As the City Council voted to increase parking permit fees Tuesday from $240 to $300 a year, City Manager Dan Rich revealed that the police department has stepped up enforcement of two-hour time limits in city parking lots and streets downtown to encourage purchase of permits for unlimited parking. The city is also looking into purchasing sensors that can tell when a car has overstayed the two-hour limit.
Council members noted that the two-hour limits downtown have seen little enforcement in the past. Those likely to face consequences of parking more than two hours are employees who park downtown, those who park and ride on Caltrain and those who attend long lunch meetings.
"In Palo Alto I've been given tickets when I'm 10 minutes late," said council member Margaret-Abe-Koga. In Mountain View "I've had times where I've been 30 minutes late and we just don't have that kind of staffing."
"People get shocked when they've parked in a place for hours and hours and someone starts enforcing it," said council member Ronit Bryant. "It is like, 'what's going on here?' It is important to really widely publicize it."
To park longer than two hours and avoid a $36 ticket, drivers must purchase a daily, monthly, quarterly or annual permit at City Hall, which can be highly inconvenient for those wishing to spend one day downtown, some said.
"Who is going to go downtown to city hall to buy a daily pass? It doesn't make sense," said Dan Smolkin, who said he represented a downtown business.
Council members discussed the possibility of placing permit machines in downtown parking lots where people can pay with credit cards.
"I know in San Francisco now you can just use your phone and pay for your parking spot right there," said member Margaret-Abe-Koga. "I think we need to be moving towards that."
The parking permit fee hikes passed on a 6-2 vote, with Ronit Bryant and Jac Siegel opposed.
Daily permit costs were raised from $1.60 to $4, monthly permits rose from $40 to $50, and annual permit costs rose from $240 to $300. A quarterly permit was created that costs $100. City staff said they only sell a few dozen daily and monthly permits a year, but have sold 674 annual permits this year, much higher than the average since 2007.
Council member Mike Kasperzak, who has advocated for more paid parking downtown to recuperate the cost of the city's pricey parking structures — another of which will be needed soon — wanted even higher permit fees. "You are giving away such a huge asset," he said, having noted that it can cost $30 a day to park in San Francisco.
"I think a 25 percent increase is just too much in one step, that's a lot of money to some people, so I have some problems with that," Siegel said, adding that the purpose of downtown parking "is not to raise money. The purpose is to have as many spaces available for retail (customers) as possible."
The city's parking permit fees generate $165,840 in revenue for the city a year, and raising the annual permit cost to $280 would have generated another $30,000, city staff members said.
City staff members said council members may be asked to approve a tiered pricing system for parking permits soon, like Palo Alto, which charges between $75 and $420 a year for parking permits, depending on the parking space's location.