Shopping downtown’s about to get more expensive for those who drive there.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, a divided city council voted a quarter per hour meter rate hike in the downtown area, bringing the public’s parking costs to $1.75 per hour.
Opponents to the increase pointed to a downtown shopping area that’s already struggling. But those in favor said there’s no other solution. A new property-based business improvement district is being established downtown where property owners are assessed according to the amount of property they own. Since the city owns 11 parcels downtown, it will owe the new business improvement district around $104,000 annually.
The new rates will include meters between University Avenue and Bancroft Way, and between Oxford Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.
North Berkeley resident Isabelle Gaston called on the council to reject the increase. “I can afford 25 cents,” she said. “My husband can afford [an extra] 25 cents; my friends can afford 25 cents. But if you think about it, it really does discourage people – when you have to go out and pay an extra 25 cents just to go out and pick up a loaf of bread, just to have a coffee.”
Gaston went on to ask, “Do you really want to discourage business more than you have already?”
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak agreed, saying the downtown businesses are fragile and noted that Berkeley competes with regional shopping centers where parking is free.
Councilmember Laurie Capitelli also opposed the increase, pointing to the high fines – more than $50 — for expired meters.
The new fee increase comes at a time when the police department is considering cuts in the number of civilian employees, including those who ticket vehicles parking at expired meters. Budget decisions will be finalized at the end of June.
Councilmember Susan Wengraf opposed the measure, saying that, if street parking rates were raised, it should be part of a program to lower rates in parking garages so that people would have an incentive to park there, rather than on the downtown streets, where parking is often difficult.
But Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, whose district includes the downtown area, pointed out that other cities, such as San Francisco and Oakland, charge more than $1.75 per hour. San Francisco parking is $2-to-$3.50 per hour and Oakland charges up to $2 per hour in some areas, according to city staff.
The new business improvement district “will be going to improving the downtown,” Arreguin said, pointing to possible programs for street improvements and public transportation.
Mayor Tom Bates added that if the rate hike didn’t pass, the city would have to figure out another way to fund the assessment. (State law does not allow cities to opt out of business improvement district assessments.)
Responding to concerns that the higher meter fees would actually hurt downtown business, Bates argued, “Business people are the ones asking us to do this.”
Bates, Arreguin and Councilmembers Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, and Kriss Worthington voted in favor of the rate hike.
The new fees, which are expected to raise $125,725 annually, are slated to begin July 11, contingent on property owners formally agreeing to establish the downtown business improvement district.
The labor and equipment costs for the change are estimated at about $11,000 the first year, with recurring costs of about $7,000 annually. The council said that any amount raised over the $104,000 assessment rate – which can be raised 5 percent per year — would be dedicated to downtown.
How will increasing the cost of parking affect you? Tell us in the comments.