Paid Parking Meeting Reveals Divide in Approach to Fixing City Finances

Half Moon Bay city leaders say that greater revenue is the answer, while residents counter that spending and fund allocation is the problem.

’s of the in Half Moon Bay revealed more than locals’ distaste for meters on Main St.

By unanimously voting to abandon the idea after a sizeable crowd of local residents and merchants spoke about their opposition to the program, city councilmembers responded to the community’s concerns that parking would deter potential overnight visitors, shoppers and diners.

Residents and merchants also feared paid parking would exacerbate a potential loss for Main St. merchants once the project begins — and pose a financial risk by investing over $530,000 to set up the parking system with no certainty of whether or not the money would be recouped in a few years.


Councilmembers emphasize need for revenue as solution to financial shortfalls

Half Moon Bay Mayor Allan Alifano prefaced the meeting by reminding residents that the idea for implementing paid parking was the highest-ranked idea that came out of a held in 2011 to strategize how to generate increased revenue.

“Many of you have come here tonight to probably tell us why you may not like [paid parking], and that’s fine,” said Alifano after listing a long list of needs the city can’t afford. “But afterwards, please tell us your ideas for our plan to increase revenue,” he said.

City councilmembers echoed Alifano’s call for strategies to increase revenue as a solution to its financial shortfalls during the paid parking meeting.

Some residents did speak to the council about ideas on how to increase revenue, such as CEO Charise McHugh. McHugh advocated for a strategy to up the city’s hotel occupancy rate — which would increase the amount of money coming in through the transient occupancy tax (TOT).

“For every five percent that the occupancy rate goes up, $200,000 - $250,000 goes into your pocket,” she told councilmembers.

Half Moon Bay resident Les Deman emphasized that strengthening the economy is really the best long-term way to increase revenue.

“There’s something in economics called the law of unintended consequences,” Deman said as a way to illustrate his point. “In 2015, I see shiny parking meters but one-third of the shops are shuttered.”

Councilmembers Marina Fraser and Naomi Patridge encouraged the downtown business owners to work together more closely to encourage locals and visitors alike to shop downtown if they wanted Main St. to thrive, while councilmember Rick Kowalczyk offered to meet with business owners to develop a Business Improvement District or to organize together to promote Half Moon Bay’s downtown.


City residents, businessowners point to spending and fund allocation as culprit

But while local residents and business owners applauded ideas that would bring in more revenue to the city — such as promoting more business on Main St., freeing up the Beachwood and properties for development, and even bringing back the idea of opening up a movie theater in town — they also spoke repeatedly to councilmembers about their opinions that the way the money has been spent is the real culprit of the financial crisis.

Half Moon Bay resident George Gipe said that the city was top-heavy in administration. He specifically referred to the position of six-figure earner Katie Crowder as the Assistant to the City Manager as unnecessary, saying that other cities have operated successfully without the position.

Sophia Freer and George Muteff, both Half Moon Bay residents, referred to the city’s move to for $4,000 a month until the end of June and $5,000 a month for the upcoming fiscal year as money that could be better spent.

“The mayor brought up revenues — we do need that,” Freer said. “Given the case, I wonder why you plan to invest $60k for a community outreach coordinator which we call a spin doctor,” she said.

Muteff cited the city’s handling of the case which has resulted in fines against the city that could total anywhere between $400,000 - $1.1 million-plus. “That is what I call a mistake," he said.

"What we have is a spending problem,” Muteff concluded.

Local attorney said that the city should “scale down studies we do around here,” and suggested that the city take over the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival from the Half Moon Bay Beautification Committee "so that we know where the money goes."

“I agree with the need for revenue, but it’s my experience to see money being spent wastefully,” owner of realty Steve Hyman said in regards to city’s decision to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on building a new emergency operations center next to the police station. Sounds of agreement from the crowd punctuated Hyman’s comments.

In response to the allegation that the city was top-heavy, councilmembers spoke out strongly.

“No need to get into details of expenditures — we’re a lean city,” said councilmember John Muller, reinforcing Alifano and City Manager ’s earlier comments that Half Moon Bay has spent the last three years trimming their workforce as a cost savings.

“We’re not admin-heavy,” Patridge told the crowd, saying that the reports the city has to fill out for the government are the same as all other cities have to do regardless of size. She described a recent last-minute request for a report which took up a bulk of staff time to complete as an example of their workload.

“If we don’t do that [file the report], we get fined…we’re killing the staff right now,” she said.


Half-cent sales tax increase floated as alternative solution, but parking meters not off table for the long term

Councilmembers suggested a half-cent city sales tax increase for three years as a way to raise revenue, which would increase the sales tax from the current 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent. The strategy was also mentioned by a few residents in their comments to the council earlier in the meeting as well.

Alifano estimated that the increase could bring in $600,000 - $700,000 a year to the city’s coffers.

“I could support a modest sales tax increase if it had connection with a significant portion going towards promoting our community — so that in raising a dollar in sales tax then we get $2 to $3 back, which is a multiplicative benefit,” Kowalczyk said.

“If we raise tax and spend it so that more people come to our community and raise TOT and revenue, it follows the economic dynamic of our community,” he added to applause from the crowd.

When discussing the idea of the sales tax increase, councilmembers mentioned that they would expect the support of those in attendance — given that the Nov. 2010 ballot measure to , and that parking meters are a no-go — for this time around, anyway.

For while residents and business owners may have celebrated last night after the council’s decision, councilmembers indicated that they’re not sweeping the topic off the table forever.

“I’d really like to see us go for the half-cent sales tax increase for three years and then come back for the parking meters,” Patridge said. “I firmly believe in parking meters. I think it is a way to move people around downtown but right now I don’t think culturally we’re ready. And if we have people fighting us it’s not worth it. We need to keep this city viable together.”

Kowalczyk added that he would like to see the city revisit the issue in a year.

“Don’t be surprised if [the parking meter issue] comes back when the timing is right,” he said.

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