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Does the Claremont Village really have a parking problem?

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

On the weekdays, there seem to be few issues with parking across much of the Claremont Village. But come Friday afternoon, and into the busy weekend of commerce for downtown, it seems almost impossible to find a place to park in a timely fashion — especially on the eastern side of the Village.

Back lots become crowded, filled with vehicles belonging to business owners, employees and consumers, as do the roadways and spots in front of businesses. Unless they’re early risers, consumers and Village workers often find themselves circling the congested blocks again and again looking for a spot become available in the afternoon.

Jeff Hatfield, the manager of Rocky’s Dry Cleaners and a Village employee since 1989, said, “parking’s always been an issue.”

While a number of factors are in play when it comes to Village congestion, over the course of a week, the COURIER spoke with business owners to ask whether the Village had a parking problem. Here’s what we found.

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For starters, weekends are the main days of concern and congestion. At a few retailers and service-based businesses, weekend foot traffic has decreased because of parking limitations.

The congestion has gotten so bad that Rocky’s recently came to the point where Hatfield added curbside accommodations for one-stop-shop customers.

“If someone drives around and they’re like ‘I drove around four times, I couldn’t get a parking spot,’ I tell them to call me. Then I will run out to their car and either give them their clothes and say ‘here, just pay me later,’ or I’ll take their clothes and go ‘okay, I know what you need,’” Hatfield said.

Some customers also call Hatfield later to reschedule their pickups. Others have stopped going to Rocky’s for good in favor of more plentiful parking elsewhere.

To combat the routinely horrendous traffic, Hatfield began telling customers to pick up their clothes on Mondays, since Village parking is more abundant then.

For guaranteed parking, he said “Fridays and Saturdays are the worst; Mondays are the best.”

Arman Ariane, owner of Xerxes for 28 years, shared his two cents, saying he notices two types of traffic in the Village. There are typical diners who do not mind spending extra time looking for a spot, since they usually stay a bit longer during a visit. Then there are the short stoppers, those who quickly stop by the Village to take care of simple shopping and tasks. Ariane thinks short stoppers are getting the short end of the parking stick.

“You want to be able to not walk more than a block, pick up your shoes from the cobbler and then leave,” he said. “That’s different than when you’re walking [around] for a restaurant.”

A few blocks down Yale Avenue, Amelie boutique owner Brian Ofstedahl echoed  Hatfield and Ariane. Although he’s been in the Village for the last seven and a half years, Ofstedahl said Village parking limitations have been a cause for concern even before Amelie’s opening.

“The issue now is the age-old problem of no parking and congestion. Not only has it continued, but now it’s gotten worse,” he said.

Parklet impact

Today, Ofstedahl thinks retailers are facing a new type of parking problem. Parklets.

On April 26, 2022, the city council approved, for the fourth time, the extension of the Claremont Al Fresco outdoor dining program until February 2023. The program was originally authorized in 2020 in response to indoor dining being shuttered.

“When the pandemic hit, we understand that restaurants were hit the worst. With no indoor dining, they were severally restricted,” Ofstedahl said. “The problem now is the goalposts kind of keep being moved.”

Currently, four restaurants in the Claremont Village have parklets: Viva Madrid, Pizza N’ Such, Aruffo’s and House of Pong. The parklets have garnered support from residents and restaurant owners alike, but have retailers concerned they impact parking, especially at peak times.

“Part of the problem for me is that I’m two doors down from Aruffo’s. I’m also … half a block down from Pizza N’ Such. And so right here, there’s been a lot of parking taken away,” Ofstedahl said. “At the [April 26] city council meeting, it was said that if we make [Al Fresco] permanent, that means by law they have to open it up to every other restaurant. And so we could have parklets all up and down the boulevard if this gets approved.”

“And if that’s the case, every retailer will be gone.”

Not wanting to be made a villain for his opinion, Ofstedahl made clear that “this is just about fairness” for all types of businesses.

“I just want to go back to what was in place prior to COVID because that’s what I signed up for … you can’t just change the game, and I want the city council to realize they’re changing the game,” he said.

Maggie Tam, a House of Pong server who spoke during the April 26 city council meeting, defended the parklets and shared that the 16 parking spaces amount to around one percent of all Village parking. According to Tam, who spoke with the city manager’s office, there are 1,445 parking spots throughout the Village.

Valerie Aruffo, co-founder of Aruffo’s on Yale, said her customers, of which there can be up to 1,800 over a busy weekend, don’t often complain about parking. But to help make space for diners, Aruffo’s has their employees sign a contract which states they must park elsewhere other than their back lot. After 5 p.m., employees can park a bit closer, according to Aruffo.

The restaurant owner added the Village has neither a walking problem, nor a parking problem.

“I think the parking problem is an excuse that a lot of people have,” Valerie said. “Yes, you do have to park and actually walk, but is that a problem? I don’t see it as a problem and I don’t think my customers do, or else we wouldn’t thrive and be here 37 years.”

Grassroot solutions

When being interviewed, each business owner offered their own unique solution that would alleviate some of the Village’s parking problems.

Ariane would like the city to go back to all-day parking on Fourth Street, that way his employees and those of other businesses can park there without fear of getting ticketed. He also said going back to the original ordinance would likely cause customers to park in the designated, yet underutilized Bank of America and Chase lots.

Hatfield would like the city to come to an agreement that opens up the private parking structure, mainly used by Claremont Lincoln University, to the public, similar to the way it was in the ’90s. Aruffo would like the city to implement an offsite parking and shuttle system for Village employees.

Ofstedahl wants the city to reconsider parklets and instead shift to sidewalk dining like Tutti Mangia. He also wants the city to decide whether they want to be a unique restaurant and hair salon town, or a cultural landmark with diverse shops.

“I want the city to open their minds, realize that this is a cultural town and having businesses that are unique to Claremont, that you can’t find anywhere else … is what makes Claremont, Claremont,” Ofstedahl said.

“We are not just a food court and the problem … with that is, once you take services out of a Village, you take the life out of it,” Ariane said. “It’s wonderful to have restaurants … but I’m sure there’s something that can be worked out where we don’t lose parking for outside dining.”

When the council extended the Al Fresco program, they also directed staff “to conduct a feasibility study on outdoor dining and report the findings of the study back to the city prior to the expiration of the temporary dining program.”

Asked about potential parking sturctures to help alleviate traffic, on Wednesday Public Information Officer Bevin Handel told the COURIER that currently “the city does not have plans or funding to build a parking structure in the Village.”

She said that while long-term parking spaces are available on some Village streets, she also highlighted that city staff has entered into agreements with the owners of the Frontier lot located on Bonita Avenue, as well as Bank of America located on Yale Avenue.

“The south side of the Frontier lot is leased by the city for all day merchant parking and the Bank of America parking lot is leased for public parking during non-bank operating hours,” Handel wrote. “The city is working with Village merchants to encourage employees to park in long-term spaces to free up short-term parking near businesses. City staff is also exploring alternative transportation programs and incentives as directed by the city council.”

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