San Pedro, Wilmington welcome removal of parking meters

City Hall has been squeezing every penny out of Los Angeles motorists in recent years, approving hundreds of new parking meters and repeatedly jacking up parking fines.

But one corner of Los Angeles has managed to buck the tide, convincing the City Council not just to remove hundreds of meters but to reduce rates by up to half on the machines that remain.

On Monday, San Pedro civic leaders conducted a ceremonial parking meter beheading to celebrate an extraordinary victory: the removal of 645 parking meters in their community and nearby Wilmington.

The campaign to remove the meters was launched in 2009, after Los Angeles officials — urgently looking for cash — quadrupled the cost of parking in downtown San Pedro, from 25 cents to a dollar an hour. The backlash from merchants and neighborhood leaders was strong and swift. The change was driving away customers in the middle of a recession, they argued.

“The city gets quite a lot of money from writing tickets and philosophically, it doesn’t want to lose that,” said Andrew Silver, owner of the Whale & Ale in San Pedro. “I understand that it brings money into the city. But it’s disastrous in terms of generating more retail sales, more sales tax revenue and more employment.”

The protests quickly reached then-Harbor area Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who has since been elected to Congress. Parking meters became an issue in the election this year to replace her, with the top candidates pledging to address merchant complaints.

The area’s new councilman, Joe Buscaino, has worked to eliminate hundreds of less frequently used meters on the outskirts of the San Pedro and Wilmington business districts. The city would lose only $45,000 per year by dumping the meters, once reduced maintenance costs are considered, he argued.

Buscaino said his district was competing with other communities — Torrance, Long Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes, among others — where parking is offered free at shopping malls and elsewhere. “We’re surrounded by business-friendly cities, and one of the reasons people weren’t spending money were the parking meter rates,” he said.

Buscaino’s initiative also cut the rates of the remaining meters in downtown San Pedro from one dollar to 75 cents an hour in some places and 50 cents in others. Parking also will be free in two city-owned lots, and the amount of time shoppers and others can leave vehicles at metered spaces will be doubled, from one hour to two.

The Harbor area retreat on parking meters and fees comes just weeks after council members voted to hike parking fines for the sixth time in seven years. And though San Pedro and Wilmington will be losing meters, other neighborhoods will be getting more.

Additional meters are planned for Westchester and Palms, where business owners have complained that motorists tie up parking spots all day.

Buscaino said his colleagues have already approached him about installing the surplus meters in their districts.