Sunday Commentary II: Addressing the Parking Problem

parking-garage-dtThe parking problem in the Davis Downtown is a difficult proposition.  We can question whether city staff really needed to develop a parking advisory task force and we can perhaps question some of the specific findings of the task force.

However, the core finding I think is fairly accurate, as someone who works in the downtown as much as six days a week – we do not have a supply problem so much as a distribution problem.

Most of the report focused on ways to open street parking to shorter-term customers while moving long-term parkers to the parking garages.

There is also the belief that the council needs to consider the entire package of what became consensus solutions because pulling out some of the proposals might knock the totality of the solutions out of balance.

But while some of the solutions, such as moving employee parking to the parking garages, seem to be no-brainers while the ultimate search for a new parking garage might lack immediate financing options, there is one solution that has drawn controversy – paid parking.

This morning, the Davis Enterprise argues “paid parking will only hurt businesses.”

They note, as we just did, that “the Downtown Parking Task Force wrestled with the problem for a year before offering its recommendations to the city council in December.  There were 19 of these…”  The only one that has everyone’s attention is “paid parking in the ‘Southeast Quadrant.’”

I work that quadrant bounded on the north by Third, the west by D, the east by G and the south by First.  Parking during peak hours is hard to come by and, even during normal hours, is difficult to find.

The Enterprise argues that “while the parking squeeze is a real problem, we can’t support the idea of charging downtown customers to free up spaces.”

They add, “Paid parking would put downtown retailers at a disadvantage when competing for customers with neighborhood shopping centers, University Mall or Target. If it’s already a bit of a drive to get downtown, who wants to pay for the privilege, too?”

My solution is then don’t – be willing to walk a block or two.

But the Enterprise goes in a different direction, supporting what they call a “two-pronged solution.”

The Enterprise writes, “There are 275 X-permit spaces available; not nearly enough for the 2,000-3,000 downtown employees, even accounting for staggered shifts. The city must increase the number of X-permit spaces if we’re ever going to get a handle on the problem of employee parking.”

Of course, the Enterprise fails to note that the parking task force came up with that idea as well, moving the employees out of street parking and into the parking garages.

Second, the Enterprise argued, “We need to raise revenue for a new parking structure, not through paid parking and higher fines, but by having downtown property owners lead an effort to create a parking assessment district and secure financing for a new structure. That’s how the First and F structure was built.”

It is an interesting idea that has some merit.

They continue, “If Ashok Patel can pull together financing for a hotel/conference center/parking structure on Richards Boulevard, maybe creative minds can come up with a similar plan for downtown.”

Of course investors can get a return on a lucrative hotel conference center; a parking garage is an entity not likely to generate investors or revenue.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Anderson is leading the charge to organize property owners.

This week she writes, “As a property owner and business owner, I am worried and upset. I feel like the task force missed the opportunity to focus on the major issue facing the downtown. We do not have an adequate supply of parking.”

She cites four reasons:

* New construction was allowed downtown without providing for parking or paying in-lieu fees to provide for future parking lots or structures. (This continues today under current policy.)

* Existing space was converted from low parking demand (office/retail product) to high parking demand restaurant space.

* Our town has grown, and therefore, more people want to visit downtown Davis.

* Employees working downtown park in the core of downtown because there is not adequate space for them to park in X permit spaces or on the periphery. At night, this is a big concern to nighttime employees who move their cars in closer as it gets dark.

Part of the problem, she argues, is that the city has created the parking problem and needs to change its policies “to employ and enforce realistic parking standards in connection with all applications involving change in use or additions of square footage.”  She argues, “This is standard practice in most cities.”

She notes, “While the parking task force suggested 19 items to improve parking, its recommendations were in no order of priority. Paid parking spaces were nearly the last item discussed by the committee and there was not unanimous support for paid parking. It was the most controversial of all the items.”

She adds, “Creating paid parking without offering our estimated 2,000 to 3,000 downtown employees an option to park safely within a reasonable distance of their job will only increase the problem of moving cars every two hours, and will leave customers with no place to park and angry because they must pay.”

She argues we need a new supply of parking now, but the city lacks the resources in absence of RDA, so I would love to hear how she proposes to finance it.

I am certainly not sold that we have to go the paid parking route, though I do believe it is a way to free up spaces that currently are taken up by employees on a rotating basis and a way to encourage people to park in a garage and walk if they have long-term needs.

