Motorists in downtown Santa Monica will be faced with having to pay more to park as the city looks to better manage its parking demand and improve the operation of its public parking supply.

The City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday, September 8th to implement various recommendations of the Walker Parking Study, an update to the Downtown Parking Program. The initiative is a ten-year plan that calls for the reconstruction of city parking structures 1, 3 and 6, as well as the construction of additional parking on Fifth Street, creating more than 1,700 new parking spaces in the downtown area.

Among the recommendations of the study are adjusting parking rates for on-street parking meters in downtown and parking structures, developing a centralized valet system, and encouraging increased use of alternative transportation by area employees.

Hourly rates for meters would jump from $1 to $1.50 under the program and hours of operation would be expanded from 6 to 10 p.m., while the daily maximum rate for parking structures will be raised to $9. Currently, the first two hours at structures are free, but under the new plan, the first hour would remain free and the second hour will be $1. The flat evening rate will be raised from $3 to $5.

Some council members said they had concerns with dropping the two hours of free parking and raising the evening rate. Councilman Bob Holbrook, the only member to vote against the recommendations, said people should not feel discouraged to go downtown for entertainment.

“I think it’s important to get people to come to downtown Santa Monica for dinner and a movie,” he said.

Other recommendations include developing a financing plan for the parking program, including adjusting in-lieu fees, and enhancing parking operations.

The Walker Parking Consultants study evaluated parking operations and conditions in downtown and other nearby commun- ities, looking at revenue opportunities from sources such as parking rates and in-lieu fees. The study aims to allow the city to better handle its parking demand and maximize efficiency of the downtown parking supply, city staff said.

The report provides an update to the parking program’s financing plan by considering options for improving the effectiveness, customer service, pricing and technology of the city’s parking operations, staff said.

“The issue here is that we want to redistribute the demand,” Steffan Turoff, Walker Parking Consultants project manager, told the council. “Parking is inexpensive in Santa Monica, especially where the demand is so high, and if you properly price the parking spaces the demand will be distributed more evenly.”

With the planned reconstruction of parking structures 1 and 6 leading to 576 more spaces, the study finds that no more public parking is currently needed. But the report recommends other actions to support access to downtown such as using increased revenue to influence workers to use alternative transportation as well as to improve facility technology.

City officials are hoping to better manage the parking demand in response to anticipated growth and visitors associated with remodeled facilities including Santa Monica Place, slated to open in August next year. Adequate parking is also needed to accommodate new planned cinemas, staff noted.

Council members praised the proposals in the Walker report for analyzing how to improve the efficiency of the parking system and increase the availability of parking. Councilman Kevin McKeown echoed the study’s findings that by having inexpensive parking, it encourages more driving.

“Your study has turned out to be a revolutionary document,” McKeown told the parking consultants. “(The study shows) that underpricing parking is subsidizing driving and thus increasing traffic, and that’s what it appears we’ve been doing to ourselves downtown.”

Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District Corporation, which manages downtown, said the report “is just the beginning” and there needs to be someone to oversee the program to ensure that the recommendations are implemented properly.

Councilman Richard Bloom said he was concerned at how long it has taken for the city to put such a program in place but it will allow officials to make the parking system more efficient.

“This is an opportunity for us to look at comprehensively how we’re doing this in the city,” Bloom said.

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