New Smart Meters Delivering Profits

LA MESA -- It has been more than a year since the city installed new smart parking meters that allow credit card transactions and use sensors to keep track of cars coming and going.

The theory: easier payment choices and the fact a departing car would immediately zero-out the meter would produce more revenue.
The result: the new meters generated an extra $15,583 over what the old meters would have captured. That represents, city officials calculate, a 21 percent return on the original $72,710 spent on the new meters.

These results were reported Tuesday at the regular meeting of the city's Parking Commission, which included a proposal by commission member Laura Lothian that the city use some of the $161,000 the city collected from all parking meters to fund a quick cleanup and beautification of La Mesa Village in time for the city's centennial celebration.

But most of the meeting was spent reviewing the performance of the new parking meters. While the first year's numbers were hopeful, there were also some potential clouds on the technological horizon.

Chris Gonzales, the city staffer assigned to the Village and the Parking Commission, said workers have noted a recent spate of failures in the sensors that monitor the arrival and departure of cars in each of the 102 parking spaces along La Mesa Boulevard. As many as perhaps 40 percent of the meters have stopped "zeroing out'' when a car departs with time left on the meter.

"That means right now you can pick up free time on some of the meters,'' Gonzales said. He said mechanics from the company that installed the meters are being summoned and he is hopeful a remedy can be found. If the sensors don't operate, the city's first good year figures won't be repeated next year.

"I would not be satisfied with a product that fails after just 14 months,'' Gonzales said. "But this is a new problem and we're looking into it.''

The disagreements about how to use the money raised by the meters, however, is not a new problem.

Lothian has suggested using the funds to plant flowers and do extra cleaning of the Village streets. But the City Council has consistently insisted over the years that the parking money only be used for capital projects that specifically impact the Village parking infrastructure. That has meant new lights, improved signage, reconstruction of the streets and new parking meters yes. Flower plantings, landscape improvements, extra street cleaning or power washing no.

The city's municipal code lists the acceptable uses for the the parking funds as follows:

12.56.120 - Use of money deposited in parking meters.

All moneys collected from parking meters in this city shall be placed in a special fund, which fund shall be devoted exclusively to the following purposes:

(a) For the purchasing, leasing, installing, repairing, maintaining, operating, removing, regulating and policing of parking meters in this city and for the payment of any and all expenses relating or incidental thereto;

(b) For the purchasing, leasing, acquiring, improving, operating and maintaining of off-street parking facilities in this city;

(c) For the installation and maintenance of traffic control devices and signals;

(d) For the painting and marking of streets and curbs required for the direction of traffic and parking of motor vehicles;

(e)For the proper regulation, control and inspection of parking and traffic upon the public streets;

(f)To be pledged as security for the payment of principal of and interest on off-street parking revenue bonds issued by this city, or any parking district organized within this city;

(g) For other public improvements related to the maintenance and enhancement of facilities within parking districts as determined appropriate by the city council.

Rather than using the parking funds to fund routine maintenance, city officials have insisted that merchants and Village property owners should contribute to the type of cleaning Lothian was promoting here.

Lothian said her request was for a special investment of the funds because of the looming centennial, which kicks off next month.

Lothian formally proposed the issue be discussed at next month's commission meeting and her fellow commissioners were willing to put it on the agenda for discussion. The vote to add it to next month's agenda was 4-0.

Proposals to continue Jim Wieboldt and Lynn McRea as chair and vice-chair of the commission also won unanimous votes. 

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Tags: Chris Gonzales, City of La Mesa, Jim Wieboldt, La Mesa, La Mesa News, La Mesa Parking Commission, Lynn McRea, Smart meters, parking meters

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Comment by Russell Buckley on January 20, 2014 at 1:51pm

Guess I must be the only one who thinks charging twice for the same time is at best a sleazy practice. Under threat of a large fine, imposed by the City, customers usually buy more minutes than they expect to need. The City reclaims and resells the "coerced" extra minutes to extract a little more from its taxpayers. Selling the same commodity twice sounds illegal to me. No, $15,000 is not a lot of money - especially when spread out over many payers. It is just another of the death by 1,000 cuts that governments in California impose. Surely we can find the $15,000 by reducing the planned expenditures by that relatively small amount. 

Comment by Lynn McRea on January 18, 2012 at 9:32pm

There are 5 commissioners readily able to respond to your questions during the monthly Parking Commission meetings and I recommend that you attend and speak during the public discussion part of the agenda.  That is the proper forum to answer your questions.  Many of your questions can also be answered by reading the past agendas and commission minutes available on the City website. 

Parking meter funds are not comingled with City general funds.

Comment by David Smyle on January 17, 2012 at 9:32pm

One more thing.  How much money does the City make in parking meter fines or was that part of the $161K?  Does the parking meter fine money go back into the parking meter district or back into the general funds for any purpose?  Just wondering.

Comment by David Smyle on January 17, 2012 at 9:29pm

So has anyone actually seen where the parking meter money has gone?  Has the city provided a list of expenses covered by the parking meter money specifically in the parking meter district so we know the funds are being used for that purpose?  Has anyone determined if the parking meter money is enough to pay for the parking meter officers (fully loaded), the vehicles used to patrol the meters and give tickets, the gas for those vehicles, the expenses of collecting the money and the bank fees that go along with the counting change, the armored car to take the coins, maintenance of the meters, credit card fees paid by the City to accept the cards, the cost of the cellular to transmit the signal from the meters to the satellite to accept the card payments, etc, etc ,etc.  Since these are the only meters in the city, we probably don't need to pay of an officer  6 days a week from 8-5 and vehicles, gas, insurance, etc if at the end of the day there is really  minimal profit.  Are we making money or losing money? (48 hours x????) plus the benefits (assuming $40? per hour x 48 hrs/wkx52 weeks is $100K.  That only leaves $60K to cover the rest of the costs.  I would like to know how much money the City really NETS from the meters?????  Can you tell me that Mr. Wieboldt and Mrs. McRae?  Inquiring minds would like to know.

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