Fullerton Moves Ahead With Paid Downtown Parking Using License Plate Readers

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

The paid parking pilot program will apply to a mix of two parking garages and nine parking lots within the downtown area.

People will have to pay to park in downtown Fullerton public garages and lots when the city launches a pilot parking program in June, in spite of privacy concerns from residents and City Council members over the license plate readers that will be used.

Kiosks will be used throughout the parking garages and lots and people will enter their license plate numbers in the system, while two portable license plate readers will be used by parking enforcement to track how long cars have been in certain stalls.

City Manager Ken Domer said the data from the license plate readers used in the parking program won’t be paired with DMV data or sold and its sole use is to enforce time restrictions within the parking garages. The city will own and control the data, he said.

“There’s two different systems. There’s kiosks, where people key in, then there’s the license plate reader. Those two link together to determine if a car has been there two hours or three hours … then it warrants a ticket (on limited time parking spaces),” Domer said in a Tuesday interview.

He said the police department has a separate system for its license plate reader and parking enforcement readers won’t be connected to the police system.  

“Say there was a stolen car wherever, and our parking control officer is going around, it’s not going to ping that as a stolen car because there’s two different systems,” Domer said.

The paid parking program starts its six-month test run June 6. People will pay a $5 flat rate to park after 9 p.m. and before 1 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The changes will apply to a mix of two parking garages and nine parking lots within the downtown area (locations shown on the map below).

MAP OF PAID PARKING LOCATIONS:

According to the staff report for the April 23 meeting, the program is expected to start generating city revenue after a little over five months. For the fiscal year 18-19, the cost to start and run the program is $55,000 and the estimated revenue will be $28,500. For the 2019-20 fiscal year, operating costs are expected to be $101,000 with a projected revenue of $143,000.

Domer said the projected amounts are based on conservative estimates.

“They based it on that 25 percent of those people entering after 9 p.m. would be paying the $5. Because what we’re figuring is people parking there prior … therefore not paying the fee. So that’s why the revenue projections are very conservative,” Domer said.  

Regardless of when people park, they’ll still be encouraged to enter in their license plate numbers in the kiosks or the phone app — even if it’s outside the $5 fee timeframe.

The city needs to collect the data so it can further analyze the parking situation to come up with proposed solutions, Domer said. Parking has long been an issue in downtown. He also said past studies on the parking situation showed up to 85 percent of parking spots were taken by Downtown employees during peak hours and the city needs to figure out how to open up spots for residents and customers.

“You have to have data in order to management something. We have close to 4,000 or over 4,000 parking spots in lots and structures. We have a big issue with employee parking taking up those parking spots that should be reserved for patrons,” Domer said. “So the data that we’re collecting is going to help us move employees around and free up parking spots and benefit the Downtown area. Now the revenue is good because it will help us maintain the parking spots … and with general maintenance in the Downtown.”

The parking program, isolated to the downtown area, will cover nearly 2,000 parking spots. Other cities including Santa Ana, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach require paid parking in public parking spaces.

Councilman Bruce Whitaker said it will likely be permanent. Whitaker and Councilman Ahmad Zahra were the dissenting votes at the April 16 meeting, when the program was approved 3-2.

“It’s very clear to me it’s not just a test, it’s a foot-in-the-door strategy,” Whitaker said in a Monday interview. “They’re supposed to analyze the results and bring that with the council … they’re going to have such an investment in it already, I guess they (City Council) already made up their minds on it.”

During the April 16 meeting, Zahra unsuccessfully tried to delay the paid parking program until the Council’s next meeting in May because he wanted more details.

“I’m still skeptical,” Zahra said during council deliberation. “We are not a destination city for people to come and say, ‘Yeah we’re going to be paying for parking’ … I think we should establish ourselves as that before we start imposing fees.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald said the program will help the city enforce its existing parking laws in downtown.

“I just think it’s important for us to remember that we have current regulations on our parking lots and structures. And we try desperately to enforce them now, but this will allow us to still have current regulations and just utilize new technology,” Fitzgerald said at the meeting.

“This is just  honestly the beginning of what I think we need to do to manage our parking assets in Downtown,” she said.

Mayor Jesus Silva said while he supports the program in an effort to free up some more parking spaces to bring the businesses more customers, he wants to make sure the policy protecting that data is sound.

“I would like to see this pilot program going into place. But I also would want to see what our policy is on keeping the data and make sure we tighten it up to make sure we’re the only ones using it, it’s not getting sold,” Silva said.

Domer, on Tuesday, said the police department will manage the data and it was updating the policy during the April 16 meeting, so the policy wasn’t online at the time.

“The [license plate] data may be shared only with other law enforcement or prosecutorial agencies for official law enforcement purposes or as otherwise permitted by law…” the policy reads.

If people start parking in downtown neighborhoods because don’t want to pay the $5 fee, then the city will have to adjust some parking policies in the area, Domer said.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this study as a pilot program is to see if that does occur,” he said. “And I think any downtown area that has residential area in it or surrounding it, that’s always a concern — it was in Huntington Beach (Domer was the assistant city manager in HB) … so you have to have the data on how it impacts the area in order to prevent or resolve such an impact.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.