Parking in downtown SLO soon could cost more, be harder to find

This parking lot on Broad Street across from Big Sky in downtown San Luis Obispo will close when construction starts on the Garden Street Terraces project.
This parking lot on Broad Street across from Big Sky in downtown San Luis Obispo will close when construction starts on the Garden Street Terraces project. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

You might need to stuff a few more quarters in your pocket when driving into downtown San Luis Obispo this summer.

Parking rates are expected to rise in August if the San Luis Obispo City Council gives final approval in July to a proposed increase at all three city parking structures and some credit card meters downtown.

The council gave unanimous tentative approval Tuesday to raise the hourly parking rate in its three structures — two along Palm Street and one on Marsh Street — to $1 from 75 cents. The first hour will continue to be free.

In coming months, you may find more competition for those parking spaces.

More than 200 spaces will be removed over the next year, when three heavily used parking lots close as construction continues on one large development and work starts on another.

Credit card meters in those lots will be relocated to some downtown streets, where the hourly cost to park will be raised to $1.50 an hour from $1.25 in high-demand areas.

With the loss of parking, city staff expects more people to use the parking structures or search for on-street metered parking. Raising the rate in the structures will help offset the loss of revenue from closing the parking lots, said Tim Bochum, the city’s deputy director of transportation.

In addition, he said, raising some of the credit card meter rates after they’re relocated will ensure that drivers pay the same rate in the core downtown area.

The public already lost access to about 43 parking spaces in February when work started on the first phase of the Chinatown project, a two-story commercial and residential project along Monterey Street near Mission Plaza.

The second phase of that project, an adjacent 80-room hotel on Palm Street, will remove an additional 100 parking spaces later this fall or early winter.

In addition, when Garden Street Terraces — 93,425 square feet of commercial, residential and hotel space — starts construction downtown this fall, the project will remove 59 metered spaces from the lot bordered by Broad and Marsh streets and Garden Alley.

A total of 222 credit card meters will be relocated from the surface lots to other locations downtown where there’s high demand for parking.

While rates at those meters will increase to $1.50 an hour, the cost of other meters outside the so-called “super core” area of downtown will remain at $1.25 an hour. That area includes Higuera and Marsh streets between Santa Rosa and Nipomo streets; Monterey Street from Santa Rosa to Chorro streets; and portions of Osos, Morro, Chorro, Garden, Broad and Nipomo streets.

The parking rate changes will not affect all meters downtown — but the council could start discussing the need for more rate increases later this year when it reviews a revised schedule for design and financing of a new parking garage at Palm and Nipomo streets.

That proposed 445-space structure would be built on an existing parking lot with about 77 metered spaces.

Rates in the parking structures have not been raised since 2004, when the cost increased to 75 cents an hour from 60 cents. The City Council voted in 2009 to raise rates in the structures starting in July 2010 but later canceled the rate increase until the economy improved.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Jan Marx asked if the parking structure ticket booths would eventually take credit cards.

Bochum said staff is researching available technologies and the cost, and will bring that back to the council either later this year or early next year.

The council approved an $113,000 project in the 2009-10 fiscal year to upgrade the ticket dispensers and other equipment in the parking structures, but the project did not include upgrading the booth equipment to accept credit cards.