Businesses feel impact of parking meters on San Pablo

A sign in the window of Paper Plus Outlet offers to help customers get change for parking meters. Photo: Hannah Long

Berkeley’s San Pablo Avenue is a thoroughfare for cross-city traffic and a hub for all sorts of businesses. Recently, however, some of the street’s business owners say the street has been suspiciously empty, with few parked cars or people frequenting stores.

Terry Griffin, who runs Griffin Motorwerke, blames this absence on 420 parking meters that were installed two years ago.

“The day the city put in these meters, people stopped parking on San Pablo Avenue,” he said. “Now, they just don’t shop there anymore.”

The coin-only meters were installed along certain stretches of San Pablo Avenue in 2010 after a unanimous vote by the Berkeley City Council. This measure, which also raised the rates of meters across the city by 25 cents an hour, was passed in an effort to increase city revenue to fight the economic recession.

Griffin says that the meters ruined his automobile business and forced him to move from San Pablo and Page to a new location on 6th Street.

“Once the meters went in, customers began telling me that they wouldn’t come back to businesses in Berkeley because the meters cost too much,” he said.

Paper Plus Outlet: owner Michele Schurman says customers spend less time in the store because of parking meters. Photo: Lance Knobel

Michele Schurman, who owns Paper Plus Outlet at San Pablo and Cedar, also had complaints about the parking meters. “The meters have really affected the amount of time people will spend in my store. People come in, get what they need, and leave,” she said. This is particularly problematic, she says, because her store has thousands of different items and no-one can look at everything in just five or 10 minutes.

Jessie Foster is the owner of vintage fashion and decor store Far and Few at 1643 San Pablo. “For many years I ran my business two doors down from here,” she said. “There were no meters and we had lots of business. I moved to this storefront around the same time that they installed the meters and it has had a really large impact. Now people are always worried about their meter. The machines don’t take credit cards and often people don’t have the change they need. The meters are also discriminatory because some blocks have them and some don’t.”

Shoppers have mixed views. Erica and Tom, two Berkeley residents who frequent San Pablo stores often (and did not want to give Berkeleyside their last names) had differing opinions on the issue. “I noticed when the parking meters went in, but don’t really mind them,” said Erica. “Most of my trips to San Pablo, like this one to Paper Plus Outlet, are really brief, so I just put a quarter in the meter and don’t worry about it.”

Tom, however, says that the meters have affected his trips to the area. “It’s such a hassle to find change for the meters so now I try to avoid coming to San Pablo when I can.”

Griffin Motorwerke: moved from San Pablo to 6th St. due to parking meters, according to owner Terry Griffin. Photo: Lance Knobel

While the store owners’ comments suggest the meters may have had an impact on the profitability of San Pablo businesses, City data paint another picture. The sales tax revenue collected by the city of Berkeley from the San Pablo commercial area rose by an average of about $53,000 per year in 2010 and 2011, during, and directly after, the installation of the meters. City revenue from sales tax makes up 1% of all taxable sales, thus the earnings of San Pablo businesses rose by approximately $5.3 million per year during this time. While inflation certainly played some role in this increase, it’s also possible that business on San Pablo Avenue only appeared to slow in recent years.

Another important factor in the parking meter debate is the discrepancy between projected and actual revenue meters provide for the city. A city report published with the proposed measure estimated that the meters would bring in $98,890 and $403,113 in revenue in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, respectively. Recent data, however, shows that the actual revenue was only a fraction of this ($34,232 in the 2010 fiscal year and $186,481 in the 2011 fiscal year). These figures, which do not take into account installation and maintenance costs, raise questions about the value of these meters.

City Councilmember Linda Maio, whose district includes much of San Pablo Avenue, admits that the meters have not had the results she hoped for.

“The decision to put in the meters was a budgetary one, as we were all trying to work through a difficult period,” she said. “I don’t think that the meters were great for business and, in hindsight, I regret agreeing to this measure.”

Empty parking spots on San Pablo at Cedar. Photo: Hannah Long

However, Michael Caplan, Economic Development Manager for Berkeley, said that revenue has gone down across the board in the past few years — including sales revenue, parking meter revenue, the number of parking meter violations and tickets. “My guess is that this is a result of the larger economy and people just aren’t going out to shop as much because of the recession,” he said.

Caplan says he has not heard many objections to the meters from retail businesses on San Pablo, although a few of the car repair shops there have expressed concerns. “I have heard a few complaints from some of the auto repair businesses on San Pablo about the parking meters. They used to use public parking spaces as a place to store vehicles, which they’re really not supposed to do. This has become a lot harder now that there are meters.

“We actually use parking meters to try to encourage spaces for customers because when parking is in short supply business employees tend to take many of the spots,” he continues. “Meters prevent them from parking in one spot all day and so actually encourage turnover.”

