Will free hour in parking garages be the next solution to get people to come to downtown?

The Fresno city council voted 4-3 approving a staff plan to give an hour free at three garages, but also increase meters from $0.75 to at least $1 and in some high-demand areas, $1.50. Monthly permit rates the method to charge for bulk rate permits will also change.

The first regular meeting with the new council saw a new liberal-conservative split. The left-leaning members Oliver Baines, Paul Caprioglio and Emeralda Soria voted in favor to raise the rates. They were joined by what may turn out to be the swing vote on council, newly elected Luis Chavez out of the fifth district.

The right-leaning members council president Clint Olivier and Steve Brandau voted no. They were joined by newly elected Garry Bredefeld out of the sixth district.

Aaron Blair of the Downtown Association was the only member of the public to speak on the parking, supporting the hour free in garages. “The hour free parking is one of the biggest steps forward we’ve seen the city do in supports of the efforts of the revitalization of Fulton Street.”

Bredefeld, who campaigned as an advocate for downtown, expressed concern that raising meter rates would detract people from coming downtown. Brandau also made that argument. But the idea that helping raise rates would help pay for deferred maintenance on the garages seem to have won out.

The city says maintenance for parking garages is at $10 million. The higher prices are estimated to bring in $866,000 a year. That was a motivator for Caprioglio, Soria and Baines who all made mention of paying for repairs now.

One surprising part of the debate was that Baines felt the city should not be owning parking garages, echoing views by Brandau and Olivier.

City manager Bruce Rudd said there would be no buyers for the garages. That was challenged by Olivier. “I don’t buy the notion that nobody would buy the parking structure. There are markets for everything out there. Some investor would see our garages as a way to make money.”

At one point, Brandau and Bredefeld suggested the city use the impending $70 million in cap and trade money coming to Fresno. Rudd shot that down. Soria also felt that was a bad idea. “We are facing a housing crisis. That is what that money should be going to.”

Another winning factor was installing smart meters on the street. Chavez applauded that idea. Soria called out the city for being behind the technological times.

The staff based their findings from a consultant’s report from Walter P. Moore and Associates. However, as brought up by Bredefeld, there was no study on how raising or lowering the price of meters might affect how many people visit downtown.

RELATED:

Meter fever: free hour in garages, but meters to go up

E-mail David Taub

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