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By Shawn Raymundo
City council on Tuesday, Aug. 6, considered rolling back a temporary parking rate hike at the downtown parking structure, as the owner of San Juan’s only movie theater has said the fee increase is negatively impacting his business.
After a discussion and lengthy public comment portion at city hall, the council ultimately decided to let the current summertime rates at the Franciscan Plaza Parking Structure expire after Labor Day weekend, as planned.
The fee hikes were part of a pilot program the city enacted this past May in which the plaza began to charge $2 an hour for stalls that were previously designated as free for three hours. Additionally, the program, which began June 7 and is scheduled to end Sept. 2, temporarily raised rates for the overnight spots and launched a valet service on weekends in the downtown corridor.
Hoping to create more turnover in the structure, the city proposed the rate increases, as several downtown business owners had opined that employees were abusing the free spots and taking away availability from customers.
While the temporary fees were meant to get more patrons into the local restaurants and shops, it has had the opposite effect on the Regency Theatre, according to its president, Lyndon Golin.
“The concept to charge for parking is a deterrent to park in the structure; however, it’s only going to deter the community who made the downtown a success,” Golin told the council.
Mayor Brian Maryott said he wanted to have the discussion of potentially repealing only the $2 rate hike ahead of schedule, after meeting with Golin, who told him of the fees’ negative impact.
Golin said that since the pilot program launched in June, the theater has heard from angry customers displeased with paying for hourly parking in addition to paying the admission price of seeing a movie. Some of the customers, he said, were even given refunds.
“The theater will lose business if people have to pay (for parking) to see a movie,” he said.
Rather than making all downtown patrons pay for parking, Golin urged the council to consider employing a validation system for Regency customers.
Such an idea was backed by many residents who echoed Golin’s concerns, as well as business owners in the Franciscan Plaza who advocated in favor of keeping the parking fees.
Raymond Dagher, one of the owners of the Franciscan Plaza, asked the city to keep the new parking fees to prevent people from overstaying and abusing the previously free spots. He also supported a validation parking system, but only for patrons of the Franciscan Plaza businesses.
The city does not plan on making a determination as to whether it will permanently raise the parking structure rates until it has received a report from the city on its feasibility. The current plan is to use the pilot program to collect data that will be presented to the council this fall.
The councilmembers decided to let the program run its course, believing it would defeat the purpose of it being a pilot.
“My inclination is to not shut down this pilot program . . . to shut it down now before we take those measurements is an exercise in nothing,” said Mayor Pro Tem Troy Bourne.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow The Dispatch @CapoDispatch.