Ryan Chartrand

Beachgoers can expect some changes in Pismo Beach this summer as the city hopes to continue building a new boardwalk and set up a paid parking zone downtown.

The new 800-foot boardwalk that will stretch from the north of the pier to Main Street is part of the Pismo Promenade project, a multi-million-dollar project that started eight years ago.

The project has stopped construction, as the city needs $1.5 million in grants to continue. It is sure to be finished within the next 18 months, and could continue construction at the end of the summer, public works director Dennis Delzeit said.

“We have a very slow grant process,” Delzeit said. “We’re hustling hard since we’ve had good feedback from everyone on this project. There is a high sense of urgency to get it done.”

The city also passed an ordinance to create the first paid parking zone in the downtown area, meaning it is likely that this will be the last summer that Pismo Beach visitors won’t have to pay to park.

Although the City Council was hoping to have visitors pay to park at the five parking lots in the downtown area by start of this summer, the city won’t receive parking kiosks until mid-July.

The City Council isn’t giving up on paid parking for this year yet and might decide to temporarily use a timed parking system, such as enforcing a one to two-hour limit.

Nevertheless, in order to set up a long-term solution to parking in Pismo Beach, a revenue stream will be necessary.

“It would be unfortunate for the city to lose another year of parking revenue,” said Mayor Pro Tem Shelly Higginbotham in regards to the need of a paid parking plan.

Should the paid parking system start this year, the paid parking zone will consist of everything southwest of U.S. Highway 101 to the ocean; and from the intersection at Dolliver and Price streets to the Addie Street parking lot in the southeast. Not every parking space in the area will have a meter, however.

The Pismo Beach City Council appropriated $50,000 from the newly created parking fund to city staff to jump-start the program with paid parking brochures and anything else that may become necessary.

The city has not yet determined how much to charge for parking or how locals and employees will be given some type of relief.

Pismo Beach resident Don Day is concerned about the implementation of a paid parking plan.

“Maintenance might be greater than revenues and I have a strong concern about that,” Day said at a recent City Council meeting.

Cuesta College freshman Amanda Eckowitz agrees with Day, but also sees problems arising with Pismo’s summer tourists.

“I think more parking is a good idea, but to make people pay for parking will be a big problem for visitors or surfers who won’t want to pay to park,” she said.

Cal Poly electrical engineering junior Joe Rocha said he would probably pay to park but thinks the ordinance will only add problems.

“The parking there is such a mess already that adding on to that having to pay to park will just piss me off even more,” he said.

The paid parking zone ordinance follows months of debate about the future of parking in Pismo Beach, especially the possibility of a $10 million underground parking garage adjacent to the pier.

“I do agree that there needs to be a parking structure by the pier, but I don’t think an underground structure is going to fly very well,” Rocha said.

Pismo Beach financed a parking study last year that looked at the central downtown core area’s parking deficiency. The study found that without the dirt lot by the pier, the downtown area is short 271 parking spaces.

Additionally, Frank Benson’s mixed-use project is scheduled to begin construction in the fall and will cover roughly 31,000 square feet with retail stores and condominiums. The project, however, will replace the current pier parking lot.

The city is now facing the loss of 150 parking spaces from the pier’s dirt lot once Benson begins construction.

Benson offered the city the option to build an underground parking garage adjacent to the underground parking lot for his project. It would cost the city $10 million, but there would be approximately 260 underground parking spaces available next to the pier.

Residents, council members and the city’s planning commission have debated the underground parking garage proposal for months.

“It just makes sense; we already own the land making it cost effective . and if we were to build a structure on the surface, we would violate height limitations,” Higginbotham said.

“I think it’s a good thing for the community,” Mayor Mary Ann Reiss said. “But it barely replaces the parking we have now and it won’t be enough.”

The parking study showed that a future demand for a parking structure does exist, but the city must have a revenue stream developed that can finance such a project before making any moves.

Splash Caf‚ owner Ross Currie, who has run the restaurant for nearly two decades in the downtown core, would prefer not having underground parking, but recognized parking as the biggest problem for downtown business owners.

“When Benson builds, the downtown’s going to lose 20 percent of its sales; that’s huge,” Currie said at a recent parking workshop.

Rabenaldt noted the various problems that could arise when building beneath the dirt lot by the pier.

“A sewer main goes through that parking lot and sea wall supports go way beneath the lot,” he said. “Free dirt could turn into the most expensive dirt in Pismo Beach once you start relocating sewer mains and all of these other things.”

Rabenaldt also mentioned that the Old Clam Digger Motel by the pier is likely to become the Beachwalk Resort, a 67-suite hotel with underground parking.

“How much underground parking is too much at the base of the pier?” Rabenaldt asked.

As the parking study pointed out, however, a future underground parking garage project “will not address the issue of parking deficiencies that presently exist.”

“We also want to look into three other lots in the area to develop or turn into underground parking structures,” Higginbotham said.

The city recently signed a three-year lease for the parking lot at Pismo and Dolliver streets to help increase downtown parking.

“My hope is that before I leave office in November, we will have a long-range plan for parking in Pismo,” Reiss said.

Whether change downtown is positive, however, is an issue to Rabenaldt.

“Times have changed in Pismo Beach. We need as a council and a community to try to formulate a direction,” Rabenaldt said. “The proposals that are coming forward are not preserving our small town beach character, in fact, they’re doing just the opposite.”

The city also recently passed an ordinance to prohibit smoking of a cigar, cigarette, or any other type of tobacco product at the beach, pier, promenade and recreational fields.

The punishment for violating the ordinance is an infraction with the possibility of making it a misdemeanor.

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