Effective on July 1, 2022, the city council of Riverside will impose increased parking fees in Downtown Riverside, along with the elimination of some free parking areas. Residents were notified that the monthly reserve parking fee for garages will increase from $135 to $400. Previous street parking rates ranging from free to $1 will see a new fee of $1.25 for 30 minutes, and a 4-hour park time limit will be imposed. Free weekend parking will no longer be offered.

The council states the purpose is to transform Riverside’s parking system into a self-sustaining one, as opposed to allocating city funds towards providing parking. They also hope to see a more efficient and less overwhelmed parking environment — one with more available spaces over high-demand hours and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from spot-searching vehicles.

Though the referendum was voted unanimously in agreement by the council, the decision was met with mixed reactions from the Riverside community. Many argue this measure will negatively impact small businesses. One civilian’s Facebook post that garnered nearly 500 likes stated their disappointment in the referendum, saying Downtown Riverside is proving itself to be “not business friendly.”

UCR alumni Adrian Dizon works with Urge Palette Art Supplies in Downtown Riverside and agrees that this measure was not made in consideration for independent businesses.

“Downtown has offered 90-minute free parking for years in certain lots,” Dizon shared. “If you take that away and introduce price hikes, it becomes expensive to just be around downtown to shop or receive services from our local shops.”

Dizon argues that raising parking fees could deter potential visitors from the growing downtown area, while complicating local employees’ parking accessibility. “I can’t speak to whether or not this price increase will turn people away but it will for sure become an issue for shop and restaurant owners with employees needing to pay exorbitant amounts of money just to park around town.”

This also brings in the question of gentrification. Fritz Aragon, owner of Urge Palette and neighboring Pain Sugar Gallery, shared, “It’s not going to affect people with money. It’s going to affect blue collar people, and I run an art store. My customers, artists, don’t have a lot of money. It’s already hard enough to survive in a world where everyone buys everything from Amazon.”
Dizon witnessed for himself the physical change brought about from gentrification. It has increased streetway traffic due to construction and caused an overall boom in tourism from recent economic developments. He describes parking price hikes as “the language of gentrification plain and simple.”

The city council argues, however, that should the parking system continue as it is, Riverside’s public parking fund will have a “net loss of $1,321,000 in fiscal year 2022-2023,” as stated in the referendum. They claim that free in-demand parking at the peak hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. fails to capture optimal revenue and reduces available spots. They also intend to deter long-term street parking.

On the other hand, the council estimates revenue to increase by $110,000 for 2022-2023 should the parking rate be utilized at 60% higher. The executive director of Downtown Partnership Riverside, Janice Penner, also stated that other merchants support the increase because the fees will go towards improved security for commuting visitors.

In attempts to relieve costs from Riverside’s city funds, however, it seems that it will go into other measures. In plans for garage safety, they will be hiring two new police officers for parking patrol, which will result in $166,000 going to the police department. This referendum also comes after the council made renovations to the parking system over the past year, such as the installment of smart parking meters in February 2021, which offer Apple Pay, Google Pay and payment through the Park Mobile app.

There are downtown employees, like those at Back to the Grind coffee shop, who commute using bikes to avoid the parking and payment process. This only works for people who live in close proximity, however. In a heavily car-commuter based city like Riverside, other options for transportation are not so applicable for most.

“In a search for any type of relief from the government and from the community, this move by the city strikes a blow to small businesses by demanding more money from our customers, city residents and workers,” Dizon said.