For years, I have been proposing a way to create more parking in the downtown and alleviate the strain on the Richards underpass by creating a parking lot entrance off of Olive Drive that goes over the railroad tracks and delivers people at First and F.

That is about half a block from my office and I can park and walk to anywhere in the downtown within five minutes from my location.

But that too takes financing.  One of the reasons for paid parking is to finance the new parking structure, but if Jennifer Anderson can find an alternative way to finance it, I’m all ears, although I’m not married to the idea, at least not in the long term.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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41 Comments

    1. Michelle Millet

      I don’t understand this either. I’ll admit that until Parking Task Force Report came out I rarely parked in the G St garage. For some reason it was not on my radar. Now that it is, I just head there first when I know parking downtown is going to be an issue (aka Friday and Saturday nights). I have yet to have a problem finding a spot in the garage.

  1. Tia Will

    I feel that there is a fundamental disagreement in how the problems involving parking in downtown are viewed.
    Ms. Anderson primarily views the issue as a a problem of supply, David primarily views the issue as one of distribution. As a resident of Old East Davis who walks downtown most days, my observations would lead me to believe that distribution is the real issue. Because I frequent downtown, it is not unusual for me to see cars circling a block for a parking space when a couple of blocks away there is ample parking to say nothing of the spots available in the public parking lots. I realize that there is a genuine interest of downtown merchants, and that there is a reasonable case to me made as Don Shor has in the past for close parking for transport of bulky items. What I am wondering is if the merchants who provide such items could not designate more of their own parking spaces for “pick up and loading only” and/or provide more “handicapped parking spots” for those with legitimate proximity needs. From observation it seems that many of those circling are able bodied who simply do not want to get out of their car and walk a couple of blocks.

    There is a second issue near and dear to my public health heart that is related but rarely cited in discussions of the management of automobiles in the downtown area. The use of automobiles for short distance travel is simply not good for ones health. It is not good for our air quality and it promotes a sedentary lifestyle which contributes to a number of diseases which we all pay for with increasing health care costs. I do not see provision of another downtown parking structure as a solution when the ones we have are not fully utilized the majority of the time.
    At this time, I would strongly oppose using any city funds for the creation of a parking structure given the current state of financial affairs and the current cost to our health in the promotion and enabling of a fundamentally unhealthy means of transportation.

    There are a number of very thoughtful people in our community who promote change. This is one area in which I would like to see major change. I would like the city to investigate ( as in the suggestion for better signage to inform people of the location of available parking spaces) low cost ways to better use our current parking supply, and better yet to envision a completely new paradigm in which people choose not to bring their cars into the very walkable downtown area. I believe that the use of the private automobile for in town use is a very old model, not suited to our current knowledge of health and well being and a major paradigm shift is needed. The city has the ability to start a gradual process of making this much needed shift, but not by providing yet another parking structure.

    1. Don Shor

      What I am wondering is if the merchants who provide such items could not designate more of their own parking spaces…

      What do you mean by “their own parking spaces”?

      1. Tia Will

        Ace has a parking lot. Hibbert, another purveyor of large items is in a less affected area and I have not heard them speaking our for more parking.
        What other stores in the downtown area would you consider subject to decreased business based on the inability of people to park near in order to transport heavy or bulky objects.

        Also, although I did not include it on this thread, I had commented previously about the option for those selling largely or bulky items to deliver them as an alternative solution.

          1. Jim Frame

            The parking lot adjacent to the Davis Lumber (a.k.a. Davis Ace) housewares building (south of 3rd) and the lot adjacent to the hardware building (north of 3rd) are owned by the city.

      2. darelldd

        What’s interesting, Don, is that while “their own” parking spaces are not those parallel street spaces in front of Davis businesses, they might as well be. We can’t do anything with those spaces without the consent of the adjacent business. We all pay for and own those spaces, but we don’t control them. The business owners do. if we (We the tax-paying People) want to add a parklet, or if we wish to convert one parking space into 12 parking spots (by swapping a car spot for 12 bicycle spots)… it won’t be done without the consent of the business owners. So in addition to your “what do you mean by “their own parking spaces” I’d like to also ask, “why str you implying/pretending that those spaces aren’t controlled by the businesses?”

        1. Don Shor

          In what sense, legal or otherwise, do the business owners own, control, or determine the use of the parking spaces in front of their stores? I don’t own, control, or have any direct influence over the parking spaces on the street in front of my business. I can’t tell people not to park there, I can’t tell anyone what to do with the space. The city can block it off, public utilities can block it off. I see absolutely no basis for your statement, and wonder in what way you think “those spaces are controlled by the businesses.”

