Members of a Pismo Beach parking advisory committee have recommended the city provide some free parking on Sunday mornings, saying it could benefit the entire community, not just one downtown church.
The proposal, if approved by the City Council, would allow free parking in one city lot until 1 p.m. on Sundays.
The parking committee’s recommendation was in response to a request from the pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church of Pismo Beach, whose members sometimes find it tricky to locate parking on certain busy weekends.
Committee members stressed that the change would not only benefit church members, but local residents and businesses as well.
“The church discussion just stimulated a general discussion about how the entire community could benefit,” committee Chairman Marc Lebed said.
But a member of a local atheists group objected to the change and questioned whether committee members would grant a similar request to a restaurant owner, for example.
“When would you stop making these exemptions?” said David Leidner, an Atheists United of San Luis Obispo board member. “Many people park during metered hours for other worthy causes — none will get the same treatment as the church.”
Committee member J.G. King then asked Leidner whether he’d object if the city gave a restaurant owner free parking for customers.
Leidner replied that he would not, because that would not represent a church/state separation issue, but that others would likely object to the preferential treatment.
Leidner has objected to a similar action taken by the San Luis Obispo City Council to not charge for parking downtown until church services have concluded on Sunday mornings.
After being contacted by the group, a lawyer from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter claiming the San Luis Obispo council’s decision violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government favoring religion.
San Luis Obispo officials maintain the new parking ordinance is within the law.
Leidner said he’s still considering his options in regard to the San Luis Obispo issue, including whether to file a lawsuit or work toward other solutions, such as having churches buy parking permits for their members.
Meanwhile, in Pismo Beach, the parking advisory committee voted Wednesday to maintain its earlier recommendation that the entire parking lot on Dolliver Street between Main Street and Pismo Avenue be free until 1 p.m.
The committee also proposed the change be reviewed in a year and that city staff survey who takes advantage of the free parking.
Pismo Beach started charging for parking in the downtown area in 2008. Parking costs 75 cents to $1 an hour.
The city doesn’t track how much money its paid parking lots bring in individually, so it’s difficult to estimate how much money the city might lose by not charging in the lot. The lot in question, commonly referred to as North Main, has about 90 spaces and charges 75 cents an hour.
Committee member Terry Turney noted that the city could lose some money “when people figure out that walking from the North Main lot is not a long walk” to the Pismo Beach pier area.
For his part, Pastor Bob Crouch said he wasn’t trying to ask for special treatment, just a few spaces to park.
“We would not present this (to members) as, ‘Hey, guess what, the church has a parking lot now,’ ” he said.