Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Carmel's perilous flirtation

This week, Carmel-By-The-Sea is starting a six-month experiment with paid parking. Ten "kiosks," which are essentially fancy parking meters designed to serve an entire block, have been installed along Ocean Avenue to test the viability of implementing paid parking throughout the business district.

Carmel has flirted with this idea several times in the recent years, but this is the first time they've hopped into bed with it.

The theory justifying paid parking, as I understand it, goes something like this. There are not enough parking spaces downtown to meet demand. Making matters worse, it is believed that downtown employees are parking in on-street spaces, even though they're limited to two hours, taking parking away from customers. It is alleged that employees keep moving their cars to avoid getting tickets. Charging for parking, it is said, will discourage employees from parking on downtown streets and encourage them to park in the free parking spots and lots on the periphery of the business district. This in turn will make it easier for customers to find parking, thus boosting business. Ya got all that?

Supposedly this six-month experiment will test the validity of the theory and provide data to help the city council decide whether or not to install meters all over downtown. I don't get how putting meters on only one street will accomplish that because anyone with any sense will just park on the other ten downtown streets where parking will still be free.

I don't even get the theory. I find it very hard to believe that restaurant and shop owners would let their employees abandon their posts for ten minutes at a time, three to four times a day every day, just to move their cars every couple of hours. Maybe a few tolerate it, but only a few. And where would they move their cars to? According to the theory, street parking is hard to find, so they could spend a lot of time looking instead of working. That does not compute.

Furthermore, business owners must be keenly aware that if employees are taking up spaces that customers need, then they'll lose business. Now tell me, how many shopkeepers will let their employees park on the street letting them drop everything to move their cars, when they know it's bad for business? Maybe there are a few. Maybe. That would account for the origins of the theory, but I hardly think they're the rule.

But for the sake of argument, let's assume employers and employees are parking on city streets within the business district. Will paid parking be good for business as it's proponents claim? They say paid parking will free up spaces, making it easier for customers to find parking, and thus bring more customers into town.

I agree it will free up parking spaces, but not for the reasons they think. It will free up spaces because many local people will stop shopping and dining in Carmel altogether and most of the rest will visit Carmel less often. There will be very few who won't change their shopping habits at all. Most people won't hassle with meters unless they absolutely have to, especially when they can park free at the mouth of Carmel Valley, Del Monte Center, and almost every other shopping area on the Monterey Peninsula.

To illustrate my point look at Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf, the only other areas of the Peninsula that charge for parking. Locals rarely go there. The vast majority of customers there are from out of town, so only touristy shops and restaurants can make it. Is that what Carmel wants? Paid parking has the potential to completely transform the town's economy, and not in a good way. It is therefore a path fraught with peril.

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