It’s encouraging news that the Santa Rosa City Council wants to take a more strategic approach to downtown parking and traffic. Staff Writer Paul Payne reported on Tuesday that the council will consider a new parking rate structure to help pay for downtown improvements and expanded transit services.

Under a performance-based parking scheme, fees would be based on real-time demand.

Some motorists would pay less. Any coffee drinker who has parked on an empty street at 8:05 in the morning and returned five minutes later to an expensive parking ticket will appreciate the change.

But, during busy times, shoppers and visitors would pay more – and they could be paying parking fees during busy times on nights and Sundays, too.

If the city keeps to its plan, the total revenue from parking will almost certainly increase as officials maintain the revenue necessary to pay for existing services – while making plans to spend more on street improvements and transit.

Selling higher fees will be a challenge for city officials whose parking policies have generated a chorus of criticism over the years. Critics will note that parking is free at nearby shopping centers and in other cities. (See the angry comments attached to Paul Payne’s online report.)

Over the years, the city has commissioned a variety of ambitious studies that led to ambitious recommendations now gathering dust in a closet at city hall.  About the latest initiative, Laura Kozup, manager of the Santa Rosa Plaza, said, “I really hope it doesn’t become another study and nothing gets done.”

Kozup said she also hoped the plan will mean downtown workers will stop parking in the mall parking garage that is supposed to be reserved for customers.

Where will downtown workers park instead? Will new policies be designed to encourage more people to use transit and bicycles? Welcome to some of the tough issues that will confront efforts to change traffic and parking – and begin the rejuvenation of the downtown.

The City Council said it hopes for recommendations before the end of the year. That may be optimistic, but it’s a beginning.