  2. Michelle Millet

    This morning, the Davis Enterprise argues “paid parking will only hurt businesses.”

    I am going to make an anecdotal argument against this claim.

    I am much more likely to go downtown with my kids knowing that I can find available parking near our destination usually a frozen yogurt shop for them and someplace that serves espresso for me. They are older now so parking close is not as big as an issue anymore, but when they were younger I did try to park as close to my designation as possible, due to my sons propensity to run ahead, and his seemingly unawareness of where the sidewalk ended and streets began.

    I can’t think of a time that a I was unable to find a spot, during parking enforcement hours in the paid lot at E Street, even when surface street parking was hard to come by. If I could not have relied on the fact that I was going to be able to find a spot in the E Street Parking lot I would not have gone downtown.

    The hardest part of paying is remember my spot number so I could enter it into the centralized meter before swiping my credit card and paying a dollar to park for an hour.

    Easy access to parking also meant my credit card was being swiped by downtown merchants close to the paid lot including but not limited to Cultive, Peet’s Coffee, The Paint Chip, Avid Reader, Teach Your Children, Davis Sports Shop, Bizarro World, and Outdoor Davis.

    1. Tia Will

      Michelle,

      I know that your kids are now to the point where this is not an issue. For those still struggling with the transportation needs of little ones, as someone who lived in North Star and still frequented downtown, I would suggest that the use of a foldable stroller and or “toddler leashes” the former favored by my son and the latter favored by my daughter largely solved the “as close as possible” problem. This along with graduated biking as your child’s skills grow are very good ways to teach the next generation that the automobile is not the first go to solution.

      1. Michelle Millet

        I agree alternatives to driving are good things to consider, but I was using my example to address the argument that paid parking discourages shoppers from coming downtown, in my case it had the opposite effect. (Wether or not this is a good thing is a separate, but worthy debate).

    2. Davis Progressive

      i think the current situation will only hurt business. people are used to paying a lot at times for parking in other places. a small token amount with a more predictable ability to find parking i think helps business.

  3. Frankly

    I was downtown Friday and it was very busy. One of our party arrived 20 minutes late because she could not find a parking space and had to park 5 blocks away.

    I know a lot of residents that don’t go downtown as often because of the parking problems. I am one of them. My time is valuable and it is a factor in my determination of where I go to shop. Paid parking isn’t the answer because it will include those new machines where you have to go to stand in line to get a ticket and then back to your car to put the ticket on the dash. Again, time, time, time. If you are a public sector employee, or if you are retired, you have more discretionary time than the rest of us. So, please consider that when you make the point that a few minutes extra should not be a big deal.

    I appreciate what Jennifer Anderson wrote. I agree that we are dealing with a supply problem… it is the supply of parking spaces within a reasonable distance to the retail location we are targeting.

    But that supply problem is the direct result of hyper density… us cramming too much of our retail into the small downtown footprint.

    It is great to see the downtown vibrant; but at some point as our population has grown, the number of retail locations downtown has grown, the surrounding population has grown, and the university has grown… we are just getting too saturated with people in our small downtown.

    The way I see it we are just going to have increasing parking problems with our attempts to keep the downtown our full-service retail location…unless we increase the size of our parking lots, and reduce the number of businesses that would otherwise surround them.

    Or…

    With zoning changes to expand the core retail area into the surrounding residential areas, or with more peripheral retail development and a move to change the downtown to an entertainment and boutique retail location (where we reduce the need for a car to transport large products) were we can block off some streets and make it more pedestrian and bike centric, we can reduce the number of cars unable to find a parking space within a reasonable distance from the target shopping location.

    And thank Governor Brown and the teachers union for killing RDA… another reason we will be unable to solve our downtown parking problems.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “But that supply problem is the direct result of hyper density… us cramming too much of our retail into the small downtown footprint.”

      i disagree. obviously a mall crams a lot of retail into a small space, they just plan their parking better.

  4. Michelle Millet

    I was downtown Friday and it was very busy. One of our party arrived 20 minutes late because she could not find a parking space and had to park 5 blocks away.

    My guess is that there were spots available in the G St garage.

  5. Michelle Millet

    Paid parking isn’t the answer because it will include those new machines where you have to go to stand in line to get a ticket and then back to your car to put the ticket on the dash.