Parking meters are equally contentious in another area of Berkeley, the Lorin district, where a city council moratorium has temporarily placed covers on all meters. Houshmane Ghaderi, owner of the Vault Café on Adeline, said: “When the parking meters were put in all of the businesses around here lost a lot of customers. Covering them has had a huge impact. Business isn’t as good as it once was, but it’s slowly getting better.” The moratorium, which has been renewed twice, will last through this year.

Caplan says there have been no discussions about taking the same action on San Pablo. “The reason we covered the meters on Adeline was because of analysis by our transportation engineer,” he says. “The businesses in the area were complaining so much and when we looked at revenue flows it was clear that the businesses were generating so little revenue that it was inefficient. We haven’t heard the same complaints from San Pablo businesses.”

In west Berkeley, however, Motorwerke owner Griffin is worried: “Berkeley officials should be promoting business, but measures like these parking meters create an anti-business atmosphere. I’m not sure how long my business will last here in Berkeley.”

Berkeley parkers may get five minute grace period [04.26.12]
Should Berkeley have a kinder parking ticket policy? [02.10.12]
New parking signs in downtown after neighborhood action [02.08.12]
Local towing company spotlighted in parking ruckus [01.18.12]
Parking around Trader Joe’s sparks vigilante action [01.05.12]
$3.8 million to plan for smart parking in Berkeley [11.04.11]
Ban on parking meters might help business [10.21.10]

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  • Chrisjuricich

    SOmeone reasonably stated that parking meters should be utilized to press folks to move their vehicles, particularly in areas of high traffic. I went through a phase where I was getting so many Berkeley tickets I got completely exasperated, to the point that I felt like flipping off every meter reader I saw in the street. Not their fault

    Here is the result–for me– I drive and bike equally, so when I bike, I have no concerns about parking mets. When I drive, I frequent areas that have convenient no metered parking. Simple. If you’re a street business which has parking meters, I don’t go there. Solves a few problems– less parking citations and less money for the city coffers, as well as less business for metered areas of commerce.

    And the biking has its own obvious benefits–like tomorrow when I bike to work–30 minutes of grunting from the Berkeley flats up to the College and Alcatraz area on my one-speed. Good for me, good for my health…and if inclined i may stop at a coffee shop up that way–and pay no parking. Woo.

  • Johnmack16

    “F” the flats is official city policy. San Pablo is where Tommy et al want to place all of the affordable housing, cell phone towers and meters to raise money. Lets see some high density affordable housing in the hills, maybe a few parking meters as well.

  • Chrisjuricich

    I like that area, and Cafe Trieste is always nice to visit for coffee after working out nearby at the Berkeley dance place down the street. Empty storefronts don’t bother me. And it’s bike able for me, too.

  • Workin2hard

    Many of us who have to park on the street have had direct experience with “spare change” vandalism of car windows.  BPD public reports list laptops, briefcases, backpacks but there are lots of late night break ins for insignificant spare change, etc.   Many of us have learned the hard way to not leave anything anywhere in a vehicle parked overnight on the street.  If they gain access to your car having the glove box unlocked is the best thing so these miscreants can hunt through the thing without smashing it open by force.   

  • Anonymous

     This is disappointing to hear.  These cash for gold places just prey on desperate poor people.

  • Marin Ave User

    The City really needs to review its ENTIRE parking meter policy. They are alienating those who can actually do something to improve things: CUSTOMERS! 

    Thirty minute parking meters outside restaurants is downright criminal. The meter maids are increasingly rude. One time I near Saul’s on Shattuck I parked, walked to the parking machine to pay, was coming back to place the receipt on the dash, and the meter maid was writing me a ticket! I argued with her that I had just arrived! She tore it up after two fellow drivers, and some pedestrians confirmed my story. For one split second I was actually thinking about calling Berkeley PD on her.

    What is next? Sunday rates?

    BTW, I think we can do better than Bates…he needs to go…

  • The Sharkey

    Sickening, but unsurprising. The city continues to overpay every high-level person they employ brcause they know they can just steal from the maintinence budget and then float another bond when things start to fall apart.

  • The Sharkey

    The only place I’ve ever had a car broken into for spare change was here in good old Berkeley. It does happen.

    When I finally got BPD to send an officer to make a report hemade it clear that BPD had zero interest in vehicle crime and would not be perauing the issue at all. And for this kinf od service we pay them higher than average wages!

  • The Sharkey

    The only place I’ve ever had my car broken into for spare change was here in good old Berkeley. It happens.

    When I finally managed to get a BPD officer to come out to write an official report (I wanted it to show up on the local crime map) the responding officer made it very clear that BPD doesn’t care about vehicle crimes, and that they would not be investigating the case in any way. Thank goodness we pay our cops higher than the Bay Area average, right? 

