By Joe Tash
Complaints about taxicabs taking up public parking spaces and drivers loitering and behaving rudely along city streets prompted the Del Mar City Council to pass an urgency ordinance prohibiting taxicabs from parking anywhere in Del Mar between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.
The Council approved the urgency ordinance on a 5-0 vote at its meeting on Monday, July 11, and also approved the first reading of a permanent ordinance enacting the taxicab parking ban.
The law took effect immediately, and signs announcing the ban were expected to be installed beginning Tuesday, said Patrick Vergne, director of community services. Parking enforcement officers will begin issuing warnings this weekend for violations of the new rules, and citations, which carry a fine of $43, will be issued starting next week, he said.
Several officials with the Del Mar Village Association, a nonprofit merchants’ group, spoke in favor of the prohibition at the Council meeting.
Jim Coleman, owner of an insurance agency and the DMVA’s ombudsman, wrote in an email to the council that the situation with taxis was “totally out of control.”
“Our restaurants and retailers are being hurt by the loss of available parking; our residents and visitors are being treated rudely by taxi drivers holding public parking spaces for other taxis; our streets and sidewalks are being littered with cigarette butts being thrown down by these drivers; and overall our downtown village has taken quite a beating from the behavior of these individuals,” Coleman wrote.
The urgency ordinance provides for four parking spaces to be designated as a taxi stand from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day. The spaces are in front of Jimmy O’s Restaurant/Bar, 225 15th St.
Before 10 p.m., taxis will be allowed to park only when picking up and dropping off passengers.
Council members and city staff stressed that they want to make sure taxis are available at night, so that people who are inebriated don’t get behind the wheel.
“After 10 o’clock, we clearly want them there,” said Vergne. But he noted that in recent months, taxis have begun parking near the intersection of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar as early as 4 or 5 p.m., and remaining in place throughout the afternoon and evening.
“It’s been getting worse and worse over the past few years,” said Lt. Eric Sandy of the city’s parking enforcement division.
One evening, said Sandy, he saw taxicabs lining both sides of 15th Street for a two-block stretch.
While city officials said they attempted to contact taxi companies to discuss the problem, many of the taxis in
Del Mar are independently owned and operated by drivers, meaning there is no single point of contact. Currently, 190 taxis are licensed to operate in Del Mar. Operators pay $98 per year for a Del Mar taxi permit, plus $50 per vehicle, and a business license of $30 or more, depending on the taxi’s annual revenue.
At 8 p.m. on Monday, immediately after the council’s vote, two taxis were parked on 15th Street near Camino Del Mar. One driver, Samad Parvin, a Del Mar resident who has been driving a taxi in Del Mar for five years, was unaware of the complaints to the city, or that the ordinance had been passed by the council.
“This is not fair. I don’t know why they can pass this law for taxis. They give me a permit for working here and no place to park,” Parvin said.
He noted several open parking spaces along 15th Street, and said the public can also park at a nearby lot, which costs 25 cents an hour during the daytime, and is free at night.
If drivers cannot park, they will waste too much gasoline driving around, Parvin said. While he conceded that there are sometimes too many taxis on busy weekend nights, at other times, he said there are not enough taxis to meet the demand.
With numerous bars and restaurants in the vicinity, Parvin said, the city needs taxis to drive people who have been drinking.
Drivers had no idea the city was contemplating such an ordinance, Parvin said. “They never came to talk to the drivers,” he said.
The council also voted Monday to implement a permanent ordinance, which will come back before the council on July 25 for final adoption.
The council also directed city staff to research the establishment of taxi franchise agreements, which would replace the current system of taxi permits, and allow the city to limit the number of taxis in the city and regulate their operation, according to a staff report.
In other business:
•At the request of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board, the council directed staff to research a federal Department of Energy program that would provide free electric vehicle chargers and assistance with installation costs in the city of Del Mar.
•Directed city staff not to negotiate for the lease or purchase of temporary buildings now in place on the Shores property, and instead ask the Del Mar Union School District to remove the buildings when the district vacates the property this month.