LIVE OAK — As the County of Santa Cruz Public Works Department hosts its second virtual community forum Wednesday night around possible revisions to the Live Oak Parking Program, it will present a proposal based on public sentiment.
Public Works Director Matt Machado said Tuesday that the driving force behind revisions to the parking program is that it has been operating with a deficit for several years. In fact, Machado said in an email to county resident Alison Butler that was forwarded to this publication, the county provides approximately $65,000 in funding to cover the program operations each year.
“It’s not sustainable,” he said. “(We want) to make the program more solvent, financially viable.”
Letters to staff reveal a distaste toward some of the suggestions being made by Public Works. As employees seek to apply for a revised approval of the program from the California Coastal Commission, Machado said they understand that the largest point homeowners have sought to get across is that they don’t like the idea of paying for their own permits.
This was reflected in a survey conducted by Public Works on the program’s benefits and disadvantages, as well as its direction for the future; 72% of the 173 respondents were not in favor of creating one annual permit that would charge residents and visitors the same.
Historically, each homeowner in the permitted area has gotten two free passes.
“Residents should continue to receive two free permits each season and visitors should not be able to purchase seasonal parking permits, which would defeat the original purpose of the (program),” Live Oak resident Kimberly Kelly Goddard said in an email to the Sentinel.
Machado said the staff understands the response and has adjusted the proposal for Wednesday.
“We were suggesting a $100 annual fee, but because of what we heard from people, we went back and tried to reduce that even though that would probably extend some of our improvements and expansion program ideas,” Machado said. “We are going to propose to lower the permit fee but extend the expansion and improvements over time. The revenue just isn’t there.”
The expansion Machado referenced, which would be executed in two phases, would at least double the current 9.4 miles permitted. The first expansion staff seeks to carry out would fill in gaps in coverage from 26th Avenue to 38th Avenue, with a second expansion in the Opal Cliffs Area (from 41st Avenue to the edge of the city of Capitola) following the first. Improvements would include efforts like improved enforcement of the permits and better signage.
Machado also said he understands from survey feedback that residents want more enforcement and a more streamlined system. This means online passes and an app-based permit program, as well as more organized parking; for seniors or those who need help getting enrolled digitally if applicable, staff will always be around and available on weekdays, Machado said. These elements will be detailed in the Wednesday night proposal, too.
On some of these points, residents who filled out the survey and spoke to the Sentinel agree. But most people do not support changing daily passes to hourly fees, the survey shows. The thought process behind changing it is around affordability, Machado explained. People who want to enjoy the beach for a single hour shouldn’t have to pay for the $10 daily pass like they do now.
“We suspect it will probably be the first hour free,” he said.
The survey shows a 50/50 split on feelings around one of the major possible changes to the permit — extending it to a year-round program.
“We really look forward to the months the permit is in place, it gives us a little bit of a chance when we leave for the grocery store on the weekends,” Butler said of the tight parking. “Especially in this past year, it’s (been) not just needed for May through September… it’s every day. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is.”
A discussion of delay
For the last few years, Machado and his staff have studied the best way to update the permits to mitigate the economic damage. He said that the public is being engaged now to get people interested. However, not everyone feels as though they’ve had enough time to consider the Public Works Department’s proposed changes to the program.
Four Pleasure Point neighbors — Butler, Patti Brady, Shelley Flock and Catherine Romero — sent a letter to their supervisor, Manu Koenig, with a carbon to Machado. They asked the county employees to “put the brakes on” a project they felt was lacking transparency. While the women support the expansion of the 1979/83 version of the Live Oak Parking Program — a program introduced to reduce traffic and parking during peak beach season, according to the county — they have asked the community get a six-week review period to look over Machado and his staff file an application.
“We feel that maintaining the current program for 2021 would be most advantageous for making an educated well thought through proposal to the Coastal Commission that has support of your constituents,” they wrote.
After working to “get the house in order,” Machado said, his staff is trying to do its best to find a balance between what the public wants and what the Coastal Commission wants.
“(The commission) wants equal access for everybody, to be affordable and yet fair,” he said. “They want everybody to pay the same (fees)… we fully expect that when we submit for the permit it will get appealed to the commission and we will have to go and present our case. There’s a chance they could deny it. That’s why we are trying to hit as many of their priorities as possible.”
When Butler alleged in an email that the county was taking the path of least resistance when it came to approaching the Coastal Commission, he said representatives had stood their ground.
“The (parking) rates are primarily determined by the program need, not Coastal Commission conditions,” he said. “There is a fair chance the entire program could be discontinued.”
Discontinuation would be disappointing for residents that favor the program’s existence, including 40-year Schwan Lake neighbor Joe Hall.
“I can tell you before the parking program it was very hard on many summer days to park in any of our neighborhood,” Hall said. “Visitors knew there was no enforcement and they parked wherever they wished — in people’s driveways, blocking driveways, in front of fire hydrants… the parking program made a huge difference creating a little order where there had been chaos before.”