PAY-TO-PARK Two lots in Healdsburg have implemented paid parking programs, including this one at Center and North streets, run by a service called AirGarage. (Christian Kallen)

Visitors to Healdsburg are now finding more public parking spots right downtown, in a large central lot formerly reserved for business use. The lot is getting heavy use on weekends, and the competition for those 30-plus slots can be stiff. There’s one catch—it’s not free.

The parking is handled by AirGarage, an app that collects a driver’s credit information, license plate and location. Logging in starts the clock ticking on a $3.50 per hour parking fee, up to a $24 daily maximum. In addition to the well-marked AirGarage spaces in the lot, there are several with signs for the exclusive use of nearby businesses. 

For many weekend visitors, paying for parking right downtown is comparable with parking experiences in many other cities like San Francisco, or Austin. In Healdsburg, it puts the car right around the corner from the Matheson, across the street from Healdsburg Bar & Grill, and close to tasting rooms and visitor-friendly businesses surrounding the Plaza. 

Yes, there’s the city lot at West Plaza Park, Lot A, which has over 300 stalls for free, some of them for unlimited time. There’s also free city parking downtown on Healdsburg Avenue just south of the new AirGarage lot, Lot E, with 48 spaces that fill up quickly. A couple other free city lots in the downtown area add another 52 spots, Lot D and Lot C. But despite the blue “P” signage, plenty of people seem willing to pay for parking on busy weekends.

But Is It Legal? 

Recently, a second AirGarage lot has begun operating downtown, at the corner of Center and North streets across from the Raven Theater. A dozen parking spaces facing North Street now sport the white AirGarage signs, with only a QR code to begin the parking transaction—at $3 per hour, $12 max—though another 10 spots next to the building are still reserved for business tenants.

The owner of the lot, realtor and property manager Eric Drew, began working with AirGarage just recently, but he maintains that he was pressed into offering the paid parking by the city’s parklet program, which converts parking spots in front of downtown businesses to commercial use.

“As premise owner for eight local businesses at the SW corner of North and Center Streets, I have the commitment to preserve the onsite parking as free parking for these businesses, their customers and employees,” Drew wrote to the city staff, including city manager Jeff Kay, community development director Scott Duiven and public works director Larry Zimmer. 

Drew’s stated motivation is to honor the parking rights of tenants. He told the city staff, “what might appear to be ‘paid parking’ … is actually designed to maintain free parking for businesses paying rent and expecting free on-site parking for customers.”

The loss of on-street parking for Healdsburg visitors is an unfortunate side-effect of the parklet program. Some of the parklets are for dinner businesses that are open only in the evenings; some are for wineries that have their own indoor tasting rooms; one is for Healdsburg Running Company, a retail fitness business which coincidentally shares the North and Center street lot that Drew manages. 

Drew itemized 15 lost parking spaces within a half-block of the North/Center street lot, including three for the Healdsburg Running Company and five for Valette. Regardless of business or use, those parking places are, for the time being, gone for the foreseeable future, day and night, until the parklet program is re-evaluated in 2025. 

According to the city’s most recent Parklet Program Guidelines, no more than 5% of the total parking stalls downtown can be permitted for parklets. That would be 70 stalls out of the total of 1,416 in Healdsburg’s downtown core. 

There are currently 47 parking spaces downtown that are occupied by parklets, Duiven said last week, under the parklet program renewed at the end of last year.

CITY PARKING The City of Healdsburg’s downtown parking map, showing where the city offers free public parking in the downtown area. (City of Healdsburg)

City Policy

The city has discussed parking with regularity and at great length over the years—the most recent full “parking plan” dates to 2013. An in lieu parking charge has been implemented charging developers a set amount to offset the cost of building new parking (which the city has yet to do). The City Council discussed parking in 2017 and again in 2019, though no recent changes in direction or policy have resulted.

However, the issue of paid parking on a private lot has not been discussed because of lack of jurisdiction—they are private lots, after all. Healdsburg resident Jon Eisenberg has raised several pertinent questions about the two AirGarage-managed lots, among which is whether or not AirGarage has a business license to operate in the City of Healdsburg. 

According to city clerk Raina Allen, they do not, and the city will be contacting them through code enforcement to request compliance. 

More pertinent is Eisenberg’s contention that paid parking is not permitted by the city’s General Plan, and a state vehicle code regulation which only allows it if the city has an ordinance stating so. Eisenberg, a retired appellate lawyer who has served locally on the Healdsburg Museum board, gravitates toward the legal side of things in his conversation, and the simple subject of parking is no exception. 

When a friend came to visit the Eisenbergs last October, she returned to her car to find it ticketed. Said Eisenberg, “I was with her, and I looked at it and I thought, there’s something wrong here. This doesn’t look right.” The ticket lacked a named authority, had no phone number, didn’t specify the violation and offered only a QR code to respond. “I said, I’m gonna get to the bottom of this, cause I smell a rat,” he added.

His research first led him to the discovery that AirGarage could not issue parking tickets—it was a violation of the vehicle code. “Vehicle Code section 21107.8 says a private property owner may issue parking tickets if—and only if—it’s authorized by a city ordinance. Healdsburg has no such ordinance,” stated Eisenberg flatly.

When he raised this issue with the city, Duiven responded. “The Healdsburg City Council has not adopted a city-wide ordinance or a parcel specific ordinance allowing any private parking lot operator to issue citations, and therefore, the issuance of private parking lot citations is not allowed in Healdsburg, or in particular, at this site.” 

Note his response is that private parking citations are not allowed. “I don’t believe there is an issue with them charging an hourly rate, but rather the ‘parking violation,’” Duiven continued. 

“We understand that individuals have received citations or parking violations from AirGarage due to non-payment of the hourly parking fee,” said Duiven. “In addition, we would agree that they have not taken adequate measures to not represent themselves as a government enforcement agency. I will follow-up with code enforcement to discuss this issue further and how we might address it.”

Part two of this series will focus on who is allowed to park in the 230 lot, and if other such paid parking lots are on the way. 

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  1. It would be considerate to offer a paid annual tag for local residents. This is done in other small towns where visitors frequently park making it hard for residents to find parking.

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  2. To get a ‘citation’, someone has to be on the ground doing that work? Who is doing that?

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