On the list of problems that might plague a commercial business district, a fight over parking might be one of the best. After all, if the idea of charging or imposing new restrictions gets any traction, it’s because the area is attracting too many customers for all of them to park conveniently.
But even if a parking controversy can be a good thing, the way that local bureaucrats handle it can be a bad one. In this week’s paper, we brought you a story about the new parking policies at Ventura Harbor Village, where some merchants claim their business has taken a hit since the harbor started charging to park for more than two hours on summer weekends. Business owners in downtown Ventura and downtown Santa Barbara are afraid the same thing might happen if their cities move ahead with plans for new parking meters.
The public officials in charge of setting parking fees need to remember that locally owned small businesses are the reason people want to park downtown in the first place. Make it too expensive or too cumbersome to park, and the customers will go to suburban-style malls on the outskirts of town.
The goal of a parking regime should be maximum business, not maximum parking revenue. The parking structures in downtown Santa Barbara should be the model — business owners subsidize the service, and in return their customers get to park free for the first 75 minutes. Parking in one of the region’s busiest areas winds up being about as expensive as parking at quiet little Harbor Village in Ventura.
Other cities would do well to follow that lead. Remember, bureaucrats: small businesses are the customers of your parking policies, not a cow to be milked for revenue, one dollar bill at a time.