Safety Center Strips Theater Parking
On July 30th, the City of El Cajon conducted an evening public review of the new "Safety Center", proposed to be placed in the current parking lot of El Cajon's City Hall, and extending to Park Avenue. Many people were looking forward to this project as a solution to the parking problems that already plague the city. Unfortunately, the current design does just the opposite, it makes the parking problem even worse, and makes operation of the ECPAC theater nearly impossible. Why does this city keep trying to kill the theater?
Here's the problem. Sure, they preserve some of the existing public parking (unfortunately paving over one of the more pleasant park areas just south of the current parking lot) and the new building is fitted with a multi-level, high-security parking structure. You'd think that would solve the problem, but it doesn't. City employees will use the parking spaces inside the high-security parking garage, and when these people leave promptly at 5pm, those spaces will be locked inside the high-security parking garage, unusable by the public. They won't be available in the current plan, not for theatergoers, nor for customers of the downtown district.
Already, the theater is unusable during weekdays, as all the parking is heavily used by the courthouse and by City Hall. Jurors going to the courthouse already have to park in the lot next to Rubio's and walk over. The existing parking structure is owned by the county, and is really only a gift that theatergoers can use it at all, and will provide about 350 spaces. The newly proposed public parking lot provides another 150 or so. That leaves us at least 250 spaces short of what is required by the theater, if you assume 750 space for the 1142-seat theater. Normally, theater goers use the spaces unused by city staff after hours of operation. And, if you try to throw a concert on the same night as a stop-smoking City Council meeting, your patrons will have to walk for blocks.
As it stands, the parking proposal in this plan is a show-stopper -- literally. The City of El Cajon should seriously consider a parking garage, used by the city staff and the public, placed along Rea Ave, and reduce the number of levels of the underground parking garage in the safety center. The location of the Weighorst house would also make a great place for the structure, making it possible to preserve the open space just south of the existing parking lot. (How did that old house get in there!) A new parking structure along Rea is difficult for the designers to deal with because it requires thinking "outside the box" defined by the City as their scope of work, but it is the type of thinking we unfortunately don't see enough of in El Cajon, and is essential to preserve the viability of the theater and encourage customers to frequent the downtown area.
-- Raymond Lutz
- 31 Jul 2007