From 1:45 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Jan. 4, three separate traffic jams were caused in the vicinity of Wall Street and Girard Avenue by drivers backing out of parking spaces that other drivers blocked traffic to wait for.
At a parking lot one block away — which charges $1.75 per 20 minutes and also validates for Union Bank customers — 20 of 41 available spots sat empty.
Contrary to complaints frequently expressed in community meetings, La Jolla doesn’t seem to have a parking shortage. What it has, experts agree, is a shortage of drivers willing to pay for parking.
“It gets really congested along Girard, and I think more than 50 percent of the people, if not more, are already at their destination and just looking for free parking within a one-block radius,” said Keith Jones, owner of Ace Parking, one of two parking companies that compete to service The Village.
Ace and its competitor, LAZ, offer a combined total of 26 paid street and garage lots within walking distance to any downtown location. Yet, according to both companies, more than 350 parking spaces are always available in their lots — even at peak business hours.
Finding free parking, something that used to be a cinch in La Jolla, has certainly grown more difficult in the past decade.
“People are used to the old-school way of being able to find a space on the street without too much difficulty,” said Dave Abrams, chair of the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board. “I find myself doing it. You circle a block one or two times or more. And of course, people wait on the street waiting for someone to pull out, and that, too, adds to the congestion.”
Ironically, the root causes of this phenomenon are considered positive things by most La Jollans: ever-increasing tourism and population density, in addition to more businesses with employees driving in from elsewhere.
“There’s no one to blame here, it’s not anyone’s fault,” Jones said. “Is it that the employees of this store are taking all the free parking? Is that part of the challenge? Yes. But I also think that what’s happened in the 30 years that I’ve lived in La Jolla is that things have become more dense.”
And part of the reality of increasing density, Jones said, is the increasing conversion of residential garages into living quarters or working studios, and increasing commercial subleasing with no dedicated parking in the contracts.
“It’s kind of just a free-for-all, which ultimately leads to the issue,” Jones said.
Jared Svendsen, regional VP of LAZ, was more tentative in answering the Light’s questions, but agreed in principle with Jones.
“There is probably more of a parking perception issue (than a parking issue),” Svendsen said, adding that there are almost always — barring special events in town — between 80 and 100 spots available at LAZ’s 13 lots and garages.
As an attempt to address the problem, Ace currently offers a discounted $5 all-day parking rate at its lots with a coupon from any participating merchant. And it doesn’t charge merchants to participate. So far, six merchants have taken the company up on its offer, which it advertises via a-frame signs in front of the stores: Brooks Brothers, Lululemon, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, SoHa Living and Girard Gourmet. (However, Jones reported somewhat disappointingly that “no real spike in usage” has resulted from the program.)
Both LAZ and Ace lease the majority of their lots and garages, which means they’re already paying for La Jolla to have more parking. The choice is now up to residents and returning tourists, Jones said: either adapt to nominally compensating LAZ and Ace, at least every once in a while, or ignore the increased density and continue attempting what has worked in previous decades.
“Obviously, the latter choice isn’t working too well,” Jones said, adding that he would like to see in place “a comprehensive parking plan that provides residents with free parking, employees with dedicated parking zones, and visitors and tourists with centralized valet options and validated parking.”
Jodi Rudick, executive director of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA), said just such a plan is in the works. Currently, LJVMA is developing a Request For Ideas inquiry that it will submit to LAZ and Ace, as well as to its member merchants and other La Jolla community groups.
“The goal is to have a proposal in place by February or March so the plan can be operational by summer,” Rudick said, adding that the plan will also address “other mobility issues including bicycle safety, and public transportation and ride-sharing enhancements.”