Score one point for small business.
After just two months, Ventura Harbor authorities have at least temporarily abandoned their plan to charge drivers for parking during peak hours at the cozy retail and restaurant district that is the main tourist draw for the harbor.
The decision to abandon ship on parking fees was officially blamed on poor weather, which drove away tourists and left the Ventura Port District with a potential money loser.
But we’d argue that the imposition of parking fees was a move destined to drive away visitors and hurt a dozen or more small businesses in one of the region’s more attractive niche tourist destinations.
The problem with imposing fees at small destinations such as Ventura Harbor is that visitors go there precisely because they don’t want the crowds, traffic and costs associated with someplace like downtown Santa Barbara. They want a relaxed, casual environment and are perfectly willing to spend money on a nice lunch or dinner, but they don’t want to feel hurried to avoid getting charged for parking.
About the only good thing we can say about the process that unfolded at Ventura Harbor this summer is that the district was smart enough to recognize a losing proposition and make a change when one was warranted.
Part of the problem with parking and parking fees is that smart meters and smart cards have made it a heck of a lot easier for hotels, airports, piers, parking garages — and, yes, small tourist destinations — to install paid parking and reap what looks like a windfall for local governments.
But things that look too good to be true sometimes are too good to be true. Parking fees impose opportunity costs on consumers, and if they elect to go elsewhere then local businesses are the ones that suffer. If local businesses suffer, then sales tax revenues fall and so do other revenues as local businesses cut jobs and payrolls.
Ventura Port District officials say they’re not giving up on the parking fees and they’ll revisit the issue next year. But this year’s fiasco has taught local governments a tough lesson about the limits of taxation — and the importance of a vibrant small business community. We hope it is a lesson that sinks in at the harbor and beyond.