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Could Los Gatos soon start charging for hourly parking downtown?

Could Los Gatos soon start charging for hourly parking downtown?

In a split vote, the Los Gatos Town Council last month approved hiring a fulltime parking manager to tackle the town’s ambitious plans to overhaul its downtown parking.

The council voted 3-2, with Vice Mayor Mary Badame and Councilmember Matthew Hudes against creating the position, which has a salary cap of $200,000 annually.

“I think this is something critical, there’s more work to be done in parking, but we need to do the work we’ve already started,” Mayor Maria Ristow said at the Aug. 15 council meeting.

As its population grows along with its plans to bring in more tourists, the town is considering switching from free hourly parking to paid parking to break up parking congestion and the resulting traffic.

The town has been slowly implementing its 2019 parking action plan, which identified changes like employee parking permits and better way-finding signs, as well as paid parking via kiosks and mobile apps.

After Los Gatos rolled out its employee parking program earlier this year, the remaining plans were put on hold until the town could hire more staff.

Later this year, the council is set to determine if and when the town should transition to a paid parking model. Drivers can currently park for up to three hours for free in most lots and on streets downtown before having to move their vehicles.

Last December, the town council asked staff to flush out what a “pay to stay” model could look like for visitors who don’t want to move their vehicle every few hours and are willing to pay to stay in one parking space.

Town staff presented the town council with four different parking models at the Aug. 15 meeting, including one that keeps things as they are. Another option presented was free two-hour parking on streets and in garages, after which drivers could pay $2.50 per hour to park in a garage.

The third option would give drivers two free hours of garage parking before charging $1 per additional hour, and street parking would no longer be free and would start at $1.25 per hour. With the fourth option, the town would charge $3 an hour for on-street parking, and drivers would have two free hours of garage parking before paying $2.50 for additional hours.

To recover the costs associated with transitioning to paid parking, the town would have to choose the third or fourth option, staff said.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Lin said at the meeting that she held community meetings to learn business owners’ thoughts on downtown parking, and found that most were against a paid system because they didn’t want to deter customers from coming to Los Gatos.

“One of the first impressions a town makes on its visitors is through the parking experience. As we work hard to attract more shoppers, diners and visitors to come to Los Gatos, we need to be thoughtful and proactive about any expansion to the parking program to ensure we preserve an enjoyable and positive experience that leads to return visits,” Lin said.

The town’s parking plan also suggested changes to residential parking permits, specifically for drivers who live downtown. Residents currently pay $42 annually for a parking permit, but town staff suggested raising that fee to $52 annually and charging fees for additional vehicles.

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Other ideas include offering residents who make less than 80% of the area’s median income a cheaper parking rate, and giving each household downtown two free visitor passes.

Town staff also found that if they charge $6 per day for parking at Oak Meadow Park, it would generate $125,000 a year.