Berkeley drops plan to charge for side-street parking in Elmwood

The proposal to end free two-hour parking sparked a backlash from residents and businesses.

Free two-hour parking will remain on side streets like this one in the Elmwood, after city officials said they are dropping a proposal to charge drivers to park on those blocks. Credit: Nico Savidge

Berkeley is backing away from a proposal to eliminate free two-hour parking on side streets in the Elmwood, following an uproar from residents and businesses.

City officials earlier this fall began rolling out plans for a pilot program that called for expanding the areas where visitors must pay for parking in the Elmwood and Southside neighborhoods.

The SmartSpace program aims to address the phenomenon known as the “two-hour shuffle,” in which workers or others spending the day in the neighborhood park for free on residential streets and move their cars every two hours to avoid a ticket, adding to congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. The pilot program would have required those drivers to pay for their space, while also extending time limits to eight hours — meaning someone could leave their car in the same spot all day, so long as they were willing to pony up as much as $14 for the maximum time.

But the program quickly encountered resistance, particularly in the Elmwood.

Many residents spoke out against the proposal — even though those with residential parking permits would be exempt from the new charges — because it would mean visiting family members, caretakers, contractors and others would have to feed a meter to park on their blocks. Some local merchants said the new parking charges would create a burden for their employees, or lead prospective workers to look elsewhere rather than deal with expensive parking.

On the west side of the neighborhood, others pointed out the city’s parking rates would be cheaper than those at the Alta Bates garage, which could encourage people to drive to the campus and park in its surrounding neighborhoods.

The opposition now appears to have sunk the most controversial proposed changes.

In a message to constituents on Friday, Councilmember Lori Droste wrote that she was “pleased and relieved” to report city staff were revising their proposal for the pilot, which will no longer seek to eliminate free two-hour parking on side streets in the Elmwood.

City spokesman Matthai Chakko told Berkeleyside that the concept is still being considered in the Southside neighborhood, “though it would be refined through our ongoing community outreach process.”

A website for the SmartSpace project says staff are now “evaluating alternate options” for addressing the “two-hour shuffle” in the Elmwood, which could include providing more parking permits for merchants and their employees. Chakko said those permits are currently limited to one per business.

Droste said her office “received many complaints” about the proposed changes, as well as a sense that the pilot program was proceeding without enough community input.

“I’m pleased that they have been responsive in trying to pursue a program that works for everyone, and works for the environment as well,” Droste said. “We need to have a concerted effort to engage and hear feedback, and identify the problem before proposing solutions — which is what our staff is doing now.”

City officials will hold two virtual community forums on the parking changes this week. One for the Elmwood neighborhood starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, with a second for Southside at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Chakko defended the city’s process in proposing the program, saying staff are refining plans based on the feedback they have heard from residents.

“You do outreach to make sure you hear concerns from people and all members of the community,” Chakko said. “Processes change as a result of outreach — that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.”


Correction: This article has been updated to correct inaccurate information provided by the city. Berkeley is still considering expanding paid visitor parking in the Southside neighborhood.

Nico Savidge is Berkeleyside's senior reporter covering city hall. Email: nico@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: NSavidge.