WALNUT CREEK -- The parking business in Walnut Creek is booming.
The City Council discussed the perennial issue of parking last week as part of a comprehensive examination of various city programs.
In a recently updated parking study, Walnut Creek officials found that on-street parking downtown continues to be above the targeted occupancy rate of 85 percent at peak hours, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays. This is even after meter rates were raised to $1 from 50 cents a few years ago.
"When the rate went to $1 an hour, it had little impact," said Matt Huffaker, who oversees parking for the city. "There is still capacity in off-street parking. ... You could argue there is support for a potential rate adjustment."
Raising parking meter rates in Walnut Creek is never a popular idea with businesses or their customers. But in considering the cost to manage parking in the city, and the city's attempts to provide enough spaces, Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson said examining rates may be warranted.
"Based on the information we have, we are leaving money on the table," she said.
The city's parking task force came up with a parking management plan a few years ago. Its vision was not to make more money but to make parking better, Lawson said.
"I think it's telling that our demand is continuing to increase even after we have a significant increase in our meter rates," she said.
The city brings in $5.1 million in parking revenue annually and spends $2.9 million each year to operate parking in Walnut Creek, said Huffaker. The money the city collects from its 1,500 meters and four city-owned garages now goes into a fund that is used for downtown enhancements such as the trolley, beautification and future parking facilities.
Mayor Cindy Silva said having all of the parking revenue flowing into an enterprise account, which the city set up last year, rather than the general fund makes it easier to track.
"I think it is the best way to be transparent with the public as to where their quarters and their parking fees are going," she said.
Lawson said all downtown costs incurred, such as a policing team that only patrols that area of the city, should be paid for from parking revenue.
Councilman Justin Wedel said he believes the city should stay in the parking business but that the money needs to be saved to help pay for replacement of parking infrastructure.
Council members seemed interested in potentially changing the way the parking program is managed. Currently, city staff handles enforcement and maintaining the meters, and an outside company manages the garages. Newport Beach contracts out the entire operation, and Silva said she would be interested in seeing how that model works.
City staff will take all the feedback from the council, update the city's parking plan and give more information about possible changes to the way the system operates.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.