The old Belmont Shore gateway sign. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

A proposed electric shuttle program that would have run along the businesses corridor from Second Street to Alamitos Bay is on pause after the COVID-19 pandemic has squeezed its main source of funding: parking meters in Belmont Shore.

Parking revenue in the area is down over 50% in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, something that’s not expected to pick up soon. The pandemic has been a double gut-punch for the revenue stream by keeping more people home and seeing 70 parking spaces taken out of the mix by parklets utilized by local businesses for outdoor dining.

Parking meter revenue was supposed to pay for the free shuttles that would have connected the bay, Belmont Shore and the retail complex at 2nd & PCH, but the sudden sharp decline will not allow for the program to go forward at this time, according to a city memo released this week.

Matt Peterson, a business owner in Belmont Shore who chairs the Belmont Shore Parking and Business Improvement Area, said that while parking revenue is down the parklets have been an “extremely necessary” addition to the shopping district for businesses trying to survive the pandemic.

“To me, it’s a price well paid to have them in the Shore so restaurants can remain relevant,” Peterson said. “I wish we were inside, but we’re not.”

Peterson said that there is a will among business owners to fund a shuttle, but it would be better from a logistics and liability standpoint for the city to operate it, likely in partnership with Long Beach Transit.

The shuttle could help alleviate a parking crunch in Belmont Shore and bring more foot traffic to a struggling retail district.

Dede Rossi, former head of the Belmont Shore Business Association, said she still supports the project, which has been talked about for years. Rossi, who recently left her position at the association, said that there were weeks where there would be no one walking around Belmont Shore, but she’s hopeful that future projects like the shuttle and return of the Belmont Pool could turn things around.

“Since the pool closed, business has been down for us,” Rossi said. “You had people coming down from all parts of town. It really made our area.”

The California Coastal Commission approved plans and permits for the pool Thursday pushing the project over one of its last remaining hurdles.

Whether future swimmers and shoppers can travel around the area on a free shuttle will likely rely on parking revenue returning to at least pre-pandemic levels but also on Long Beach Transit taking some sort of role in operating the shuttles.

Michael Gold, a spokesperson for Long Beach Transit said that discussions with the city are too preliminary to know what a program like this would cost but that they are interested in being a part of it.

“We’ve said that if the city wants to bring transportation programs online that they should really work with Long Beach Transit because we have the expertise,” Gold said.

He added that the agency is expected to roll out a new line of smaller all-electric neighborhood buses that will service smaller routes that connect to bigger streets. During that procurement process it looked at other types of vehicles like vans that could be used for shuttle services in the future.

Peterson is hopeful that things will turn around. Parking revenue should bounce back after the pandemic, and the ability to have events like the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade, Stroll n’ Savor and tenants in the pipeline to fill vacant storefronts should drive more traffic to the district.

He doesn’t see the pause on the shuttle project as the end of the discussion.

“I’ve seen lots of final nails in coffins,” Peterson said. “The idea that because we can’t afford it right now we’re going to give up on this is just silly to me.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.