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Perplexing parking 

Who knew the most galvanizing issue on the Central Coast would be parking? The one thing that can unite all citizens against their elected governing bodies is charging people to park downtown. It's the great equalizer. It defies partisanship, reaching through the party lines and straight into human hearts, bringing the business community together with residents into a singular riff of advocacy.

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Everybody hates it.

And they aren't afraid to say it.

"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," Paso Robles resident Richard Pettit told his City Council on May 7, barely containing his outrage.

Not poverty. Not homelessness. Not mental health issues. Not inflation. Not even COVID-19 restrictions. But paying for parking—something no one would have to do if they just chose to walk a couple of blocks.

In America, we don't walk!

The irony of the whole mess in Paso comes from its paid parking origins—downtown business owner complaints about a lack of parking for their customers! The solution the city came up with was a paid parking program that could fund enforcement costs. But the program didn't pay for itself, so earlier this year, the council decided it needed to tweak the program and get rid of the first two hours of free parking. Every hour would be $1. Boy howdy, did Paso explode!

Residents alleged Brown Act violations, claiming the city didn't follow proper rule-making procedures. A non-city resident filed a cease-and-desist letter against the city. About 2,200 people signed a petition to force the city to repeal portions of its paid parking ordinance. The city rejected the petition, claiming election code violations, but then the City Council decided to get rid of the paid parking program anyway.

Is that democracy in action?

It is according to Councilmember Chris Bausch: "This is how, I think, the process is supposed to work. It's messy ... but it needs to happen."

I guess. It was more like pure chaos and a lack of understanding about how local government actually works. But toe-may-to, toe-mah-to.

So, the very same business owners who complained about no parking for their customers complained about how paid parking was driving away their customers. Meanwhile, there's still no parking downtown. I wonder what they'll complain about now and who will listen, as Paso Robles City Council members are irritated—maybe even constipated!

"I have no desire to ever talk about parking again on this dais," Councilmember Steve Gregory said.

"For 20 years, we had tried to get the employees not to park in front of their stores. Leave the parking spots for the customers. ... Everybody was begging us to do something," Councilmember Fred Strong said. "Why are we solving your problems? You should be solving those yourselves."

That potential parking garage people have bandied about? Not going to happen, Mayor John Hamon said.

"Don't ask for any more parking ever," Hamon added. "It's your problem at this point."

Yeah! What did you elect them for, anyway? To solve your problems?

Paso isn't the only local city council that got spanked by its constituents over parking. San Luis Obispo has been squeaking about paid parking since the city doubled its rates to $4 per hour with plans to boost it to $5 an hour—all to pay for a new parking garage. Stupid garages!

Can you imagine what would have happened in Paso? Mutiny.

San Luis Obispo—unlike Paso, which suspended paid parking almost immediately after the ruckus began—stood its ground, as it so often does. It remained steadfast, committed to the charge even amid town hall meetings full of complainers.

That is, until May 14, when the San Luis Obispo City Council caved like a sink hole. And unlike the Paso council, which was defiant in the face of adversity, at least one SLO City Council member offered an apology.

It's important to apologize, Councilmember Emily Francis said: "We're ready to make some changes."

Not to bring up sex, but is that the difference between females and males? One listens and the other doesn't ... I mean, get over yourselves, city councilmen!

SLO opted to drop rates to $2.75 in the downtown core, but the first hour is no longer free for parking structures. Something needed to change, downtown business owners told councilmembers. The $4 an hour parking rate was untenable for businesses, residents, and employees.

"If things don't change and parking doesn't come down," resident and Downtown Centre Cinemas spokesperson Rusty Barker said. "Downtown Cinemas won't be there in 2025."

You know what else won't be there in 2025? The personal belongings and vehicles Oklahoma Avenue safe parking site residents left behind for SLO County to clean up. Wasn't that nice of them?

What a great way to say thanks to the county taxpayers, who I'm guessing spent more than $1 million to give homeless residents living out of their vehicles a place to stay for the last three years. Arguably, the site had major issues, and the county did a subpar job of running it. But still!

If you want nice things, you have to treat them nicely.

This is why we can't have nice things. Δ

The Shredder predicts the next paid parking fight will be in Pismo Beach. Bring it on at [email protected].

Readers Poll

Should Arroyo Grande use eminent domain to repair the Traffic Way bridge? 

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  • No—that's private property, and seizing it is government overreach.
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