MARTINEZ -- New credit card-enabled parking meters and a rate increase are in store for people who park in downtown Martinez.

The City Council last week agreed to seek bids to replace the city's 1,100 parking meters with ones that accept credit and debit cards. The plan is to gradually install new meters, beginning with about 100 on Mellus and Willow streets to accommodate jurors.

On May 1, the city ended the long-standing, informal practice of free juror parking.

Last May, the city installed 62 single-space parking meters that accept credit and debit cards along Main Street, from Castro to Court streets, for a three-month trial. Although drivers have been slow to embrace the meters -- by November just 7 percent of people paid with a credit card -- city leaders believe this technology is the wave of the future.

The manufacturer charges $600 per meter. The staff originally proposed buying 100 meters and installing them in the long-term parking areas.

With additional jurors bound for Martinez due to court closures, the city projects an annual increase of $48,070 in parking meter revenue at the current rate of 25 cents per hour for the 10-hour spots.

Currently, Martinez charges 50 cents per hour for the two-hour and four-hour parking spaces. The staff recommended raising that rate to 75 cents, and charging 50 cents for the 10-hour meters beginning in January.

At Councilwoman Lara DeLaney's suggestion, however, the city likely will raise meter rates this summer. The council also may decide whether to eventually charge a dollar per hour for the two-hour parking spaces along Main Street to encourage turnover.

Originally, the staff suggested moving the credit card-enabled meters from Main Street to the long-term parking area. But Councilman Mark Ross, who carries a pocketful of quarters to feed the meter near his downtown office, strongly opposed the idea.

"I hate to see us go backward on this," Ross said. "Really, we're going back to coins on Main Street?"

Ross also suggested the city consider charging more for parking during peak demand as San Francisco and some other cities with tight parking do.

Revenue from the parking meters, a portion of parking ticket fines, parking permit fees and property taxes collected from properties in the parking district, are deposited in the parking fund, which holds $808,713.

Ultimately, the council wants to build a parking garage downtown. In 2002, a consultant estimated that building a three-story, 200-space garage would cost about $2.5 million. City Manager Phil Vince has estimated the city would have to spend at least $7 million for something comparable today.

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.

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