Start saving your quarters: In three months, plazas 1 and 5 in downtown Menlo Park will sprout multi-space parking meters.
The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night (July 26) to pay vendor Parkeon $53,364 for six pay-by-space meters -– four for plaza 1, off El Camino Real and Oak Grove Avenue, and two for plaza 5, off Crane Street and Santa Cruz Avenue. An additional $2,000 will let the city install modules to allow the meters to take coins as well as some type of credit or transit cards, if that option seems necessary.
The first two hours of parking would still be free. The third hour would cost $1; the fourth, $1.50, with additional time costing $2 per hour.
The meters provide a way for the city to test whether the capability to pay to park longer than two hours will resolve the unhappiness expressed by downtown merchants and their customers, who complain that the current two-hour limit doesn't leave enough time to run errands and enjoy a meal.
"The biggest feedback we had was that people were losing customers because they couldn't get three hours [of parking," Mayor Cline noted during the meeting. "Losing customers at that clip wasn't sustainable; we've had some restaurants actually leave and say that was the reason."
After five years in business in downtown Menlo Park, Boutique 4 closed its Santa Cruz Avenue location in February. At the time, Tamara Michel, co-owner of the boutique, cited the city's extremely aggressive parking enforcement as a factor. "We had many customers who refused to come downtown to shop," she told The Almanac.
Mayor Cline thought meters would give the city the flexibility to adjust the plan if it doesn't work out. A veteran of the battle over downtown parking, he said at one point, "You can do a great thing with parking, and people won't think it's a great thing."
Councilman Peter Ohtaki explored whether leasing the meters instead of purchasing would be a wiser option, but discarded the idea after the city attorney explained that the contract with Parkeon could not be canceled.
The city also considered simply extending the parking limit to three hours, but staff concluded that would only lead to more downtown employees taking up parking spaces, leaving fewer available for shoppers.
Engineering Services Manager Chip Taylor estimated that the meters would go live by October at the latest; the city will need to paint numbers on each parking space and install signs. One month before that happens, they plan to hand out fliers to downtown businesses, customers, and drivers explaining the change. A one-month grace period and a telephone hotline open during the first six months will ease the adjustment, according to staff.