Merchants unhappy with Ventura parking meters

VENTURA, Calif. For five weeks they've hovered over downtown Ventura's streets: shiny blue brand-new parking meters. Ventura development officials sing their praises.

"The revenue from the meters will be used for increased security in the downtown, increased lighting and improved landscaping," said Kathleen Eriksen, director of Downtown Ventura Partners.

But some folks are a little less appreciative.

Ventura, it seems, is torn by the flashy new arrivals. The high-tech meters are certainly convenient. They take change or credit cards, and users can add more minutes to their spot remotely by using a cell phone.

But they're sparking a lot of confused looks. Some people say it was more convenient not having to pay.

"I didn't realize that I would have to go through all of this just to go in and get a drink," said one local resident.

But Eriksen says before the meters were installed, many drivers struggled to find street-side parking close to the downtown stores and restaurants.

"We had a lot of employees who would park on the street, and then that took up the parking for the shoppers, and now it's freed up a lot of the parking in the front of the businesses," said Eriksen.

But while the parking meters are freeing up valuable spots for customers, business owners say they are also scaring customers away with their costs.

"Our volume has gone down since the parking meters have been put in," said Linda Marrone, a local businesswoman.

"You can tell as you go down the street and look: Here it is almost 11:20, that's the middle of the business day and you have all these parking spots that are vacant," said Tony Deleo, a real-estate broker.

Angry business owners won't find much anti-meter support from the Ventura Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber president Sandra Walker is more optimistic about the parking meters, saying it's much too early to draw any conclusions about them.

"We've done this for one month now. We need a little bit more time, pull the data, the statistics together, really look at how it's affecting sales," said Walker.

Meantime, store owner Linda Marrone is telling customers where to find free parking nearby, but fears that may not be enough.

"I think people just don't like to change," said Marrone.

Or don't like putting change in meters.

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