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SLO City Council reduces downtown parking costs after complaints 

The San Luis Obispo City Council sliced its parking rates almost by half, fielding complaints from business owners and residents impacted by the current cost of pulling up to downtown.

"Somebody in the audience said earlier to say, 'We're sorry,' and we hear the pain and the frustration," City Councilmember Emily Francis said at the May 14 meeting.

click to enlarge FULL ATTENTION The SLO City Council, with Mayor Erica Stewart absent, paid heed to community frustration about costly parking rates downtown and reduced the fees by almost half. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • FULL ATTENTION The SLO City Council, with Mayor Erica Stewart absent, paid heed to community frustration about costly parking rates downtown and reduced the fees by almost half.

With Mayor Erica Stewart absent because of illness, the City Council greenlit a parking rate plan that sets on-street parking at $2.75 an hour in the downtown core and at $2.25 per hour in the surrounding area. With an $8 daily maximum, parking in structures will cost $2 an hour. The cost reduction in parking structures also eliminates the existing free first hour and free parking on Sundays.

Currently, on-street parking in downtown SLO costs $4 per hour. Parking inside structures is $3 an hour with a daily maximum of $12.

Last July, the City Council raised downtown parking rates to demonstrate that the revenue collected from the increased fees could pay the $47 million in loans incurred from financing a new five-level, 403-space parking structure worth $53 million. The move effectively doubled the downtown hourly street parking rate and slated it to rise to $5 per hour in 2025.

"With the increase in parking structure fees, it is not sustainable for employees to pay for parking while working downtown for a full day," Abby Turco, a downtown SLO employee, told the City Council prior to the May 14 vote. "For lower wage workers like myself, the $12 fee is almost an entire hour of pay and unfortunately interferes with my ability to save for necessities."

According to previous New Times reporting, usually parking rate studies take place every five years, according to Deputy Director of Mobility Services Jennifer Rice, but city staff is conducting it sooner because SLO secured the funding for a fourth downtown parking garage.

Underscored by mounting public dissatisfaction, the city hired parking consultant Dixon Resources Unlimited for a little more than $130,000 to conduct a study that could find a way to balance parking affordability with the city's expenses. The consultant company engaged in a months-long process of conducting community surveys and parking occupancy data collection before presenting three parking rate model options at the May 14 meeting.

The City Council opted for the cost-conscious "option B" at the behest of more than a dozen community members. Roughly 2,700 survey responses from residents, visitors, business owners, and employees informed Dixon's creation of the parking models.

Consultant company founder Julie Dixon told the City Council that while the low-cost model barely breaks even for the city in the first fiscal year of 2024-25, it becomes a financially sustainable solution in the following years.

Comparatively, the first parking model option retained the free first hour in parking structures while reducing the parking rate to $2.50 an hour. It maintained the current street parking rates.

The third parking model option—Dixon's recommended choice—prioritized affordable parking in structures. It would have reduced the rate to $2 an hour with an $8 daily maximum and removed the first free hour and free parking on Sundays. This option would have lowered the hourly street parking rates in the downtown core and its surrounding areas to $3 and $2.50, respectively. It also would have shrunk monthly permit rates for 10-hour street meters from $60 to $45 and reduced monthly permit rates for structures from $85 to $65.

City staff recommended incorporating a monthly permit rate reduction for structures from $85 to $45 in the chosen low-cost parking rate plan, which the City Council approved. Other operational changes included perks like streamlining mobile payment to one app, expanding the two-hour time limit for street parking in the downtown core to three hours, and eventually transitioning from the gateless parking structure system to a gated one.

The City Council's ordinance implementing the low-cost option also removes the future rate increase to $5 that was scheduled for 2025.

The council will reconvene for the second reading of the ordinance on June 4. The rate changes will take effect on July 8. Δ

Clarification: This story was updated to include that though parking rate studies usually take place every five years, city staff conducted the 2024 study sooner because SLO secured the funding for a fourth downtown parking garage.

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