Pacific Beach businesses see pros and cons of new parking meter program

Alex and Andrew Dameron, owners of Noah’s Natural Pet Market in Pacific Beach, are hopeful about new parking meters.
Alex and Andrew Dameron, owners of Noah’s Natural Pet Market in Pacific Beach, are hopeful that new parking meters will help regulate parking in front of their Cass Street business.
(Milan Kovacevic)

Plans for a one-year pilot program that includes parking meters in Pacific Beach’s Garnet business district and a neighborhood shuttle are moving forward.

On Aug. 3, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to create the Pacific Beach Community Parking District, which will work with the city and parking experts on the type of meters used, hours of operation and the rates that should be charged for each spot.

Among the program’s goals are reducing congestion, especially in places where business traffic is the heaviest, and helping to generate turnover for prime parking spots, said Lsyundra “Sunny” Lee, executive director of DiscoverPB, which will cover the cost of insurance and office space for the community parking district.

Lee said a date has not yet been set for installing the meters, which are proposed on Garnet for about six blocks from Mission Boulevard to Fanuel Street; Cass Street between Grand Avenue and Emerald Street; and Hornblend Street between Mission Boulevard and Bayard Street.

As the community parking district and others try to determine when the meters can be installed and maneuver vehicle codes and permits, small businesses in the area are mixed in their anticipations.

Alex Dameron, owner of Noah’s Natural Pet Market on Cass, is optimistic about the parking meters that will be going in along her storefront. She said she hopes the metered parking will help with turnover and create more parking.

“It would be cool to get more space for our customers,” Dameron said. “Being on Cass Street we’re between Garnet and Grand, we’re right in a really high-traffic area. It would be nice if this was metered.”

Debby Merickel walks her dog, Gringa, in front of Noah's Natural Pet Market, where parking meters will soon be installed.
  1. Debby Merickel walks her dog, Gringa, in front of Noah’s Natural Pet Market on Cass Street, one of the shops in the Pacific Beach business district that will soon have parking meters.
(Milan Kovacevic)

Dameron said there is not enough turnover in the 2-hour timed parking spots near her store.

“Our customers have a really hard time finding parking spots to be able to run in and pick up their bag, let alone shop for a little while,” she said.

Other business owners see the meters as both advantageous and troublesome. Frederico Santos, co-owner and operator at Square Pizza on Cass just north of Garnet, said the meters have the potential to become a double-edged sword.

“On weekends when they are not enforcing parking there are some people that come down to do some drinking and partying and end up leaving their cars until Sunday or Monday, taking up valuable space,” Santos said. “With meters, there’s going to be more of an urgency for rotation.

“Now, customers that are coming in to pick up their pizza or for a quick stop might be upset (by the meters), and that’s something we would have to think about and maybe come up with a plan for that,” he added.

Tim Bailey, part-owner of the Aztec Graphics shop on Garnet, said that until the meter program begins, it’s difficult to say what kind of impact it will have on businesses.

“I don’t have a solid opinion until this plays out,” Bailey said. “Initially, before seeing what happens with this, we kind of looked at it as a negative because it may deter people from coming into our shop if they can’t park in front. But even before the pandemic, there were times where our customers couldn’t find parking and we would have them pull around back.”

Despite parking concerns, Bailey is not altogether opposed to the meters.

“I can definitely see that there’s a serious traffic issue, especially during the summer,” he said. “Something has to be done about the traffic issue and the parking issue in this area. I think it would be worth a shot.”

One of the expenditures the parking district has identified for the revenue that will be raised by the meters is an electric shuttle to and from the upcoming Balboa transit center, something they hope will alleviate traffic. To achieve this, the parking district is working with SANDAG, the public agency that serves as the forum for regional decision-making within San Diego County.

While it is still unclear how much parking revenue will go toward the program, SANDAG has committed $350,000 to help fund two years’ worth of shuttle service.

A significant step toward launching the shuttle is a request for proposal from private vendors to operate the program. Micro-transit company Circuit already has a contract with the city, running the Free Ride San Diego (FRED) program downtown, but their contract is set to expire soon. Other potential candidates are Ford Mobility, which runs the HOOT ride-share program in Oceanside, and a micro-mobility company called Gotcha, SANDAG Mobility Planning Manager Danielle Kochman said.

Joe Bettles, who worked with the Pacific Beach Planning Group to pass a resolution regarding the shuttles, said a private company would allow more flexibility in their design to better fit the community.

“We can adjust the hours of operation, we can put surf racks on top of the shuttle, we can determine where we hire employees,” Bettles said “We can also do advertising for local businesses to offset the costs.”

Other potential modifications to the service could include app-based hailing for the shuttle along its designated route, similar to the FRED program, said Kochman, who is overseeing the neighborhood electric vehicle concept.

The process will need to be fine-tuned as it is implemented. The Carlsbad Commuter, a 13-passenger vehicle similar in concept to the Pacific Beach shuttle, was updated and adjusted for a nine-month period, she said.

Kochman said the shuttle program will not be able to launch until the city does some troubleshooting.

The shuttle will most likely be in the form of a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV), according to Kochman. Vehicle code specifically states that low-speed vehicles, such as an NEV, cannot be operated on any roadway that has a speed limit over 35 miles per hour. A critical section of roadway near the Balboa station is a 40 mile per hour zone, meaning that the shuttle would not be able to operate in this area, she said.

Some possible solutions that SANDAG are looking into would be to either lower the speed limit of that section of roadway, or plan to designate specific roadways as exemptions from this rule, she said.

Another hurdle is a city ordinance dictating that revenues raised in the parking district cannot be allocated outside of that district. The Balboa station would not be within the boundaries of the Pacific Beach community parking district, and under this ordinance it presents a conflict to use parking revenue on this project. Kochman said they can either amend the city ordinance or work out a specific memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the City.

“In my experience, we never want to have just one solution to these problems,” Kochman said. “Other things tend to come up. I like to keep all of our options open and work through them.”

The mid-coast trolley station is expected to open this fall. SANDAG is currently negotiating an MOU with the city for the neighborhood shuttle. Depending on how long the procurement of a private vendor takes, Kochman estimates that the shuttle could launch as early as spring of 2022.