shopping center doing away with the 90 minutes of free parking for shoppers.
“Just to be fair,” he said, “the plaza’s not the only one changing the deal.”
Parking was free at the plaza garages for nearly three decades. But five years ago the mall installed a system of parking ticket dispenser machines and metal arm gates.
Some shoppers and merchants panned the idea, even with 90 minutes of free parking. But mall officials said a change was needed because roughly 400 downtown workers were taking up prime parking all day among the plaza’s 3,000 spaces.
The new parking plans come in a year of change for downtown. The city’s central gathering space, Old Courthouse Square, has been reunited into one area. Also, the SMART train is slated to start service soon in Marin and Sonoma counties, with stops at the historic station in Railroad Square.
Civic leaders hope both changes will bring more people downtown, some of whom will want to use the 4,600 public parking spaces on streets and in lots and garages there.
The changing nature of downtown was cited by a plaza representative when noting that the new parking rates will support garage maintenance and improvements.
“The introduction of the SMART train and other growth in the city’s core will add additional strain on limited downtown parking,” Kate Hudson, a spokeswoman for mall owner Simon Property Group, wrote in an email.
The plaza now charges $1 for the first two hours, and a maximum of $9. Parking will be free for those who enter and exit daily between noon and 1 p.m. That accommodation, said Hudson, allows those to park free who “have a quick errand to run or want to grab a quick bite to eat.”
Under the city’s new plan, rates next year will increase to $1.50 an hour on streets and in parking lots near the core area — essentially Third to Fifth streets and E Street to the rail station. Street parking meters outside the premium area will remain at $1 an hour.