Love where you live!
LA MESA -- Endeavoring to share the pain of Village merchants living through the streetscape construction zone, the City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to offer two free hours of parking to shoppers.
The change won't begin until at least mid-October and will only last 60 days at first so the council can gauge whether the meter vacation is judged useful by merchants who must also demonstrate support for the effort if it is to continue.
The decision ran counter to the advice the city's Parking Commission gave the council members. Speaking for the commission, Jim Wieboldt (in photo above) said the commissioners judged the free parking will result in motorists tying up spaces for long periods and making it more difficult to find spaces in a time when many spots are being blocked by the construction zone.
"None of the merchants have asked us for this,'' Wieboldt said. "None of the shoppers either.''
Mayor Art Madrid and Council member Ruth Sterling agreed with their parking commissioners and opposed the shift.
Three residents addressed the council on the issue with two supporting the parking meter moratorium and one saying the shift would cost the city money and will confuse motorists.
Council members Kristine Alessio, Mark Arapostathis and Ernie Ewin supported the change, though both Ewin and Arapostathis said merchants would have to come forward during the first 60 days to demonstrate their support and to partner with the council in developing ways to promote commerce in the city during this challenging time.
Construction crews for much of the next year will be moving down La Mesa Boulevard in phases, replace sidewalks and curbs, adding new landscaping and lighting as well as other amenities. The $5-million project is being paid for with a mixture of grants and other city money, including more than $1.5 million in parking meter funds that the city had amassed.
That was part of the reason why neither Sterling nor Madrid wanted to turn the meters off.
"We need that money to maintain the beautiful things this project is going to bring to the street,'' Sterling said. The funds are also used to pay the employees who enforce the parking rules, Madrid pointed out.
Arapostathis said he has heard how much the merchants are suffering as customers stay away from the challenging terrain they need to cross to get into some stores these days.
"There has to be some gesture of good will that needs to be done here,'' he said.
Turning off the meters throughout the downtown Village for the next year could cost the city nearly $500,000 in parking revenue, though Alessio pointed out that declining sales will cost the city in sales tax if business dies out.
The city staff will now be scrambling to figure out how to bag the meters and arrange for signage for the new parking rules that would take effect as soon as mid-October.
In other council action, the council members voted to select James Newland, a local resident with a long record of service with the La Mesa Historical Society, to fill a vacant seat on the city's Planning Commission. The Planning Commission assignment can be a stepping stone to elected office in La Mesa and this opening drew interest from a strong cast of residents.