Lack of parking hurting Rancho Santa Fe village businesses, merchants report at meeting

Rancho Santa Fe village merchants and representatives from local law enforcement agencies met on July 9 to discuss how a lack of parking is hurting village businesses. Business owners were requesting more enforcement of parking violators, particularly everyday repeat offenders, in an effort to help the remaining businesses keep their doors open.

“We’re down to 10 merchants and that’s it. Everybody’s suffering like hell and talking about closing,” said Bertrand Hug, owner of Mille Fleurs.

Rancho Santa Fe’s florist, barber, restaurant and shop owners gathered in the courtyard near Country Squire Gifts and Linens with San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, California Highway Patrol Captain Amy Mangan, Captain Theresa Adams-Hydar from the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station, Rancho Santa Fe Patrol Chief Matt Wellhouser, and some CHP officers.

Gore said he hoped that they could find a solution to alleviate the problem as he said he could see for himself how hard it must be for businesses — at 10 a.m. he had trouble finding a place to park for the meeting.

Tim Cusac is behind the counter at Caffe Positano less than he used to be, but his Paseo Delicias shop opens at 6 a.m. and by 8:30 a.m. all of the main streets in the village are pretty much filled up. John Matty of John Matty Co. jewelry store said he can see anger in customers’ faces as they circle the blocks searching for parking that isn’t there.

And when he can do a month’s worth of business with one sale, that is a problem for him, he said.

Delicias is no longer open for lunch and Hug said he might as well not be open as his lunch service has dwindled.

Connie McNally, who has owned The McNally Company Antiques for 24 years, said before downsizing they attempted to sublease out their corner space but nobody would go for it because of the lack of parking. The space has been empty since October 2014.

As the makeup of the village has changed to include mostly banks and real estate offices, the merchants say the problem is employee-parking taking up all of the spaces. As Matty said, there are approximately 471 spaces in the village and 300 real estate agents.

“I’ve been screaming over there (at the RSF Association) for 30 years,” Hug said.

He said he has been told numerous times that it is not a problem and now he fears it is too late, with so many businesses gone.

In 2012, the RSF Association conducted a study that concluded there is not a parking shortage in the village as a whole. The study found peak demand in the village core exceeds 90 percent, but parking is consistently available in the village perimeter.

Those at the meeting said the problem then was the same that it is now, that the same people every day occupy timed spaces for extended periods of time.

California Highway Patrol does the majority of parking enforcement through the Association’s overtime CHP officers. Since 2004, the Association has contracted with the CHP for supplemental services in addition to their regular enforcement.

While several merchants said they never see parking enforced, Captain Mangan said that officers had issued some 550 citations this year as well as 100 verbal warnings. Their citations are up this quarter compared to the same period last year.

“I don’t think a bunch of enforcement is what is called for here, it is not a visitor-friendly thing,” said Mangan.

She said officers are trying to make sure businesses are being supported and it’s a fine line to walk.

Penelope Bax, who has owned Rancho Santa Fe Flowers and Gifts since 1994, said she didn’t understand why it is a “fine line” if the spaces are marked with a two-hour time limit. If a car has been parked there longer than the limit, it should be ticketed.

Mangan said people often tell officers they can afford to pay the $60-plus tickets and don’t bother to obey the rules.

“That’s what we’re up against,” Mangan said.

The merchants argued eventually people will get tired of paying the tickets and that they should still issue them.

Captain Adams-Hydar said that they need to find a solution for employee parking, an alternative place for all-day parkers to go and free up spaces in the village core.

“The reality is we’re talking about band-aids to a much bigger problem,” said RSF Association board member Mike Licosati.

Licosati said the problem is that the village hasn’t changed in 25 years while engineering and technology has changed dramatically.

“We need to re-design the entire village — make it attractive for retailers, for pedestrian traffic, for maintaining a grocery store and post office, and a lot of the overriding goals we want to accomplish,” Licosati said.

That may mean solutions such as underground parking, closing La Gracia in front of The Inn or converting Avenida de Acacias to a one-way street and installing diagonal parking spaces, a gain of about 40 parking spots. Licosati said he doesn’t know what will be the best solution but he knows the Association can’t take a piecemeal approach to solving the issue, there needs to be a more integrated plan with community engagement and visioning. He said the RSF Association is on board with a village master plan and a committee is being finalized.

“It’s all achievable. There’s an entirely new regime in the Association that’s open minded, forward thinking and wants to accomplish this,” Licosati said. “I think we can do something really special with this village.”

Hug said the long-range planning sounded great but wondered what they will do in the meantime as businesses continue to struggle. Merchants talked about painting two-hour green curbs in front of businesses and upping the parking enforcement.

“Be careful what you ask for in this regard,” Mangan said. “I’m hearing that you want more parking enforcement and I can make that happen for you. But I’m concerned about the effect it will have on the community.”

Mangan said putting more focus on parking would take officers away from targeting speeding and life and safety concerns.

The merchants agreed that speeding should still be a top priority and that they need the most enforcement from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They were less worried about the weekends — they said the village is a ghost town on Saturdays and Sundays.

Wellhouser, who has been in Rancho Santa Fe for 35 years, said he has heard the issue several times over the years and has heard all the pros and cons.

He said the Association can work with the county to change the time limit parking areas, but they have to make sure they’re not designing something that’s completely unenforceable.

He encouraged the merchants to stay involved with the Association’s planning process and provide feedback. Cusac agreed that the merchants need to ensure that their voices are heard.

“We have to create a vision and promote that vision so that the stakeholders that have a say in the Association can adopt that vision and see what’s in it for them,” Cusac said. “I’m very excited about what I’m hearing from Mr. Licosati.”

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