By Margie M. Palmer | SDUN Reporter
District Three Councilmember Todd Gloria recently said at a press conference one of the biggest complaints he gets from the community is about parking. Uptown Parking District’s new operations manager, Ben Verdugo, said he has a plan to address that.
Hired in April, Verdugo has years of experience overseeing neighborhood improvement projects. Prior to his tenure with the Parking District, he served as the program manager for the Greater Golden Hill Maintenance Assessment District. The transition from his former position to the new one, he said, has been smooth.
“Administratively, it’s been seamless,” Verdugo said. “I’m still working with many of the same people on a day-to-day basis. These are people I’ve been dealing with for the past few years, so that makes things a bit easier. There have been many similarities but it’s still a whole different animal.”
His primary agenda item, he said, is to increase the number of Uptown parking spaces as quickly as possible.
Citing numerous ways to increase parking, Verdugo said, “One of the fastest ways to accomplish that is by changing bumper-to-bumper parking to diagonal parking, or even head-in parking. As long as we can obtain a 75 percent approval vote of residents and businesses [in front of the spaces and] as long as the street is wide enough the process can move forward fairly quickly.”
Currently, diagonal and head-in parking modifications are being evaluated for Vermont Street and Seventh Avenue in Hillcrest.
“Vermont [Street] is well into the process,” Verdugo said. “The petitions have been signed and the diagrams have been set forth. Once it’s approved by the Uptown Planners, we can start on getting things changed.”
The Seventh Avenue corridor, he said, may be more difficult to convert.
“Right now we’re evaluating whether the street is wide enough, and we’re still looking into whether there are other restrictions that would prevent us from moving forward,” Verdugo said.
Hillcrest Business Association Executive Director Benjamin Nicholls said Verdugo’s hiring was at the hands of the new Parking District board of directors. The Parking District, formerly referred to as the Uptown Partnership, had been inactive and the money collected for the inactive Uptown Partnership remained unused.
A new board of directors was elected earlier this year and their goal was utilize the money to implement parking improvement projects, Nicholls said, adding, “The priority was to hire someone that would move projects forward.”
Nicholls was on the Parking District hiring committee. Though there were a number of highly qualified candidates, what stood out most about Verdugo was his “roll up your sleeves, can-do attitude,” Nicholls said.
“He was more about what can we get done today, tomorrow and down the road as opposed to a big-picture, 10,000-foot view,” Nicholls said. “He’s going to be somebody who takes ideas and gets them done.”
Nicholls also said, “Hillcrest, Middletown, Mission Hills and Park West each has their own parking committee and each has ideas as to how to solve parking problems. Ben [Verdugo] is really going to have his work cut out for him.”