By Mark A. Diaz
What started as a question about whether to continue a waiver program evolved into a serious discussion on issues the City of Pismo Beach faces, parking and housing. After a lengthy dialogue, the city council voted to suspend the parking waiver programs for two years with the caveat of allowing waivers to be decided on a case-by-case basis. The council stipulated that it will consider waiving a portion of the required parking if the City has partnered with the developer and the project provides some affordable housing.
For years developers have been allowed to pay the City a fee instead of incorporating onsite parking into its development plans in the downtown area. The owner could “purchase” up to three spaces at the cost of $36,000 each. In 2016 the City added an “in-lieu” waiver program that reduced the cost by $9,600. To participate in the reduced fee program developers were required to choose from a list of amenities provided by the council designed to enhance the cityscape, such as public art pieces, building façade upgrades, patio seating, etc.
Since 2005, 22 spaces or 1.5% of downtown parking has been lost; however, due to some creative thinking, the City managed to scrape together ten additional spots. The $36,000 per space collected goes directly into the parking structure fund. Income produced by parking fees and meters also contributes to the future of the fund, which currently sits at around $2 million.
Councilmember Marcia Guthrie was quick to say that she works in downtown on Price Street and stated point blank, “There is no parking.” She went on to express that to her the program does not make sense given the shortage of spaces. “I have a real problem with offering this and jamming up our downtown any further.” “It just seems that we started this program a long time ago when we actually had space to sell,” said Councilmember Sheila Blake, “and now it’s almost a joke.” She later stated she did not want to see the parking problem devolve into people putting their name on the curb to save a space. After Jeff Winklepleck, community development director, clarified that the reduced fee program was the program in question, Guthrie brought forth the idea of putting both waiver programs on hold. She stated that the City does not have spots to sell and expressed her frustration with the lack of downtown parking.
“It doesn’t have to be permanent for the parking waiver,” said Guthrie, “but we have no more parking to offer people. It is so jammed, I just can’t tell you enough, that I have to even circle my own office looking for a place to park.”
Mayor Ed Waage pushed for the idea of leaving the waiver as a case-by-case scenario to give the City some “wiggle room.” Councilmember Mary Ann Reiss, in favor of the waiver program, questioned the determining factors and possibly the legality of a case-by-case scenario.
Speaking to the council, City Manager Jim Lewis addressed the two political philosophies facing the downtown area, whether to protect parking or to establish workforce housing and asked the board for guidance on which to prioritize. He said as far as deciding who gets to waive parking, the City could invest money from the $3.5 million in the Housing In-Lieu Fund and partner with future development projects. The City could then stipulate conditions to the waiver with greater power, such as the area must provide some form of affordable housing to the downtown area.
Lewis told the council that due to their previous guidance, he is already searching for affordable housing. He gave an example that if a project involving a retail section and vacation rentals comes to his attention, that he reaches out to the developer and suggests the City may be willing to invest in the project if affordable housing is created instead of rentals.