Downtown Riverside parking fee increases have some upset, others supportive – San Bernardino Sun

Parking in downtown Riverside is about to become more expensive and, on many streets, people will lose their ability to park free on weeknights and Saturdays.

Those changes, which take effect July 1, have generated hundreds of comments on social media in recent days, many opposed to the increase. Some warn that the charges will drive customers away and harm downtown merchants.

“Shameful,” “sinful,” “sad” and “outrageous” were among the words used to criticize the plan.

City officials say the increase is needed to make Riverside’s parking program self-supporting. Program expenses were projected to exceed revenue by $1.3 million, without the new rates, in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The city also plans to introduce a pilot program assigning two police officers to patrol parking garages on weekends for a year, a city report stated. The Riverside City Council voted 6-0 on Feb. 15, with Council Member Erin Edwards absent, to approve the plan.

At the time, Council Member Steve Hemenway said the increase was needed to avoid having the city’s general fund subsidize the program, according to a meeting videotape. “We certainly don’t want to deter our residents from coming to enjoy events downtown,” he said.

City spokesperson Phil Pitchford said in an email Friday, April 22, the city’s Public Parking Fund is an enterprise fund meant to operate like a private business.

Some residents were unaware of the plan until more recently, when Riverside native and Orangecrest resident Sheryl Brown posted details on social media.

One who expressed concern was Brooke Flagtwet.

“As a 3rd Generation Riverside resident, and someone who is a homeowner in downtown, my fiancé and I frequent downtown restaurants often,” Flagtwet wrote in an email Thursday, April 21. “What draws us is that we can park for free and enjoy places like (Riverside) Food Lab, (Riverside) Game Lab, The Mission Inn, and Salted Pig. Majority of the time we will visit more than one of these establishments in one visit.”

Flagtwet said the increases will drive away customers of restaurants, shops and other businesses. The change will push some to park in nearby neighborhoods, “which will create issues for residents who just want to park their car in front of their home for the night.”

Ashley Carbonell wrote on Facebook that downtown visitors will “clog up our streets.”

“It’s bad enough dealing with all that … during the holidays,” Carbonell wrote. “… Now it’s more than likely going to be routine.”

Brown said boosts in rates for parking long term in garages — something that affects people who work downtown — will hurt businesses.

Others said weeknights and weekends ought to remain free.

Pitchford wrote that the city opted to discontinue its no-charge policy at those times because metered spaces and parking facilities are often at capacity, and the introduction of “demand-based pricing” will improve parking availability over time.

“After facilities reach capacity, vehicles will be redirected into underutilized facilities, reducing congestion in high-demand areas while capturing potential revenue opportunities,” he wrote.

Several changes are scheduled to take place in July. Here are highlights:

  • Visitors accustomed to parking free weekday nights and weekends will have to pay to park on many downtown streets Monday through Saturday between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., while still getting a break on Sundays and holidays, according to a city document. The policy will apply on portions of Market, Main, Orange, Lemon, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th streets, and Mission Inn and University avenues. The rate will be $1.25 for 30 minutes, up from 75 cents on some streets and $1 on others, and a 4-hour time limit will be introduced, the document shows.
  • Designated parking lots will charge a fee of $1.25 per 30 minutes Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Rates and policies are changing at parking garages 1, 2 and 6 on Orange Street, and 3 and 7 on Main Street. People currently pay a daily maximum of $8, and $1 for each 30 minutes, while parking free the first 90 minutes. While the $1-per-half-hour charge will remain, daily maximum charges will go to $16 at garages 2 and 6, and $20 at the other garages, the document states. At the same time, no longer will people be able to park free the first hour and a half. The city also plans to introduce a nightly flat rate of $12 between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.
  • Long-term rates for reserved parking in city garages now are $135 a month. The fee is set to go to $400 a month on July 1 for new customers, and to $205 per month for existing customers. Existing customers then will see the monthly fee go to $320 in July 2023 and $400 in July 2024.
  • Parking rates during the signature downtown event, the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa’s Festival of Lights, will be set at $30 for garages 1 and 3, $25 for Garage 7, $20 for Garage 2, $15 for Garage 6 and $15 in parking lots.

Janice Penner, executive director of the Riverside Downtown Partnership, said the group that represents area merchants supported the plan, with the understanding it would result in city investment in security and technology to improve the experience at parking garages.

“When you want clean, safe parking it costs money,” she said.

Pitchford said vandalism and other unwanted activity will be reduced through boosting security and police patrols.

“The technology infrastructure will also be upgraded to improve parking and traffic circulation,” he wrote.

Penner said the impact of the increase will be offset in part by a 50% discount for parking in city-operated garages on Tuesdays, the least busy day of the week, and by offering a discounted long-term parking permit for downtown employees who earn less than $18 per hour.

Still, Brown, who manages a building at 10th and Orange streets with 20 tenants, said raising the long-term parking rate to $400 per month “kind of blows your mind.”

“To me, that is not business friendly,” she said in an interview. “It’s too much. lt’s way too much.”

Brown said the timing is unfortunate.

“COVID hurt everybody down here, and now parking is taking another stab at the small businesses,” she said.

The city kept rates “as low as possible since 2010,” Pitchford wrote, making minor changes in 2017, and the new fees are in line with what is charged elsewhere in the area.

People with valid disabled-person placards will be able to park for free at metered parking spaces, he said.

And Pitchford said the city will validate parking tickets for people who park in Garage 6, located at 3901 Orange St. with an entrance on Ninth Street, to attend City Council meetings.

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