Pismo Beach officials are weighing a request by a local church to provide free parking Sunday mornings at a nearby city lot.
If the plan moves ahead, the Pismo Beach City Council would follow in the footsteps of San Luis Obispo leaders, who voted last year to limit parking meter operations from 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays — a decision that later prompted a challenge from a local atheists group.
Today, a Pismo Beach advisory committee will review its recommendation to grant free parking for a few hours Sundays in one city lot, get input from the city attorney and determine whether their decision still stands, Community Development Director Jon Biggs said.
In January, the pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church of Pismo Beach asked the council whether it would consider providing parking permits so members of the downtown church, which doesn’t have on-site parking, have a better chance of snagging a spot.
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The church is in a yellow building at Dolliver Street (Highway 1) and Hollister Avenue. It’s been around for 88 years and draws about 70 attendees — though the number of cars would be far fewer, Pastor Bob Crouch said.
For much of the year, parking in downtown Pismo Beach isn’t a problem. But on certain weekends and during the summer, finding a spot can be tough. On big event weekends, such as the annual car show, church members meet elsewhere.
“I think it can be done in a way that doesn’t give special treatment to our church but rather is a win-win for everyone in the community who’s downtown,” Crouch said.
The City Council referred the question to its parking advisory committee, which in February recommended that the entire parking lot on Dolliver Street between Main Street and Pismo Avenue be free until 1 p.m.
“We’re saying, let’s make it free for everyone because it’s the least used” of the city parking lots, said Rick Turton of Pacific Leisure Marketing and one of five committee members.
Afterward, however, news broke that Atheists United of San Luis Obispo had challenged the constitutionality of the San Luis Obispo decision to not charge for parking downtown until church services have concluded on Sunday mornings.
San Luis Obispo officials maintain the new parking ordinance is within the law.
In the meantime, the Pismo Beach parking committee asked to review the issue at today’s meeting before passing it on to the City Council.
The issue came up at a recent Pismo Beach council meeting, at which Biggs gave an update on the city’s parking program. At that time, City Attorney Dave Fleishman said he’s not concerned about legal exposure to the city.
“This is simply a modification of our timed parking and our paid parking program that has an incidental effect for religious organizations,” Fleishman told council members, “but it has an incidental effect for a much larger population of people who perhaps would be going to the beach as opposed to going to church on Sunday morning,”
It’s unknown how much revenue the city would lose if it does not charge for parking Sunday mornings in one city lot. The lot being discussed costs users 75 cents an hour. From July through December, the city’s parking program raised about $288,000 overall.
Mayor Shelly Higginbotham also raised the issue of how best to notify residents and visitors of the change, should it go forward.
“Now we have another situation where we have to notify or do signage and say it’s free until 1,” she said. “Are we potentially opening up another bag of worms?”