Parking in downtown Sacramento soon may be pricier, complex

Construction of the Golden 1 Center is due to be completed in October. Construction of the hotel north of the area has begun in Sacramento, Calif. March 7, 2016
Construction of the Golden 1 Center is due to be completed in October. Construction of the hotel north of the area has begun in Sacramento, Calif. March 7, 2016

Parking in downtown Sacramento may soon become more costly and more complicated, thanks to a package of major parking meter policy changes up for consideration next week at the City Council.

Officials propose extending downtown parking meter hours to 10 p.m. in preparation for the October opening of the Golden 1 Center arena, which will draw hundreds of thousands of nighttime visitors to the central city.

The city also is proposing extending some meter hours to 8 p.m. along a restaurant-rich slice of midtown.

We want balanced use. We are creating good parking policy that helps us grow.

Matt Eierman, Sacramento parking chief

The plan includes creating a new extended-time parking at “premium” prices for drivers who want to leave their car at a meter beyond its posted limits. The program, called SpotZone, allows motorists to pay in person or remotely via smartphone for extra hours at higher rates, allowing arena patrons, restaurant-goers, shoppers or business visitors to stay for three or four hours at two-hour meters.

The City Council will take up the proposals at its Tuesday meeting. If approved, the changes will be put in place over the next seven months. Most city meters hours currently end at 6 p.m.

Although not on the agenda yet, parking officials say they plan to introduce event-related parking zones downtown later this year, charging people more the closer they park to the arena when events are taking place there.

Arena visitors will have to pay close attention to street signs, read meter instructions, do their homework on event parking-zone boundaries and research parking garage locations.

“If you are closer in to the arena, you could pay a higher rate than if you park nine blocks from the arena,” city parking chief Matt Eierman said. “We want to spread cars out.” He said his parking group has not determined a price structure yet.

The changes are part of the city’s effort to modernize street parking to keep up with the growing night entertainment scene. Eierman said central city streets already are crowded nights with cars circling looking for parking spots. Night metering will persuade more longer-stay drivers to park in city garages, Eierman said, opening more street spots.

“We want balanced use,” Eierman said. “We are creating good parking policy that helps us grow. If people have a perception that parking (is difficult) in our city, it is going to hamper growth.”

It may be confusing for many, though, especially in the early months after the arena opens. Visitors will have to pay close attention to street signs, make sure they read meter instructions, and do their homework on event parking-zone boundaries, and research parking garage locations.

If this goes through, we will limit our visits to midtown and downtown.

Sacramento resident Michael Paddock, who called the proposed changes confusing and predatory

The proposal has drawn complaints from some downtown visitors who say the city is picking their pockets to pay for the $519 million Golden 1 Center arena at Fifth and K streets. The city, which owns the arena, has committed $255 million to its construction. The Sacramento Kings pay the rest.

In a report to the City Council earlier this year, then-Treasurer Russ Fehr wrote “a portion of the revenue growth from the parking-modernization program” would provide the city general fund with “new debt capacity” for the arena.

City treasurer’s office spreadsheets show up to $4 million annually in new net parking revenue has been designated to back arena bonds. “Growth in parking revenue from the parking-modernization program in excess of this amount will accrue to the benefit of the General Fund,” Fehr wrote.

City parking chief Eierman said he does not have an estimate of how much additional revenue the city will get from longer parking meter hours.

Under the proposal, meters would remain in operation to 10 p.m. in a rectangular area from Front Street in Old Sacramento to the west side of 16th Street on the dividing line between downtown and midtown. The north end of the zone would be C Street and the southern end W Street.

Parking meter hours would be extended to 8 p.m. in a slice of midtown, from the east side of 16th Street to the east side of 19th Street, and from C Street to W Street.

Other large California and West Coast cities employ a variety of meter close-out times. Meters stay live until 9 p.m. in the core area of downtown Long Beach. In San Diego, meters hours extend to 8 p.m. on the waterfront and in the Gaslamp restaurant and bar district. Portland downtown meters close down at 7 p.m.

In Fresno, where the hourly rate is only 75 cents, meters remain live near the baseball and soccer stadium after 6 p.m., where parkers pay a four-hour fee. Most of San Francisco’s street meters close out at 6 p.m., but those in walking distance of the Giants baseball team’s AT&T Park remain in operation on game nights until 10 p.m.

Sacramento resident Michael Paddock called the proposed changes confusing and predatory. “If this goes through, we will limit our visits to midtown and downtown,” he wrote in an email to The Sacramento Bee and the city.

Arena deal critic Craig Powell of the Eye on Sacramento group said the city should rename meters “arena pay stations.”

City officials point out that, in addition to paying for their $264 million share of the arena, the Kings will make annual lease payments to the city for use of the arena that will cover 59 percent or more of the city’s arena bond payments. City parking revenue, which will cover 23 percent of the city’s debt, will be paid by downtown visitors coming from around the region and beyond, not just city residents, those officials said.

Representatives of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership and Midtown Business Association groups say their members have mixed feelings about the changes, but generally are supportive of the city’s efforts. They said they will be monitoring the effect of the changes.

A number of midtown business owners between 16th and 19th streets in particular supported having meters stay in operation until 8 p.m. in their area to keep arena patrons from using up parking in front of their businesses.

“We’re trying to find a common ground that works for the business interests, the residential interests, event attendees at Golden 1 Center, and the city’s goals in parking management,” said Emily Baime Michaels, executive director of the midtown business group.

Councilman Steve Hansen said “the project overall is a work in progress. We have to get the balance right.”

Sean Wright, president of the Alkali and Mansion Flats Neighborhood Association, said he is pleased that the city plans to also extend residential neighborhood permit restrictions beyond 6 p.m. for non-metered street parking in downtown and part of midtown. The city previously did that for residential areas near the Wells Fargo Pavilion at 15th and H streets, and it works well, restricting event patrons from parking in front of residences,Wright said.

Eierman said the city hopes SpotZone will help some drivers avoid tickets for expired meters. At a two-hour meter, for instance, drivers would pay the regular rate of $1.75 for each of the first two hours. If they opt to stay longer, they can pay $3 for a third hour and $3.75 for a fourth hour. City parking garages typically charge $3 an hour.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak