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By Shawn Raymundo
The city of San Juan Capistrano will move ahead with a proposal to initiate a pilot program for valet parking services in the downtown district this summer.
The City Council on Tuesday, May 7, voted 4-0 in favor of negotiating with HowElite Parking Solutions for a contract to operate the valet pilot program during the weekends. Councilmember John Taylor was absent from the Tuesday meeting.
The purpose of the program is to address complaints from local business owners, residents and visitors over a lack of available parking in the downtown district, which results in traffic congestion from motorists circling the area looking for a place to park.
“We thought this would be something that would address many of the concerns we hear from visitors, from businesses, that parking in our most desirable location in the heart of the downtown is never available,” City Manager Ben Siegel told the council.
In the city’s report on the program, city staff said the program would “increase parking supply and enhance the parking experience for downtown visitors during the busy summer season.”
Councilmember Sergio Farias spoke highly of the proposal, believing the city’s parking woes could be solved by giving downtown patrons the option of a valet. Farias further emphasized what could happen when visitors are unable to find a spot.
“I have friends and clients who like businesses here, and if they don’t find a spot, they’re moving on, they’re going to go to their next favorite salon or restaurant or whatever,” Farias said. “And I think that could be solved with valet parking. . . . Let’s give our residents or visitors an option.”
During the trial period, from June 7 to Sept. 2, downtown visitors would be able to have their vehicles valeted, with pick-up and drop-off services offered, in the multi-modal parking lot off Verdugo Street. The proposed cost to use the valet is $7 to $9, the city noted.
The northernmost portion of the multi-modal lot would be used to stack some of the valet-parked vehicles. HowElite would use the city’s property on the southwest corner of Del Obispo Street and Ortega Highway—the former Jack in the Box location—that’s currently being renovated, and it will be able to park about 40 vehicles, according to the city.
The company would also be able to use the Los Rios gravel lot on the corner of Paseo Adelanto and Ramos Street for additional parking.
The hours proposed for the program would include Fridays from 4-10 p.m., Saturdays from noon-10 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
HowElite, one of three parking firms to submit proposals to the city last month, was highly ranked by a review committee comprising staff from the city’s Development Services Department and Public Works and Utilities Department.
According to the city, the program would come at “no cost” to the city and that HowElite “would provide all required insurance and indemnification.”
During the public comment portion on the proposal, San Juan resident Robert Bruch questioned the purpose of the program.
“I’m not certain what we’re trying to accomplish with valet parking,” he said. “I was particularly taken with the fact that it says that this was at no cost to the city for an independent organization to use our parking space to park cars. It seems like we can make a couple of dollars from it, at the very least.”
Siegel explained that the point of the valet program was to “effectively increase parking supply. It’s a no-cost or low-cost opportunity to add 80 or 90 parking spaces.”
“This was not about generating revenue; this was about more effective management of existing spaces,” he said.
Following the conclusion of the pilot program, Siegel would also put together an analysis to present to the council in the fall.
In conjunction with the proposed valet program, the city will also look into temporarily raising parking rates and begin charging for spaces that are currently free in the Franciscan Plaza Parking Structure on Verdugo.
The potential move, the city states, would help promote turnover, as many of the spaces are free or inexpensive, which has “resulted in severely limited parking availability for customers and adjacent restaurants and businesses.”
“Adjustments to the parking rates have real impacts on demand-based pricing,” Siegel said.
With the council’s vote on Tuesday, city staff, during the next meeting on May 21, are expected to present additional information regarding new parking fees for the Franciscan structure, as well as a resolution to establish those fees on a temporary basis during the summer.