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By Shawn Raymundo
The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday, Sept. 9, unanimously approved the city’s application to standardize metered parking in four coastal lots where paid-parking hours would extend to 10 p.m.
Pending final approval from the city council, the city would implement new hours of operation for the metered lots at North Beach, Linda Lane, Pier Bowl and T-Street, setting the hours from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Currently, the metered lots require visitors only to pay for parking as early as 9 a.m. and as late as 6 p.m. Paid parking specifically at the Pier Bowl and North Beach, the city’s most popular lots for coastal access, ends at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively.
The hourly parking rate would remain at $1.50, “which is one of the least expensive rates in coastal cities across California,” Christopher Wright, an associate planner for the city, told the CCC.
The commission’s approval also allows the city to remove 15 parking meters from Camino Capistrano and 12 meters from Avenida Calafia, where parking would be free, but with a four-hour limit.
Wright on Wednesday noted that the changes are not yet finalized, even with approval from the CCC, as the city will first need to adopt amendments to the municipal code, which will require public hearings.
In an email to San Clemente Times on Thursday, Sept. 10, Public Works Director Tom Bonigut further explained that the proposed amendments aren’t likely to go before the council until the start of the new year, “at the soonest.”
“And the new Council may decide to wait longer to consider this issue in favor of other priorities they may wish to address first,” Bonigut said, noting there will be a new makeup of councilors sitting on the dais after the General Election this fall.
In a CCC staff report, the commission noted that the increase in paid hours where the lots will have previously been free “could make access prohibitively expensive for some.”
The proposed increase “has the potential to disproportionately impact members of the underserved communities who have less disposable income and fewer options for enjoying public access to recreation on the coast,” the report said.
The new hours of operation, the report added, could impact service employees of the local restaurants and shops, “particularly those held by low-income individuals or low-wage jobs that may park regularly after 5 p.m. in the area, which, even if inexpensive at $1.50 (an) hour, could add up quickly if employees need to park every day for an extended period.”
Wright told the commission that the city’s application was in line with the CCC’s environmental justice policies, which is meant to ensure that low-income individuals and families have access to coastal resources.
“People of lower income will still have access to free and low-cost parking,” Wright said, later adding “There’s a large supply of free parking in the city including visitor-serving commercial districts in downtown, areas of our North Beach and El Camino Real.”
Wright also touched on the city’s 2018 study that surveyed free on-street and off-street parking in the downtown and North Beach corridors. The studies found that occupancy rates in those areas didn’t exceed maximum effective capacity during the evening hours.
“We found that the occupancy rate has been low, so there is available parking in our metered lots at those hours,” Wright said.
He continued to also note that “there is access to free parking on more than one way” to gain beach access. One way, Wright said, was for visitors to park in the residential areas or in downtown while utilizing the Beach Trail.
“If someone wanted to park in the residential area and then walk along the coastline they can do thatt or bicycle,” Wright said, adding that the city’s free, summer trolley service is also an available option to those who parking at the Outlets at San Clemente.
“There is access for people to walk down the coastline with free parking in residential areas or downtown, and circularly on our coastal trail, that is very popular, that allows people to walk back from the Pier Bowl area to North Beach and visit various coastal access points.”
The city has previously reported that it stands to gain an additional $220,000 in annual revenue from an increase in metered hours at the Pier Bowl alone. In Fiscal Year 2018, the city collected $982,000 in revenue from metered parking, with more than 90% of those monies coming from the Pier Bowl and North Beach lots.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.