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From the editor's desk, Feb. 20: Parking 'woes'?

By ERIK CHALHOUB, Managing Editor

Can’t find a place to park in downtown Watsonville? You’re not looking hard enough.

Or at least that seems what a report to the Watsonville City Council really wanted to say.

A year-long study by San Francisco-based Nelson/Nygaard Consulting found that about half of the 3,100 parking spots in downtown Watsonville are actually available during peak times.

Anyone who frequents downtown could have told city officials that, yet the city paid a premium of $65,000 to have an outside firm come to that conclusion after examining the parking lots on different days.

Yes, downtown does have a parking problem … in certain areas. Forget about parking around Watsonville Plaza while Cabrillo College is in session. And don’t even think about parking on the overcrowded Second Street.

But for the few of us who don’t mind walking a block to our destination, the city’s two parking garages are often only half empty on weekdays, and just about 90 percent available on the weekends. The exception is during major events such as the Spirit of Watsonville parade and Cinco de Mayo festival, when the parking garages and side streets are filled to the brim with vehicles.

While the expensive study didn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know, it did offer the city some guidance on how to make downtown parking more efficient. Having consistent time limits throughout the area is a no-brainer, and installing better signage to the parking garages is a good step.

The study also pointed out that the city’s downtown parking district is “insufficiently funded,” making it difficult to fund maintenance of the parking lots. While I can’t speak for the West Beach Street garage (I’ve avoided it ever since I nearly snapped the steering column off of my car years ago while trying to turn into its minuscule entrance), the 10-year-old Civic Plaza garage is in need of some repairs and a good scrub-down. The sealant on the second floor has been peeling for more than a year now, and grows slightly larger every time I visit.

The study’s answer to the funding deficit? Install parking meters, particularly around Watsonville Plaza and other “hot spots” around downtown.

Is that a smart move for downtown? For an area that is struggling to attract visitors, telling them they have to pay to park in certain areas might not be the wisest thing to do.

But countless other cities charge for parking, and their downtowns reap the benefits. Perhaps it will work for Watsonville as well.


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