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City Council votes to reinstate paid downtown parking 

public parkingCouncil approves refund of parking tickets for past year

– Paso Robles City Council introduced and held a first reading of a proposed ordinance amendment to the paid downtown parking program at its Tuesday night meeting. The council voted 3-2 to reinstitute the paid parking program with some clarifications.

The city manager will make a recommendation regarding the hourly rate visitors pay when parking, but the council voted to implement the fees at a rate between $1 an hour and $5 an hour. That recommendation will now need to be approved by the city.

A second reading will be held at the next regular city council meeting.

A cease and desist letter written by local resident Gary Lehr accused the city of violations of the Brown Act and violations of state code. City Attorney Elizabeth Hull said in her presentation that no transgressions were found in a thorough review of the city’s actions, however in 2019, the council established the parking zone by minute action, rather than establishing the zone by ordinance or resolution. Actions taken since 2019 were therefore not based on a “solid foundation.”

The council also accepted the staff recommendation to implement a proposed process to provide refunds of parking fees collected and citations from Feb. 6, 2023, to Feb. 6, 2024. The city attorney said the government claims act has a 12-month statute for claims and processing refunds, which is why the claim period goes back to Feb. of 2023 and not further. Claimants will need to fill out an online form and provide proof that they paid for parking during this timeframe to be eligible for refunds.

Dozens of people shared comments about the alleged Brown Act and state code violations, as well as about the parking program in general. There were over 90 minutes of public commentary regarding the parking ordinance and related agenda items.

Concerns raised included the paid parking deterring downtown visitors and impacting tourism, and concerns about the proposed refund process. People asked why the council wasn’t seemingly taking their concerns and complaints into consideration and acting in accordance with the will of the majority who seem to favor free parking downtown. Commenters also said that the kiosks and apps required to use the program were confusing and costly to upkeep.

Some commenters, including Gina Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce, said that they were in favor of a parking program because lack of parking for business patrons was indeed a problem in the downtown core, and a solution is needed.

Community member Julie Tacker said the council should, “Strike it all. Your community does not want to pay for parking.”

“Stop the program,” said Michael Rivera. He also said that the council has shown the people of this city how unresponsive the council is to the expressed desires of the majority of the comments about the program.

Carla Cary, a co-owner of Spare Time used books in Paso Robles said she has seen an uptick in business since the parking program pause. She shared clips of customers saying that they were appreciative of being able to park for free in the downtown area. She also expressed that having parking for employees and business owners wasn’t a bad thing, that store owners and employees have had to pay hundreds of dollars in parking fees to park near businesses for various reasons such as nighttime safety, and money handling.

Applause and reactions erupted from the crowd after many of the first speakers.

It was brought up multiple times in the meeting that the initial intent of the paid parking program was to deter employees from parking in the downtown core parking spaces and leaving their cars there for entire shifts, making it harder for customers to find parking to patronize the businesses.

Councilman Fred Strong asked if the program has helped to stop the employees from parking there like it was originally intended to do, “are the customers filling the spaces?” he asked.

According to City Manager Ty Lewis, 14% of the vehicles parked downtown on a sample day during the recent paid parking pause were employees.

In other actions, the council read a proclamation for Teen Dating and Violence Month, and items on the consent calendar were unanimously passed. There was also a public hearing held on an industrial development project on Union Road. The project will remove six oak trees that two arborists considered “not worth saving” but will replace the loss with the planting of 34 young oak trees. The project will include six buildings and was described as a “premier light industrial park.”

Click here to view the full council agenda. 

Watch the full meeting below:

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