LA MESA – The La Mesa Community Parking Commission voted 5-0 Thursday night to speed up development of a plan to determine whether construction of a downtown parking structure is economically feasible.
The commission discussed a general plan that would add parking spaces to the downtown Village area of the city by constructing a multi-level garage, perhaps on top of retail space that could be constructed on an existing city parking lot.
Talking only in general concepts, commissioners outlined the need to plan now as there are already times during the work week when virtually every parking space in downtown is occupied. Without increasing parking for the future, they said, city businesses could be hampered and large public events could be limited.
City staff told the commissioners it would take time – perhaps several years – to analyze the need and determine how financing for such a project could be arranged.
However, Commission chair Lynn McCrea said it would be best to ready the project in case financing suddenly became available through federal stimulus money or other state or local grants.
While there is no specific plan in place, it was clear that the issue was not a new one to the city staff. Bill Chopyk, the city’s planning and development director produced an artist rendition of what a mixed-used garage could look like if built atop the city’s parking lot at 3rd St. and Lemon Avenue.
Chopyk explained that the drawings were actually done for free by the San Diego Association of Governments as part of a program to promote smart growth throughout the region.
While no one, including the commission, has targeted the Lemon Avenue lot, it was clear that both the location and shape of that lot made it easier for SANDAG to speculate on what a garage would look like at that location. The city’s other, similarly located lot on Allison Avenue is triangular in shape and a much tougher location for a garage full of rectangular parking spaces.
Commissioners emphasized the speculative nature of any downtown garage project by also voting Thursday night to speed up plans to improve lighting in the same Lemon Avenue lot. City staff pointed out that any lighting improvements could be relocated if a garage project materialized faster than expected.
City-owned and operated garages have been used in other parts of San Diego to help increase parking capacity where street parking can’t handle the public demand. Structures in Hillcrest, La Jolla and other commercial hubs were noted.
Over the next several months city staff will produce a proposal for a plan that would include hiring a consultant to help the commission analyze the economic factors in the garage project. The city council would have to approve any expenditures related to this effort.
The Parking Commission meets again next month, but some of the issues it is handling will undoubtedly be a focal point of the City Council’s April 13 meeting. The commission has proposed adding 100 new, “credit card’’ capable parking meters along La Mesa Boulevard and has also proposed removing the planters that dot the city’s business corridor. Local merchants have questioned that plan and have questioned whether funds raised by the current meters could be used to help beautify La Mesa Boulevard during these trying economic times for many local businesses.