Del Mar discusses ‘park once’ and shared parking strategies

By Claire Harlin

Parking in Del Mar Village isn’t as nonexistent as it may seem — it’s just very inefficient.

Del Mar officials have been looking long and hard into the complex issue of parking in the Village and that’s what extensive assessments indicate, Del Mar Planning and Community Development Director Kathy Garcia said March 5 at a workshop to discuss how to address parking issues as the city moves into major Village revitalization.

“If we were to define our problem, our parking is a problem because it’s not efficient,” said Garcia, who has been holding a series of revitalization workshops during regular Del Mar City Council meetings. “It’s not that we don’t have the parking, but a lot of that parking is not usable, especially when it’s needed.”

There are 323 public parking stalls in the Village available for public use, including Camino Del Mar on-street stalls, the City Hall lot, metered parking and side streets. There are about 873 spaces within commercial areas.

According to a parking inventory study conducted in 2000, parking demand is inconsistent across the Village, possibly adding to the inefficiency. On a weekday in the Village, stalls north of 12th were at 79 percent occupancy or above, while stalls south of 12th Street hovered around half full. A busy Saturday saw stalls north of 12th Street at 87 percent full, and stalls south of 12th Street at 64 percent full. Private parking averaged from 50 to 65 percent, except for in the Del Mar Plaza garage, which averaged 85 percent occupancy and was full on many days. Parking from 15th to 13th Streets on Camino Del Mar is also usually full at peak periods, according to the study,

“Our target occupancy is 90 percent,” said Garcia. “Ninety percent means there’s usually a parking space on every block, but we don’t have acres of asphalt that is vacant and acting as a heat island.”

The city is looking into a number of options, including incentives for businesses to build parking and utilizing shared-use and “park once” models. Council members were not unified in their support for any particular solution, however, they agreed that more community input and assessment is needed.

“This is a complex issue,” said Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott. “I’m worried we may be doing too much at one time.”

He added that it’s important to keep the process simple and keep it in phases, especially because this is the crucial time when officials can reassure residents they are doing everything possible to mitigate and prevent negative impacts on residential areas.

The current approach to parking involves small private lots that city officials say are inefficiently laid out and difficult to park in. They also display warning signs that cause fear of getting towed and therefore patrons may have to move vehicles from place to place, adding to traffic congestion, instead of walking.

A “park once” strategy would incorporate strategically located pockets of parking structures, surface lots and curb stalls. It would also encourage businesses to convert their private parking into public spaces, opening up more parking opportunities for everyone. The plan also presents the possibility of charging “in lieu” fees to help fund garages.

This strategy may make Village parking more efficient and reduce the number of spaces needed because peak parking periods are at different times, said Bob Davis, a city traffic engineer. For example, some uses need more parking on weekdays and others on weekends. A mix of use could allow one use to have available parking while another may not need it, he said, adding that other cities, such as Chico, Pasadena, San Clemente and Ventura, have implemented a “park once” strategy.

The council is considering a number of additional recommendations, but no action was taken. These recommendations include implementing a Village parking benefit district, permitting businesses to charge for parking and allowing alternative formats such as tandem parking and lifts.

Dealing with employee parking was a major concern of residents at the workshop.

“Employees are parking on our residential streets and their cars stay there [while at work],” said resident Sharon Hilliard. “There’s got to be some place for those employees to go.”

Claire McGreal said she does not oppose the plan, but opposes the plan as outlined out of concern that a single-lane Camino Del Mar with diagonal, town-and-country parking stalls — as proposed in a previous traffic workshop — will result in congestion.

“It will stop traffic when cars back out,” she said. “We see this in Encinitas, except Encinitas is two lanes whereas Camino Del Mar would be one lane.”

She said it is unfair that plans discussed have the potential to benefit businesses while burdening residents. This sentiment comes in part from concern that slowed traffic on Camino del Mar may result in traffic spilling into residential areas.

Several members of the council expressed a desire to benefit the community as a whole and not make revitalization an issue of one sector against another.

“I worry that if this residential issue is not handled it will spill over negatively to the rest of the Specific Plan,” said Sinnott. “I don’t want to see a good plan fail because of its impact on residents and concern that that impact could be heightened. I share that concern.”

Mayor Carl Hilliard said we may be “looking at each piece of the puzzle without looking at the entire puzzle.”

“We have a huge problem with beach parking, and we have a situation where people are willing to pay the ticket,” he said. “The portion of community west of Camino Del Mar is heavily impacted and it’s not just on Stratford.”

Councilman Mark Filanc said it’s important to remember that once passed by voters, a parking plan could take up to 30 years before it sees full implementation in the private realm.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow if we vote this in,” he said. “We need to have checkpoints along the way to make sure we are on the right track … As we go forward our assumptions may change over time.”

The city is in its administrative review period of preparing a draft Village Specific Plan and Environmental Impact Report. Garcia will present these drafts at the March 19 council meeting.