When the restaurants in Alamitos Bay Landing and along the stretch of Marina Drive south of Second Street are busy, parking is a nightmare. And they’re usually busy.

Ballast Point, at the seaward end of the Alamitos Bay jetty, has been packed since its opening two years ago, adding to the popularity of a rejuvenated Boathouse on the Bay and Malarkey’s Grill. Show up after 11 a.m. on the weekend, or early evening on any day, and you’re not likely going to be able to park near the restaurant of your choice in a 400-car lot serving restaurants with a combined capacity of more than 2,000 people coming to enjoy a nice brunch, lunch or dinner with the finest views in Long Beach.

The parking is free, and that’s both a convenience for those vehicle owners who manage to score a space and a huge problem for tenants, because to add to the scarcity of spaces are cars belonging to people who are taking advantage of the complimentary all-day parking without even patronizing the places in the area.

“There are dive boats moored out front and divers come in and park, haul out their equipment, board a boat and they’re gone all day and their car just sits there,” said John Morris, general manger of the Boathouse. And more: “We fought to get Long Beach Transit to give us a dock for the Aqualink water taxi service, and it’s fantastic that we got it, but people come in here and park and get on the Aqualink to go Downtown and eat.”

He even says that some Downtown workers park in the Landing’s lot and take the Aqualink to work in order to avoid paying Downtown parking. “Fishermen park here, cyclists park here on weekends and take off riding along the coast for hours, then come back, pack up their bikes and leave. No where else on the coast is there this much free parking available. Man, I just want it organized.”

Overflow from the main lot goes to the parking lots between North Marina Drive and the marina itself. Still free, except for hundreds of spaces reserved for boat owners. But on weekend evenings, these spots are still considered fairly convenient, though still scarce.

And things are going to get a lot more problematic soon: first with the planned February opening of the insanely popular San Pedro Fish Market at 6550 N. Marina Drive, taking over at the Joe’s Crab Shack location, and the summer opening of the 2nd+PCH complex which backs into North Marina Drive.

The opening of San Pedro Fish Market will have a huge impact on the parking problem. Last year, the restaurant served 1.8 million customers, with frequently long waits for one of its 3,000 seats. “Our customers are very loyal,” said Mike Ungaro, owner of the restaurant and seafood market. “They’ll park a mile away and wait an hour to get in.”

They come from Ventura all the way down to San Diego, Ungaro said. “And about a third of them come from the 405/605/22 exit on Studebaker, so we’ll get a lot of those people when we open in Long Beach, because it will cut 20 minutes off their drive, along, of course, with new customers.”

So the problem is fairly well established. The solution will likely not be a total one, but restaurant owners are hopeful and largely thankful for anything the city can do.

“No. 1, we’re trying to identify ways to increase the number of available spaces,” said John Keisler, the city’s director of economic and property development who is heading the Alamitos Bay Parking and Circulation Master Plan. “No. 2, we’re seeking creative ways to increase the mobility along Marina Drive with all the great stuff that’s happening down there, like Ballast Point, the San Pedro Fish Market and 2nd+PCH. We’re hoping to have the full plan finished by the end of the calendar year.”

Among the strategies Keisler is considering are re-striping the lots along Marina Drive and changing the lots’ meridians and landscaping to free up some spots, putting up additional signage pointing out walkways and parking rules, trying out a valet program, putting in a gated lot for boat owners and installing parking meters.

Keisler’s department has been conducting one-on-one meetings with business owners, tenants and boat owners and it is currently finalizing a survey of boat owners to incorporate into the master plan. Additionally, Keisler said there will be four community outreach meetings in the first quarter of 2019.

Suzie Price, who represents the city’s 3rd District, is also involved in the study. She said that about 100 spaces will be added in the area. “We’re reimagining parking plans that would promote greater turnover. We anticipate the new spots will be paid parking with time restrictions.” Price said the parking study is also considering permanent staging locations for Yellow Cab, Uber and Lyft, plus alternative mobility plans such as the use of golf carts and pedicabs.

More ambitiously, Price and others are giving serious consideration to a trolley that would tie much of the East Long Beach waterfront together with a route that would connect Belmont Shore and Naples with the length of Marina Drive and, eventually, she said, with future developments at the Marketplace and the Golden Sails Hotel.

Matt Knabe, a Boathouse on the Bay co-owner, says the parking problem is “a great problem to have,” and he’s encouraged by the city’s work in alleviating the problem. “John Keisler has been great and Suzie Price and her staff have been working well with us.”

He says signage is important, including ones directing people to the walk path along the marina. “It’s a beautiful path along the boats in the marina, but if you’re not from around here, you don’t know about it, and you’re just going to be walking along parked cars. If it’s a nice walk, people won’t mind as much. You go to Belmont Shore, where the parking problem is just a given. You park where you can, maybe a few blocks away, and you  don’t think twice about it. But here it’s different.”

San Pedro Fish Market’s Ungaro is cheerful, as always. “The city is really excited and enthusiastic about us moving in,” he said. “Between Los Angeles and Long Beach, Long Beach is a lot easier to deal with. You can actually talk to the people involved.”

Ungaro, who lives in Los Alamitos, said, “I’ve driven down Marina Drive so many times, and I used to go to Joe’s Crab Shack. I remember taking my daughter there years ago and thinking, ‘I wish this was ours.’ It’s surreal to me that it’s happening now.”

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