  • Brad Johnson

    I’m a huge fan of local Berkeley business. I’m a renter of modest means, yet I spend tons of money buying things locally I could get on Amazon.
    I seriously doubt the claims that parking meters are causing massive behavior changes. I go to the home brew shop on San Pablo all the time. I could get my stuff cheaper online, with more variety, but I’d never think of it — I love that shop. A while ago parking meters showed up in front. Quelle horreur! Ok, so it costs me 25 cents more now, to go get my brew stuff. I usually park in the street instead of their lot, because the street is more convenient and I can swing the quarter.  Yesterday I went to Al Lasher’s on University. Plugged the meter there, too. And stopped in downtown Berkeley instead of Emeryville. Yep, paid to park. I never seem to have a problem with parking tickets, because I just pay my meter when I get out of the car. I can plan my day and anticipate how much parking time I need. I can arrange to return to my car if necessary. I think not paying for parking is freeloading, and most adults have the skills necessary to manage their parking time. So the threat of tickets shouldn’t be a legitimate reason not to park — they are 100% possible to avoid. I think a lot of people get hung up on the parking ticket thing, but that’s like saying police patrolling for speeders is going to deter customers. 

    Does availability of parking alter my behavior, yes. Does having to put 25 cents in a meter alter my behavior? No. I think there might be some exaggeration, or people are seriously not valuing their time. 

  • 4Eenie

    It sounds like you have the whole thing figured out.

  • Guest

    Glove compartments and console storage are two spots routinely rifled by car burglars, presumably because the burglars know people keep change there to put in parking meters.

  • Guest

    The worst example of meter madness involves Black Oak Books, an iconic Berkeley business.  When the Shattuck location closed, a new location opened on San Pablo Avenue.  Parking meters went up right away.

    Come on progressive Berkeley City Council.  Give these guys a fighting chance.

  • Marin Ave User

    Does anyone know the cost of 420 new hi tech parking meters? Where did those funds come from?
    If I leave a parking spot early, and I paid with a credit card, why can’t I be refunded for the unused time?
    Why do parking meter maid three-wheelers have stupid names like “Interceptor”?
    If the new 420 parking meters on San Pablo failed. Why not remove them?
    Why doesn’t the city start an on-line City-parking pass program? Sell monthly or yearly parking passes?
    Which Berkeley elementary school kindergardener produced the parking meter policy?

  • guest

     Why insult kindergardeners?

  • Berkeleyfarm

    I’ve lived near San Pablo and Dwight for twenty years now – even before
    Good Vibes (which I regard as the anchor tenant for the revitalization of that
    particular area) moved in.

    IMO the meter installation between about there and north of Cedar is a
    pure money grab by the city. I never, repeat, never had trouble finding one of
    the “one hour” spots when I, say, went to Animal Farm to buy kibble. EVEN IF
    people were waiting for spots in the tiny Acme/Fanny/Kermit parking lot across
    the street … I could park on that block easily.  

    And the metering around Dwight is silly. Again … never had trouble
    finding a reasonably close spot if I chose to drive. I guess it’s an official
    sign that the neighborhood has “arrived” but as usual I think that the City,
    while giving lip service to “independent business”, is actively hostile in its
    practices towards them. Meters in front of Black Oak, which is a section that
    has only recently had significant commercial traffic (IOW …
    just gentrified) is just greedy.

    (I also, duh, figured out why the B of A parking lot was nuttier than usual
    – people are using it as the free lot.)

    It has affected my shopping patterns. Now I try to squeeze it all into
    Sunday, except for the computer repair store near Animal Farm … and now I’m extra careful, because I was in there for five minutes checking on something, forgot to feed the meter, and got ticketed.  Mid day, mid week.  Ooops.   

  • The Sharkey

    How is the street more convenient than Oak Barrel’s lot?

    I’ve noticed that when their lot fills up most people who park on the street to visit Oak Barrel just go over to Page Street, which doesn’t have meters.

  • berkeleysteve

    Berkeley is closely following SF’s model. More meters, higher rates,
    higher fines, minimum meter payments, mean spirited (to put it kindly) meter cops… (How many stories have you heard of questionable tickets?) . They’ll send you a ticket rather than putting it on your car
    if you are in the vehicle. Businesses complain, the Berkeley residents
    complain (to one another – the city won’t listen) and the outsiders say
    they will stop shopping here. Just try to appeal one of these tickets.

    we almost always approve measures for additional taxes to keep our
    schools and libraries funded and this is what we get in return.

    Bates and his crew have to go. The Berkeley parking enforcement is just a money grab – as it is in SF.

    These meters and tickets are is lowering the quality of life here in Berkeley.