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Free parking ending in Petaluma, Santa Rosa

While the coronavirus pandemic has brought few things to cheer about, free parking was one of them. Alas, that’s ending in Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

The cities relaxed their pay and timed parking enforcement after the pandemic began, shuttering most businesses and mandating shelter-in-place orders to slow the spread of the pathogen that has killed more than 200,000 worldwide.

But beginning Monday in Petaluma and Wednesday in Santa Rosa, no more free ride. You’ll have to break out your coins or credit cards to stash your vehicle in the cities’ central cores.

The moves come as the Sonoma County health officer has relaxed restrictions on businesses, allowing more to open and serve customers inside instead of curbside pickup only. Both cities have already welcomed more customers to their downtowns as residents revisit the restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores they’ve been locked out of since March.

In Petaluma, the abandoned-vehicle abatement officer will also be back on the job, enforcing violations of cars, trucks and RVs left in place longer than the three-day law allows.

Santa Rosa announced it would begin charging drivers to park again downtown last week, lifting a temporary rule the City Council put in place in April allowing free parking downtown. The city also approved proposals to make hourly parking cheaper. Those changes, recommended by the city’s parking staff, take effect Wednesday.

By the time Santa Rosa waived parking fees at meters downtown in April, revenue had already plunged 95 percent since mid-March, when the shutdowns began.

As shoppers return to downtown Santa Rosa beginning next month, they’ll find a new set of rules intended to make it easier to park.

The first hour in city garages will be free, parking will be free after 5 p.m. and on weekends, and the cost of some metered spots will fall to 75 cents an hour. First-time users of a smartphone parking app the city employs will receive a few dollars in free parking.

In both cities, city councils have changed rules for restaurants to allow for additional seating in outdoor areas so they can provide outdoor dining options.

In Santa Rosa that includes waived meter reservation fees so businesses can set up seating in parking spaces and on sidewalks. The council previously agreed to close Fourth Street between B and E streets until mid-October, starting July 10.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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