While there are more than 300 spaces at the park, an average of 1,200 cars move in and out each day during the summer, according to recent city counts.
There's only one way in and out, and gridlock is common. Sometimes the city even has to put up barriers and turn people away.
"There's more demand than there are spaces available," Mayor Joe Marine said.
One reason is parking is free. This could change soon.
City officials might finally do what they've talked about for years: charge for parking at Lighthouse Park.
It would thin out the crowd, help the city cover its costs of maintaining the park and might even raise money for a parking garage in the future, officials said.
They've drawn up a plan that could be approved Monday, at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. at City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.
If that happens, paid parking would begin in March 2013. The charge would be $1.50 per hour with coins or credit cards at one of three pay stations. The city is considering charging either from March to September or year round and varying the rate by season.
Wednesdays would be free. There also would be no charge for parking and remaining in the car.
Annual passes would be available. Under one possible plan, Mukilteo residents would pay $50 per year for four hours of daily parking, non-residents $100. Or, residents would pay $100 for eight hours of daily parking, non-residents $200.
Tickets for violations would be $25.
The annual pass plan acknowledges that people who live in Mukilteo pay taxes to the city, some of which goes to park maintenance. More than half of the people who visit the park don't live in Mukilteo, Marine said.
The city pays about $175,000 each year to operate the park. Year-round paid parking could bring back about $110,000, a conservative estimate, city administrator Joe Hannan said. Revenue will vary depending on factors such as public response and weather, he said.
The greater goal of the paid parking plan is less to raise money than to reduce crowding at the park, Hannan said.
If the response of some people at Lighthouse Park on a recent busy sunny weekday is any indication, the city might accomplish that goal.
It's not fair to lower-income people to charge them for parking, said Polly Adams of Tulalip. While she can afford it, others can't, she said.
"That's a bad idea," she said. "You can't afford to pay for parking so you can't go to the park?"
City officials say there are other ways to get there, such as carpooling, parking up the hill and walking down, or taking the bus. There also would be the free Wednesdays.
The bus option would not be a good one for many people, said Holly Grytness of Everett. She envisioned a scenario of "waiting with crying kids at a bus stop for 45 minutes."
Mukilteo hopes to add parking in the future at Lighthouse Park, the Sounder commuter rail platform or both, Hannan said. If the revenue from paid parking is high enough, the city could build a garage at the park, he said.
It also could explore a partnership with Sound Transit and the state to add parking at the rail platform. The state is planning to build a new ferry terminal on the former Air Force tank farm near the rail platform, and Sound Transit's plans call for the agency to eventually add parking there in conjunction with the ferry terminal, spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said.
Other factors complicating the Lighthouse Park situation are ferry commuter parking and the boat launch. The city currently has about 100 paid spaces set aside for commuters behind the Diamond Knot Alehouse.
Building new parking elsewhere would allow the city to move the commuter parking, opening up the spaces behind the alehouse, Marine said.
The park has 32 paid spaces for people who use the park to launch boats. The spaces are twice as long as regular spaces to accommodate trailers, so they take up space for 64 cars. Marine and City Council members have talked for years about moving the boat launch, perhaps to the tank farm property. Even with a ferry terminal there, some space could be left over for the boat launch or other uses.
City officials know that charging for parking won't be popular, but they're prepared for that reaction.
Erika Hagin of Seattle visited the park recently.
"No one wants to pay for parking anywhere," she said.
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