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Downtown parking discussion continues
downtown parking pic
Downtown parking limits and updating information on signs will be considered by the Turlock Planning Commission on Thursday as they continue looking at the Downtown Parking Plan draft. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

The Turlock Planning Commission will continue looking at downtown parking on Thursday and consider approving a number of modifications to the Downtown Parking Plan before it goes before the City Council for action.

TJKM Transportation Consultants gathered data and public input on the current parking situation in the downtown area  over the past several months and then developed a number of recommendations based on their findings. The consultant firm presented a draft parking plan to a joint Planning and City Council meeting on June 28.

The most surprising finding to a number of the Commissioners and Council members was that there are 3,800 parking spaces in downtown Turlock, however, only 35 percent of those are utilized. TJKM found that the people surveyed were reluctant to utilize parking spaces one or two blocks off of the main retail corridor along Main Street due to a perception that walking that far would be unsafe or difficult due to poor sidewalk conditions or lack of lighting.

"If you'd asked me five years ago, we weren't even close to a parking garage conservation and then over the last few years it seems like we went from having spots downtown to feeling like we have none at all times. The information you brought forward is an education for me," said Planning Commissioner Nick Hackler during the June 28 meeting.

The draft plan includes a number of short-term and long-term strategies for meeting downtown parking needs, including more education, better directional signage, changes in time-limited parking, use of employee parking permits, heightened enforcement of time-limited parking, use of employee parking permits, physical improvements like restriping, lighting, sidewalk repair and the construction of more surface parking or a parking garage sometime in the future.

When it comes to possible increased parking enforcement in the downtown, the City Council would have to make a decision to change current policy, according to Police Chief Robert Jackson.

The City of Turlock used to have a non-sworn Community Service Officer allocated to enforcing time limited parking spots in the downtown area. In 2008, the police department went from a proactive parking  enforcement strategy — which included chalking tires of parked cars and then going back and checking to see if the car had moved in a certain time period — to a by-complaint enforcement policy. This change in parking enforcement was due to complaints made by the business community, according to Jackson.

When the police department went to a by-complaint enforcement strategy, it reallocated the parking officer to other duties. Along with staffing reallocation, Jackson said there are issues with businesses wanting different timed parking limits.

Planning Commissioner Eric Gonsalves said that some of the posted timed parking limits aren't even correct. He said some of the parking signs still say no parking on Thursday nights for the farmers market, when there hasn't been Thursday night market in downtown Turlock for years.

"We have a responsibility, especially on Main Street, to really help those businesses turn over those spaces so their customers can find a space when they need it. But then again we don't want to create a burden on those customers that they're getting a ticket every time they come downtown...finding that balance is the challenge before us," said Council member Steven Nascimento.

Following discussions on June 28, a number of modifications to the draft downtown parking plan will be considered by the Planning Commission on Thursday including:

·         - Implementation of an action plan that lays out the short-term strategies and identifies steps required to make "quick fixes" such as improved striping and lighting;

·         - Better parking options for the disabled;

·         - Providing education and outreach on available parking options;

·         - Evaluating the potential impacts that enforcement could have on downtown's economic growth;

·          - Identifying funding options to implement various strategies;

·         - Include options that could take advantage of future technology;

·         - Having the plan reviewed and updated every five years instead of the proposed three years;

·         - Encourage public-private partnerships that would facilitate construction of additional parking.

Following the Planning Commission's recommendations, the Downtown Parking Plan will be presented to the City Council for possible adoption.