Sonoma City Council approves downtown parking plan: more enforcement, limitations coming

The Sonoma City Council authorized sweeping changes to parking on the Plaza on Monday night. “Just remember, we’re going to enforce parking (time limits),” said Mayor Sandra Lowe.|

Correction: There will be no change to the parking time limit on the Plaza, as previously and incorrectly reported.

Sonoma police will spend more time enforcing parking time limits downtown, while city officials search for additional Plaza-adjacent parking solutions. The three-hour parking time limit, which is currently in place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, will soon be enforced from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

These are some of the first changes called for in an effort to reduce overcrowding after the Sonoma City Council approved its long-discussed downtown parking plan on Monday, which calls for parking meters if initial measures are unsuccessful.

The public did not sit idle during the council’s discussion. Speakers showed support in enforcing Plaza parking time limits to spark more turnover, but expressed concern about whether the plan would leave drivers searching for spaces in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“My main concern is the spillover. The spillover into my neighborhood, and I’m sure other neighborhoods,” said Armando Zimmerman, a resident of Sonoma. “Yesterday, there was a large vehicle … that was encroached into my driveway. It diminished my 10-feet (driveway opening). It was there all day long.”

The “Downtown Parking Management Plan for the City of Sonoma,” prepared by W-Trans, a Santa Rosa-based consultant firm, was passed by the Sonoma Planning Commission in December before it went to council this week.

The plan includes two phases. The first phase involves measures that are less costly and restrictive to the public parking stock, such as additional bicycle parking to encourage people to ride instead of drive. Meanwhile, the city is hoping to develop an agreement with the State of California that would keep the Casa Grande parking lot north of the Plaza free to the public as State Parks, which owns the land, mulls a plan to charge an $8 fee.

Additionally, the city will put up new signage to help drivers find parking, and add passenger loading zones, parking agreements and a downtown public transportation vehicle.

Another strategy advocates for creating agreements with private landowners to use their parking lots for the public outside of normal business hours.

According to the city’s plan, there are 1,290 parking spaces spread between 15 lots around Plaza, including the Veterans Memorial Building, the Marketplace Shopping Center, Arnold Field, the Casa Grande lot, the Sonoma Community Center, four churches and three banks. The city plans to work with property owners to consider whether any of these spaces can be better utilized.

Sonoma Mayor Sandra Lowe said the plan’s success will be measured in myriad ways, whether that be more residents parking off the Plaza at designated lots, increased bicycle usage or simply more open parking spaces recorded on weekends.

If those measures do not alleviate the parking issues around the Plaza, phase two will call for the addition of parking meters, permits for businesses and employees and the creation of a “parking benefit district,” where a majority of the revenue generated from on-street parking downtown would be returned to the area to finance neighborhood improvements.

The hope is that these efforts create adequate turnover in the parking spots in downtown Sonoma.

For vice chair of Sonoma’s Climate Action Committee Tom Conlon, the issue is not only reducing the number of vehicles on the Plaza, but also the total number of vehicles downtown.

“Our commission has identified transportation greenhouse gas emissions to be our top priority,” Conlon said. “That is because our population has the highest trip rates — we drive more — per capita than any other jurisdiction in the county, and our visitors as well.”

Councilmember Patricia Farrar-Rivas sought an amendment to include emissions reduction as part of the parking management plan to help meet the city’s climate goals.

“I support moving ahead with what we have now,” Farrar-Rivas said. “But I think the other responsibility that we have as a council is the long-term needs in really reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled.”

Conlon said parking strategies, like those reviewed at the city council Monday night, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11-19%, adding that parking management is one of the most cost-effective strategies to reduce pollutants.

“The proposed plan is definitely a strong step in the right direction,” said Calum Weeks, the policy director at the housing advocacy organization Generation Housing, at the council meeting.

“Sonoma County as a whole stands on pillars of climate action and equity for all. One of the strongest things that we can do to effectively address this is to create a parking benefit district. Will people have to pay into that? Absolutely. But the benefits that it will yield deserve consideration,” Weeks added.

Lowe expressed optimism that the new strategies can create more turnover in Plaza parking spots and, hopefully, more accessibility downtown during Sonoma’s many annual events.

“Just remember, we’re going to enforce parking,” Lowe said with a smile.

Aside from the additional enforcement efforts, which can begin this week, the other pieces of the plan will be implemented in the coming months, according to city officials. They hope to have most pieces in place by the high season next summer, when tourists crowd the Plaza at higher numbers.

Contact Chase Hunter at and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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