Parking enforcement comes to the Springs' Plaza Center lot

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The parking lot in the heart of the Boyes Hot Springs community – long unauthorized, recently striped, always full of cars – took another step toward legitimacy when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week approved funding for a half-time parking enforcement officer to keep tabs on the cars in the 90- and 15-minute spaces at the 42-vehicle lot – and cite them when violations occur.

The county will provide $50,582 per year for a half-time community services officer to monitor parking at the lot – as well as a second lot being developed up the highway – money that comes from Tourism Impact Funds available from recent Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) increases.

“We worked with the county sheriff, the Highway Patrol, even Regional Parks, anyone we could think of who might be able to serve as parking enforcement,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin. “It’s been difficult to get an acknowledgment that this area and others have urban service needs. We are not set up to handle this.”

In the end Gorin decided to tap into the Tourism Impact Funds available to her district, a pot recently augmented thanks to a 3 percent TOT increase approved county-wide in 2016.

Each supervisor can allocate their percentage of tourism impact funds and, as public grumbling persisted about the day-long parking scofflaws at the Plaza Center lot – also known as the Boyes Hub – Gorin and her staff decided to utilize the Tourism Impact Funds.

The parking lot was formerly a connection from Sonoma Highway to Boyes Boulevard, circling behind the former location of the Church Mouse and, before that, the Boyes Post Office. Armando’s service station, colorfully located on Sonoma Highway, is another nearby business, while the long-closed Uncle Patty’s building sits in disrepair.

But the area remains the so-called “hub” of Boyes Hot Springs, near the Valley’s largest employer – Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn – with the current Boyes Post Office just around the corner on Sonoma Highway, and cafes, shops and the Valley of the Moon apartments nearby.

“All of these businesses and residents have parking needs,” said Gorin. “It’s been difficult to envision how to use this as a community space and to get more parking in the hub.”

In response to a neighborhood rumor that employees or guests of Sonoma Mission Inn frequently parked there, Michelle Heston of the Fairmont said, “We try to be exceptional neighbors. We provide parking for our colleagues who commute in,” she said, using an internal term for employees.

She also said that “a large number” of them bike, walk or carpool, and both employees and guests are specifically asked not to park on the street or in the Plaza lot.

Parking has been in short supply since CalTrans’ multi-million dollar State Route 12 Corridor Improvement Project, completed in 2016.

That project widened the highway, added sidewalks and a bike path, curbs and gutters, and made other engineering improvements. But it also eliminated between 60 to 70 legal parking spaces, according to Gorin, “along with a number of ‘informal’ spaces.”

The parking situation at the Boyes hub has long been an irritation to local residents and businesses. Michael Acker, a local historian and long-time resident, called it “a source of irritation for the businesses around the Boyes Hot Springs lot.”

Springs resident Jennifer Gray Thompson has been a vocal critic of the parking enforcement issue at the Hub.

Thompson, a former aide to Gorin, said she’s thankful the supervisor has “made this happen.”

“With this funding for parking enforcement, the Plaza Center area will be revitalized and what has long been a blighted lot will now be a place for people to park and frequent local businesses,” said Thompson.

Still, the supervisor cautioned that the current solution, with its two-year allocation of a half-time community services officer, may not be the final answer.

“The Tourism Impact Fund is appropriate – the Valley’s largest employer is right there, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn – but it’s not inexhaustible.” Gorin speculated that once the the Springs Municipal Advisory Council is formed – a planned advisory board to the Supervisors – another solution might emerge, perhaps a special district fee-per-parcel.

The half-time parking-enforcement position will also be responsible for monitoring another parcel on Sonoma Highway that’s being groomed for public parking, a lot adjacent to Parsons Lumber and Hardware farther up the highway. A long-term lease agreement has been reached between the county and the property’s owners, and with some grading and gravel, that 12-car lot may open later this spring.

“The most important point is a recognition of how important this area is for the community, and the emerging business activity in this area,” said Gorin.

A job description for the half-time parking enforcement officer has been posted on the county website, and the expectation is to fill the position in about a month.

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