WALNUT CREEK -- Get ready, shoppers and diners -- Walnut Creek downtown parking rates soon will shoot up to $2 an hour, Sunday parking no longer will be free and meter hours will stretch well into the night.
The City Council passed the new parking ordinance Tuesday. The changes will take effect in the spring and are expected to bump parking revenue, after expenses, from $1 million to $3.1 million annually.
Besides enforcement on Sundays, new for Walnut Creek, there also will be a move to change enforcement times from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. To help guide drivers into the underutilized downtown parking garages, the city will make the first hour free in its structures, but parking rates in the busy South Locust Street garage will rise from 50 cents to $1 an hour.
Some meters will charge $1 an hour -- those are outside the "core downtown" north of Civic Drive, east of Broadway and west of California Boulevard.
All the changes are aimed at reaching a standard parking occupancy rate of 85 percent -- 15 percent availability -- of parking at all times downtown.
Mayor Cindy Silva said the parking-rate and enforcement-hour changes are just one element of an overall parking plan that also includes way-finding signs and parking technology.
"All of which is designed to make parking easier in Walnut Creek," she said.
Jay Hoyer, president of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that the plan does not deal with one of the biggest problems -- employee parking downtown.
"We hear about how 'we are going to offer incentives (for employees)'; it sounds kind of hollow," Hoyer said. "What are we going to do about these folks that have to work down here and a parking plan for them?"
He also questioned whether business owners understand the changes about to take place.
Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson took issue with any suggestion that the community didn't have plenty of opportunities to weigh in on the proposed changes.
"The downtown parking task force completed its work in 2011," she said, also noting council meetings and a retreat where time was spent on the parking plan. "A tremendous amount of work has been done on making this right."
Former Councilman Gary Skrel, who now sits on the Walnut Creek Downtown board, said his group supports the changes 100 percent.
Updated parking studies have shown that even after previous rate hikes -- the last one in 2007 when on-street parking went from 50 cents to $1 an hour -- demand for on-street parking continues to climb. The parking on street during Friday and Saturday nights has at times reached over 100 percent occupancy, which means some drivers are double-parking. And Sunday is one of the busiest days of the week, according to transportation officials.
Council members said it is important to keep the rates and hours consistent, which makes it easier for downtown parkers to understand.
While many have spoken out on social media against the parking changes, there were few speakers at Tuesday's meeting. In fact, most spoke in support of the changes. Members of the bicycle community felt the plan didn't go far enough to deter people from driving.
The additional revenue from the parking changes will be spent on saving for future parking structures, downtown police officers and other downtown programs, which could include the Lesher Center.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.