WALNUT CREEK -- For all of its tweaks to parking rates and enforcement, the city has never broken what many consider the first parking commandment -- "though shalt not charge on Sunday."
But things are about to change.
City leaders are poised to raise on-street parking rates from $1 to $2 an hour in the core area of downtown, extend parking meter enforcement (from 9 a.m. -- 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. -- 8 p.m.) and begin charging at metered parking spaces on Sundays.
Mayor Cindy Silva, who supports charging for parking on Sundays, knows there will be an outcry.
"I am concerned about Sunday; I think there is going to be a significant amount of pushback because somebody believes there is an inalienable right to free parking on Sunday," Silva said. "I think what happens on Sunday is those are employees parking on the streets."
She suggested there be free parking at meters outside the core downtown.
A majority of the City Council backed these changes at their retreat Oct. 25.. Formal action will be taken in December.
The Transportation Commission will hold a special meeting Nov. 7 on the changes in the parking ordinance. That meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the council chamber at City Hall, 1666 N. Main St.
All of this is part of a parking management plan aimed at driving people into underused city garages, though rates in the city's downtown North Locust garage will go up from 50 cents to $1 an hour. City leaders stress this is not to make money but instead to better manage downtown parking, to change the narrative that there is never any parking in Walnut Creek. This is all to reach an industry standard of 85 percent occupancy rate -- 15 percent availability -- of parking at all times downtown.
Updated parking studies have shown that even after previous rate hikes -- the last one in 2007 when on-street went from 50 cents to $1 an hour -- demand for on-street parking continues to climb, said Matt Huffaker, assistant to the city manager. The parking on-street during Friday and Saturday nights has at times reached over 100 percent occupancy -- that means double parking.
This led Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson on Oct. 25 to wonder whether $2 an hour is too cheap.
"We probably should be charging even more for parking," she said. "It's impossible to find a parking space downtown."
Huffaker said parking strategists counseled that, for public consumption's sake, rates shouldn't be raised more than $1 an hour. The proposed ordinance offers a range for parking choices and costs, ranging from zero to $5 an hour.
Councilman Justin Wedel said he would rather see dynamic pricing in which prices change constantly depending on demand.
All council members were OK with meter-enforced hours going from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., but Wedel said he didn't support charging on Sundays, out of concern for downtown businesses.
Forty percent of cities across the country do charge on Sundays, Huffaker said.
But Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce officials said Oct. 25 they felt duped by the plan. When it was presented to their board a month ago, they said, charging on Sundays was not mentioned.
"Adding in Sundays is going to cause a lot of issues," said Charlie Abrams, a former councilman and now director of the chamber board.
Council members rejected the idea of making one of the city-owned garages completely free on Sundays, as an incentive for parkers. Instead they favored allowing an hour of free parking at the city's downtown garages.
The changes will bump the city's parking revenue up to $3.1 million from $1 million. That money will be used to reinvest into downtown parking, such as future garages and for downtown programs and enhancements.
That could include helping to fund additional downtown police officers and other downtown programs which could include the Lesher Center and the library. Abrams argued that all those programs should be paid for from the city's general fund.
"The city has a lot of budget problems but this is not the place to address them," he said.
The redone ordinance will also expand the boundaries of the downtown parking meter zone. The zone would go up to Parkside Drive on the north (the zone now ends at Civic Drive) and south to just past Las Lomas High School.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.