Residents in select neighborhoods have received the city of Half Moon Bay’s first-ever informal ballot to help settle a controversial parking program that city officials acknowledge failed to get sufficient community input.

Last week, the city mailed a postage-paid ballot asking 279 residents whether they approve or reject a pilot project that proposes marking public parking spaces in the neighborhoods near Poplar and Francis beaches. These neighborhoods face chronic parking congestion from tourist traffic.

John Doughty, public works director, suggested a city-created ballot after studying how other jurisdictions received public input on public works projects. The idea gained the support of City Council members, including Deborah Penrose, who initially proposed administering a survey. Such surveys have helped the city decide other controversial issues, such as whether to close the city’s beaches.

“We wanted to see how much effort it takes for the city to do this, how the community receives it, and see whether this is a method we want to take a look at in the future,” Doughty said.

The pilot project intends to mitigate a pandemic-exacerbated problem of overcrowded visitor parking in residential areas that was discussed at a July 21 study session. Public Works took direction from the council to return with short-, medium- and long-range responses. On Sept. 1, staff presented the parking pilot as a series of parking spaces whose edges are delineated by T- and L-shaped markings.

Depending on the outcome, the department will consider using a ballot to inform the viability of other Public Works projects, such as speed bumps, which Doughty said can be equally controversial.

“This would be a great way to test our ability to pull it off and know if that's the pathway forward,” he said.

Residents from the impacted neighborhoods raised a variety of concerns, largely about where parking spots were designated in the plan: in front of mailboxes, at trail entrances, near driveways. City staff acknowledge these concerns but countered that parking in these areas are legal, including the residential trailheads that were created by locals and visitors and are not government-sanctioned.

Doughty said accommodating all residents requests would leave so few parking spaces that the project would not be meaningful.

A city contractor had begun striping the pavement with paint on Sept. 22 when the project was abruptly halted following complaints from residents. Some said they didn’t know the pilot was happening. Though the Public Works department presented its original plan at the Sept. 1 City Council meeting and the city announced the project in two September electronic newsletters, residents said more direct communication requesting feedback was necessary.

The City Council will determine whether to continue or cancel the parking pilot following a simple majority of 50 percent plus one. Results from the ballot will be presented at the Dec. 1 City Council meeting.

Should a majority vote to approve the parking pilot return, Public Works will finish striping the pavement. Otherwise, it will ask the contractor to paint over its past work.

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