There has been much hype about the soldiers in blue. Newcomers to downtown Ventura, they stand guard over the highly coveted Main Street and side street parking spots, ensuring no one overstays their welcome — which comes at a price, $1 per hour from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. This small army of parking meters was supposed to work in favor of downtown business owners, freeing up nearby parking spaces for their customers to have easier access. Yet nearly two dozen merchants proclaim that not only are the meters a nuisance, the devices are about to put them out of business.
Gary Parker, owner of American Flags and Cutlery in the 300 block of Main Street, has led the charge against the city, saying that business was going well until the parking meters were installed.

“All I can tell you is that as of (September) 14th, we were doing fine,” Parker said. “From the 14th on, we were down. One store owner claims he is down 70 percent. Everybody is hit.”

This coalition of frustrated merchants, which includes Ema’s Herbs, Rosie Lee Imports, Savory Cafe and Tutti’s, is asking the City Council to put on its regular Nov. 8 Monday meeting agenda the consideration of a six-month moratorium. While Mayor Bill Fulton has stated in various meetings that a moratorium is highly unlikely, he contends that there are many free spaces available to the public, and that the mission of parking management has been fulfilled.

“The main purposes were to manage the parking — long-term parking in the lots and freeing up on-street parking,” Fulton said. “As I said in my blog, that happened instantaneously, the parking management end of it.”

City Manager Rick Cole said City Council will discuss the meters at the Nov. 22 meeting. 

Of more than 2,900 public parking spaces in Downtown Ventura, only 342 of them are paid parking. (There are nearly 2,000 additional private parking spaces.) The main complaint appears to be not the fact that shoppers have to pay for parking in Downtown, but that the meters are difficult to use and frustrated consumers would rather shop where they don’t have to bother with them.

At the same time, however, other merchants have stated that the paid parking has worked just as it should. Michael Faulconer, AIA, of FIRMITAS Architecture & Planning has stated his support. Chuck Menzel of WetSand says there are some tweaks to be worked out, but recognizes that everyone’s suffering from a bad economy.

“(My customers) all basically say that they don’t like it, but it is a fact of life and it is like that in other cities,” Menzel said.

He went on to say, though, that it all depends on how the city uses the money. “If the net effect of generating money and more police presence creates a more positive experience for shoppers,” then the meters are worth it. The city spent nearly $1 million on their installation, and it costs the city around $800,000 a year to repay the loan and maintain their upkeep. City officials estimate the meters will generate $1.1 million, leaving the city with approximately $300,000 of income per year.

City Manager Rick Cole said that there are three important aspects at the center of the parking meters issue.

“First, our overriding goal is the success of downtown. In this economy that means continuing to work with merchants for a prosperous holiday season. Second, parking management is dynamic. That is the whole purpose of these high tech machines — to allow us to change hours and prices to respond to demand,” Cole said. “Third, there is a period of adjustment we are going through and it is important for everybody to keep an open mind, whether they are for the new program or against it. What matters most is what works and it is going to take a while to work through it.”

Data regarding meter revenue and sales tax generated by downtown merchants since the meters were installed was still being compiled.   

michael@vcreporter.com