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Parking at downtown Santa Rosa meters to be free after 6 p.m.

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Santa Rosa will soon stop charging for parking after 6 p.m. at all downtown meters, a concession to local entrepreneurs and property owners who claimed that charging drivers to pay to park later than that has been bad for business.

There’s no timeline for the change, which came after city parking manager Kim Nadeau outlined to the City Council on Tuesday data that showed parking spots in downtown Santa Rosa remained in relatively high demand since the city launched a new system in January 2018.

There was no formal vote after the presentation, but with broad council support of Mayor Tom Schwedhelm’s suggestion to change the hours, the message to Nadeau was clear. She and her staff will now figure out how best to reconfigure the meters dotting downtown blocks and propagate new signs informing citizens that all downtown meters will now run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Currently, some meters charge until as late as 8 p.m.

“My mission now is to move as quickly as we can to changing those hours,” she said, “which is a logistical thing that we need to deal with, but we can do that.”

That’s something that should be done before the lucrative holiday season kicks into full swing, said Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber.

“I think it’s really important” to move fast, he said, adding that the city’s decision to change its policies shows “an understanding that we want people to be downtown.”

The current “premium” and “value” tiers for spots near Old Courthouse Square and Railroad Square remain intact, as do its hourly rates for meters and rules reducing the price of parking in the city’s First and Seventh street garages.

The policy change followed a litany of testimonials from members of the downtown business community, for which parking and homelessness consistently have been top concerns.

Speakers supporting the push to roll back downtown evening parking hours included Gerard Nebesky, who cited parking among the reasons he’s closing his paella restaurant; Sonu Chandhi, whose company owns the recently closed Stout Brothers pub and who recalled how an acquaintance from Los Angeles was shocked how late Santa Rosa charged for parking; and Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River Brewing Company, who lamented how sales at the beer merchant’s Santa Rosa location were down 33% compared to 2018.

“I hope that you are hearing the business community say to you that our numbers do not correlate with the parking data,” Cilurzo said, “that our numbers are down, that we are seeing less and less people as the days and the months and the years go by.”

The council later approved another small change in hopes of boosting holiday shopping downtown: free garage parking on Nov. 30, the Saturday after “Black Friday.” Council members expressed a willingness to work closely with downtown business interests to address parking and other issues, starting with quick changes like cutting off paid parking hours earlier.

“I think we really do need to roll it back,” said Councilman John Sawyer, the former proprietor of Sawyer’s News in downtown Santa Rosa. “Our merchants need help right now. It’s something we can control. We need to do it as quickly as we possibly can, and then hopefully, we’ll see a change in their numbers in the future.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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