Could there be a multi-story parking structure coming to downtown La Mesa Village?
The city council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a motion that would amend the zoning ordinance, paving the way for the establishment of an in-lieu parking fee.
The council viewed and heard a presentation on the feasibility of the parking structure from Paul Marra of Keyser Marston, and Stephen Cook of Fehr & Peers, a transportation and parking consulting firm.
The presentation stated that La Mesa is only using 76 percent of its available parking supply currently, thus making a parking structure unnecessary at this point.
However, if future development in the village were to increase by 13-20 percent, it would lead to adequate demand.
The establishment of the in-lieu parking fee would essentially allow for developers to pay into a pool of funds that could be used to build the structure, once demand for parking caught up to, reached further than the current supply of 365 spaces in the commercial district.
Local taxpayer watchdog David Smyle brought up a pertinent question to the council.
"If the parking lot never gets built, what happens to all of the in-lieu money?" he asked. "If it takes 10 years to build this thing because you don’t have enough funds, at that point the cost of the garage may have gone up upteenth fold… and it just continues to get delayed and the costs keep going up, what happens to all of these people that have paid the fees that may not ever get to the promised land?”
City Manager Dave Witt said that Smyle made a good point, and that the in-lieu fee program was ultimately an investment.
"I think those are good questions, and part of it when you go into this is, there is no guarantee," Witt said. "It’s an investment, it’s a tool that has worked in the past.
"I would think that at some point you would get close enough and probably look at some gap financing to move forward with it," Witt continued. "I think if you price it too high, it becomes a disincentive as well, and that’s part of the dynamic."
Witt also mentioned that unlike some other fees that developers “get hit” with, there is an immediate benefit with the in-lieu parking fee.
“It’s an idea. There’s a certain amount of, not risk, but faith that it will move forward," he said. "I’ve seen it as a concept as well in smaller communities and larger communities, so I don’t think we would be bringing this forward if we were trying to put a Bloomingdale’s or a Nordstrom’s in our downtown. It’s the wrong fit. But that’s why we put it to this test, to make sure it’s a right fit.”
It was suggested by staff that the amendment to the zoning ordinance would take place some time in the future, after the city’s downtown masterplan is completed in the next year.
The council also heard reports of possible changes to the city’s annual Oktoberfest. Citing citizens concerns about public safety issues, the council was presented with three different scenarios on how the annual weekend festival could be changed to increase security, while also paring down on certain costs.
Representatives from the La Mesa Village Merchants Association and the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, along with the police and fire departments, have been meeting over the last two months to discuss the plan.
It was suggested and agreed upon by both business groups that a scenario that would eliminate the carnival rides from the festival is a viable solution.
“The carnival brings teenagers, and we are trying to move away from the teenage element, so we’ve all pretty much agreed to remove the carnival,” said Arlene Moore, president of the Merchants Association.
“They may come this year and say, ‘God, well there’s nothing here for us,’ so they may leave.”
Councilmember Mark Arapostathis brought up the issue of the density of vendor booths growing in the last few years, limiting pedestrian accessibility. He asked Moore if removing the carnival from the section of La Mesa Boulevard west of Spring Street would mean there would be more booths to take its place.
Moore said she didn’t know at this time, but added that public safety was the group’s highest priority, so that if the police said they needed to provide more access, they would do so.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Mary England echoed the sentiments of Moore, saying that the third scenario was preferred.
“As long as the carnival is not there, and the police are happy, we are happy,” she said.
Moore said that the Merchants Association uses revenue it makes from Oktoberfest to fund some of its other events throughout the year, including the La Mesa Antique Faire, the summer-long La Mesa Car Show, and Christmas in the Village.
In other council news:
Appointments were made to the city’s boards and commission that had vacancies. Erik Collins and Robert Jacoby were named to the Aging and Veterans Commission, Maria Hesse, Jeffrey Bristow, and Lisa Irvine (Helix Water District representative) were named to the Environmental Sustainability Commission, and incumbent Erik Collins was re-appointed to the Personnel Appeals Board.
Each councilmember was given the chance to nominate one of the five applicants for the Planning Commission position left vacant when former member Kristine Alessio was elected to city council.
Mayor Art Madrid, Arapostathis and Ruth Sterling nominated Noah Alvey. Ernie Ewin and Alessio nominated Shannon O’Dunn. With Alvey, a former member of the planning commission in El Cajon, earning a majority of the nominations, he was appointed to fill the seat.