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Paso is getting rid of its downtown paid parking program 

Just before the Paso Robles City Council unanimously voted to repeal the city's downtown paid parking program, two council members said that they never wanted to hear about parking again.

"It's your problem at this point," Mayor John Hamon said during the May 7 meeting. "You're going to have to manage your own problems."

click to enlarge SAY GOODBYE Parking payment kiosks like this one will likely soon disappear from downtown Paso Robles, as the City Council is opting to repeal its paid parking program. - FILE PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • File Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • SAY GOODBYE Parking payment kiosks like this one will likely soon disappear from downtown Paso Robles, as the City Council is opting to repeal its paid parking program.

Since March, when the council voted to tweak the program by taking away the first two hours of free parking because it wasn't paying for itself, residents and business owners have challenged the city over the decision. In April, residents submitted a referendum petition, calling for some of the parking ordinance's codes to go before voters on the November ballot. Paso suspended the paid parking program in the wake of the controversy, and parking has been free since.

"I have never seen an issue that has raised the ire of the community other than this paid parking, which you seem determined to cram down our throats," resident Richard Pettit said during the meeting. "We submitted these signatures to you ... and you basically threw them in the trash, enthusiastically rejected the referendum with this nitpicking, so-called flaws. Do you really think this will change the voters?"

During the meeting, City Attorney Elizabeth Hull said the city clerk was going to officially reject the petition on May 8.

According to a city staff report, the city reached out to petitioners in March to alert them that the city "had concerns about the validity of the form being used" to gather signatures. Proponents, the staff report said, said they weren't available to discuss the form but "had legal counsel and were confident the referendum complied with state law." On April 2, proponents turned the referendum in to the city clerk with 2,281 signatures. The clerk had until May 14 to make a determination.

In the city clerk's May 8 rejection letter, she said the petition violated election code because it didn't include the number or official title of the ordinance it was protesting, it didn't include a required advisory about paid or volunteer signature gatherers, and included statements that were confusing and misleading to voters.

Petitioner and city resident Dave Nelson told New Times that the city had two options: to place the referendum on the ballot or repeal the ordinance. They chose option two, he said.

"They don't want to put it on the ballot because it's expensive, they said. ... It's expensive and they're going to lose," Nelson said. "I'm happy with the result, but I'm not happy it took this to get them to listen."

During the May 7 meeting, Councilmember Fred Strong said that putting the referendum on the ballot would cost the city between $50,000 and $100,000, adding that he would prefer that the council repeal the ordinance over spending the money.

He also said that the reason the paid parking program existed was because "everybody was begging us to do something" about employees parking in front of stores all day long. A common business complaint prior to 2018 was that there was never any parking downtown for customers.

Mayor Hamon added that after studying the issue, the council decided it would be easier to enforce paid parking rather than time limits because the program could pay for itself—$1 an hour after the first two hours free. However, the program didn't pay for itself, which is why the council decided this year to remove the first two hours of free parking.

"We figured out that legally, there is no way to keep public employees or anyone from staying there all day and taking spots from people who were going to trade with different merchants," Hamon said. "We're going to get back to the point where merchants are going to have [cars] parked in front of them all day long without people coming through the front door."

Assistant City Manager Chris Huot told New Times that after the recent vote to repeal the paid parking ordinance, there is no longer a paid parking program in place. While the City Council still needs to vote on a second reading of the repeal, parking will remain free for those who visit downtown.

"The kiosks are still there; there's signage on them to show that no fee is required to park," Huot said. "Sometime after the second reading, in the not-too-distant future, that signage will be removed," and so will the kiosks. Δ

Note: This article was updated to include a photo and links.


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