Photo of downtown parking structure entrance. Credit: Carolyne Sysmans | Mustang News / Mustang News

On May 24, the City of SLO published a message written by City Council member Andy Pease, explaining why the city is increasing parking rates around the city. 

“It was one of the most difficult votes I’ve had to make, but I believe it was necessary, and we’re working to reduce impacts to our residents and local businesses,” Pease wrote. 

Starting July 1, meter rates will go from $2.50 an hour to $4 an hour and parking structure rates will go to $3 an hour in order to fund a new parking structure.

The new Cultural Arts District Parking Structure will take the place of Parking Lot 14 which is located at the corner of Palm, Nipomo and Monterey Streets.

For students worried about navigating downtown parking as fees increase, Pease encourages students to take advantage of the free transit available to them as well as the improved bike lanes throughout Downtown.

For anyone that works Downtown, monthly passes are available which provide reduced parking fees in the Marsh and Palm Street structures.

“We looked at all kinds of options,” Pease told Mustang News. “And in the end, this was the best of a challenging situation. I think it is worth the investment to our community at large.”

According to Pease’s letter, the structure was originally estimated to cost $25 million and was originally slated to be covered by savings in the parking fund.

Then COVID-19 changed things. During the pandemic, the City made downtown parking free which decreased revenue for the fund. Today, it is estimated to cost $52 million to build the structure. 

According to Pease’s letter, the city no longer has the savings to cover the cost and in order to get a loan, they need consistent revenue, which is why they are increasing parking fees.

“We looked at alternatives, and none looked great,” Pease wrote. 

Pease added that if they didn’t build the structure, they could jeopardize the new SLO Repertory theater. 

“Although perhaps someday a regional theater with no parking could work here, that’s not in the immediate future,” Pease wrote. “The structure enables not only the theater, but expanded access to the SLO Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum, the History Center, Mission Plaza, retail shops and restaurants, as well as several commercial projects in that area of town that are on hold pending parking.”

The Cultural Arts District Parking Structure is being built to meet the parking demand for the city’s planned “cultural corridor” which is outlined in the SLO’s Downtown Concept Plan. 

Council member Pease encourages residents to still support downtown businesses during this transition.

“We appreciate folks being both patient with our parking staff as we get the programs up to speed,” Pease told Mustang News. “But also just to stay supportive of downtown businesses. If you’re angry, you can be angry at me as your council member, but don’t take it out on our city or our shop local efforts.”

Phase one is set to begin this spring with the demolition of the current parking lot. Phase two is set to begin this fall with vertical construction of the parking structure. The new structure is set to open in late 2025, according to the City’s website.