Credit: Jessica Carp / Mustang News

The San Luis Obispo City Council voted on Tuesday, Nov. 7 to make parking downtown free for the first hour after facing pushback from the community in a city council meeting. 

The meeting was standing room only and required an overflow room due to the large number of attendees.

SLO City Council received 488 pages of correspondence from the public about parking in addition to the public comments made at the meeting.

The council voted to remove free parking for the first hour in 2022, which came into effect in July of this year. The council also increased parking rates in part to pay for the construction costs of building a new parking structure.

The Mayor of San Luis Obispo, Erica A. Stewart, thanked people for coming to the meeting in an Instagram post.

“I want businesses to thrive and community members and tourists alike to enjoy our downtown, which is the heart of our city,” Stewart said in the post.

The move received criticism from community members who say that the measure has hurt downtown businesses financially and has driven community members away from the area.

Ley Lingmann, the manager of the downtown Sephora, said the city’s parking policy negatively affects Sephora’s traffic and sales. 

“Since July, our traffic has dropped 30% and sales have dropped 20%,” she said to the council. “New rates have also caused employees to quit or turn down job opportunities and are also causing tardiness.”

The parking discussion took up just under five hours of the over six hours-long meeting. Community members’ frustration was apparent at the meeting with exasperated sighs coming from the audience after having to wait for over three hours to make public comment on the issue.

Many community members showed up to voice both their concerns over the price of parking as well as the “confusing” payment kiosks and other computerized systems that have been implemented.

Curtis Campbell pointed out the irony of having to pay for parking just to take his daughter to get a free library book.

“Thank you for considering the one hour back, but that is like the bare minimum,” he said in favor of more free parking. “It’s just frustrating, and I wanted to come up here and look at your faces and let you know, all of us middle-aged and younger, we can figure out the dang kiosks, but you’re hurting our wallets.” 

Long-time resident of SLO Pete Evans wants free parking for two hours and on weekends. 

“Invite people to participate in our community instead of punishing them for it,” he said when addressing the council.

While most were opposed to the increased rates, others came to voice their support for the program. 

They said there is a lack of evidence from those claiming parking prices were responsible for the recent closures of some downtown businesses. They voiced support for encouraging non-car transportation as the reason they were in favor of the measure.

Jack Seamancik is in support of increased parking rates.

He said there is “no substantive evidence” to prove that business closures and loss of revenue were directly caused by increased parking rates.

“It has been shown through many studies that businesses drastically overestimate the share of customers arriving by car and I suspect this is the case for downtown businesses,” Seamancik said.

Residents also expressed frustration over the city’s public transportation system, citing long wait times and inaccurate schedules. 

City and regional planning freshman Yiming Luo waited about six hours to make a comment on this matter despite having to stay at city hall past the time of the last bus back to campus.

“I can’t take the bus home back now, I have to walk home now because the headways are every 45 minutes and they end at 10,” he said about having to go back to his dorm on campus.

Vice Mayor Marx garnered chuckles from the audience when she offered Luo a solution.

“If you need a ride I can give you a ride,” she said.

In a unanimous vote at the end of the discussion, the council decided to make parking free for the first hour and free on Sundays in the public parking structures starting Nov. 23 and until at least June 2025, despite the loss in revenue it will cost the city. Parking will also be free for the annual holiday parade on Dec. 1 after 6 p.m.