The Dana Point Planning Commission paved the way last week for paid parking at Dana Point Harbor, with fees as much as $18 a day for a space.
The commission voted 3 to 1 for the parking plan, which was supported by harbor area restaurant owners but opposed by many small businesses.
Commissioner James Hyde cast the dissenting vote.
Unless the vote is appealed to the City Council, the paid parking could go into effect in July, thereby ending 21 years of free parking at the harbor's main retail centers.
Free parking will be offered only to those who purchase something from a shop or restaurant and get their parking validated.
The validation system will help encourage visitors to make purchases in harbor retail shops, said commission member Lynn Dawson. "The merchants who came forward spoke solely in favor of the plan. I think in this economically hard time, we have to do something to help them out."
"Many people won't be paying to park," Dawson said. "They will be getting validations. This will encourage them to shop and buy."
The recent addition of a shuttle boat service to Catalina Island has increased competition for parking spaces, Dawson said. People who use the boat are supposed to park outside the harbor in a designated lot and ride a tram to the boat launch.
As envisioned in the new plan, 781 parking spaces that are now free in the Mariners Village and Dana Wharf areas will be in gated areas. A block of 124 spaces will be reserved for harbor employees.
Visitors will get free parking with a validation or pay $1 for every 30 minutes, up to a maximum of $18.
Dawson said she would be willing to take another look at the plan in a year to see if it has worked. "This is just a trial," Dawson said.