As Petaluma’s central business district continues to expand, local officials are asking downtown merchants to help identify solutions to a parking crunch some proprietors say is detrimental to their businesses.
The Petaluma Downtown Association last week distributed surveys to 500 merchants to gauge feedback on proposals such as extending parking time limits to four hours, realigning sections of Keller and Liberty streets to create additional parking spaces or implementing paid meters. The association is also in talks with the city about constructing a parking structure at the city-owned “A Street” lot at 2 Fourth St.
“Parking is a problem ... some days, there’s just no available parking and people circle the block,” said Holly Wick, who owns Athletic Soles and serves as the president of the association’s board of directors and a member of a parking committee, a panel comprised of merchants tasked with reviewing survey results and hashing out solutions.
Results from the survey were not made available this week. Costs, sources of funding and timelines will become clearer after more discussion with the committee and city staff, said Marie McCusker, the association’s executive director.
“This is the first step,” she said, adding that some merchants have expressed concern over lost business. “These are just ideas coming from various meetings we’ve been having and the survey is the first part of trying to see how people feel.”
While constructing a facility like the Keller Street garage would cost an estimated $55,000 per space, a prefabricated modular parking garage at the Fourth Street lot could be a more affordable long-term solution to create nearly 200 spaces, Wick said. In the meantime, she said limiting traffic flow to one way on Keller and Liberty streets would be a quick and economic fix to add 36 spots.
Petaluma’s core downtown area has more than 1,600 designated parking spaces, according to a 2012 study. Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit officials are developing a 50-space lot near the downtown SMART rail station, and the city has strategies in place to manage any increased parking demand when service launches, said Dan St. John, Petaluma’s director of public works and utilities.
St. John said the city will look to the downtown association to gauge the merchants’ pulse and identify a plan for consideration by city officials.
“At the end of the day, we want to work with them to get a plan. We’ll look to them to say this is something they want to recommend to the city. We’re happy to take it forward if they recommend it rather than us say ‘we think there’s a problem, we’re going to read everyone’s mind and solve it this way,’” he said.
Officials have long pondered the city’s options for downtown parking. In 2001, meters were implemented in the Keller Street garage, but were scrapped after 90 days amid complaints from merchants about diminished business, according to city documents.
Mayor David Glass pointed to the failed effort as a sign that the city should take its direction based on businesses’ desires. He said the increased demand for parking in the thriving downtown stands in stark contrast to the conditions before the city invested redevelopment agency dollars to revitalize the once blighted district filled with vacant stores and transient activity.
“What’s happening right now is a good thing,” he said. “The downtown association is taking the temperature and the mood of their body, and that’s a good thing. Hopefully they can find out how is it people want to deal with the issues they’re confronted with that’s better and more viable than what we’re experiencing right now. I’m interested to see what the results are.”