    This is NOT how any of the paid parking works on Davis right now. You do NOT have to go back to your car. You just enter your spot number into the machine when you pay.

      1. Michelle Millet

        Somehow parking enforcement is able to determine through fancy technology if the spot a car is parked in has been paid for. They can’t tell if the owner of that particular car was the one that paid, but that is the same for the “old fashion” coin meters. The difference is someone parking has no way of knowing how much, if any, time is left on the meter from the previous occupant.

  6. Tia Will

    Frankly

    “It is great to see the downtown vibrant; but at some point as our population has grown, the number of retail locations downtown has grown, the surrounding population has grown, and the university has grown… we are just getting too saturated with people in our small downtown.”

    You made me smile. I believe that it has been within the past six months ( maybe past year) that you were touting growth because downtown was not as “vibrant” as you thought it should be. Now, we seem to have the
    vibrancy you were seeking, but do not have parking within ” a reasonable distance to the retail location we are targeting”. Please define “reasonable distance”.

    As a private employee and as a doctor, I fully appreciate your concern for time. However, from personal experience I have found that it takes me less time to walk the 1/3 mile from my house on J street to downtown than it does to circle to find “just the right parking space” and has Michelle has noted, a parking space is almost always available at G street. Also ,there is almost always parking at the parking lot adjacent to the co op which is almost equidistant from my house to downtown. It takes less than 5 minutes to make this walk for a 62 year old non athletic woman ( me). So in your anecdote, it is clear to me that your friend could have walked from one of the G street parking areas and joined you in probably 5 minutes instead of the 15 she needed to find a closer spot unless of course she has mobility issues.
    Here I would echo Michelle’s thought about better information about availability is needed rather than building more parking structures.

    Predictably enough, you and I see density very differently. I see it as optimal since it provides many retail outlets, restaurants and entertainment venues within easy walking and or biking distance. Very good for us overall since it minimizes the need for dependence on automobiles which as stated above are a very bad means of local transportation.

    1. Frankly

      “I believe that it has been within the past six months ( maybe past year) that you were touting growth because downtown was not as “vibrant” as you thought it should be.”

      I don’t think that is what I said. At least that is not what I intended to say.

      I think parts of downtown are shabby. The new construction at 3rd and G will help, but are still many structures downtown that are old and shabby, and the sidewalks and streets are also shabby in those areas.

      In terms of “vibrancy”, what I have written is that the Davis downtown is not at risk of slipping into vacancy due to peripheral retail development. We have more than enough shoppers. And if we focus on entertainment and boutique retail while we also redevelop away the shabbiness, it will become more vibrant.

      The way I see it, parking downtown has reached maximum capacity. There are few times that I cannot find a parking space except on busy Fridays and Saturdays or when there is some UCD event that brings in out of town guests. If have lost my cool and driven to Woodland a couple of times when I was unable to find a parking space at Davis Ace to purchase building supplies… but usually something opens up right about the time I am thinking I won’t find a space.

      But what I sense is that we are about at tipping point for downtown parking. Add another 10% traffic and I think there will be many more cases where parking downtown means having to park blocks away.

      1. Michelle Millet

        The way I see it, parking downtown has reached maximum capacity.

        Frankly, according to the data collected in the report this is actually not true. Next time traffic is crazy go to the G St garage (during enforcement you can park for 3 hours for free). Until that garage starts to fill up regularly I don’t understand why the city would spend money on another parking structure.

          1. Don Shor

            I think I’ve been hearing that for at least two decades. Getting employees to park any distance from their work place is a challenge.

          2. David Greenwald

            If they don’t have a permit to park closer and they have to drop quarters into parking spots, I think it will start to solve the problems.

        1. Frankly

          I realize that when I go to Sacramento or San Francisco or NYC, I will think nothing of walking twice the distance, even five times the distance and also paying to park and not be half as indignant.

          Me too.

          And I have some thought relative to this.

          1. I don’t live in Sacramento (downtown I presume) or S.F. or NYC for these reasons.

          2. However, it depends on what you are shopping for. Name one of these places where you would have trouble finding parking for the retail location that sells, mattresses, furniture, building supplies and garden supplies. Also, if you are going to a mall to shop, there is generally a large parking lot and/or a large parking garage or two adjacent to the stores.

          3. Although I agree that there certainly is a parking ease expectation that contributes to the frustration that can mount finding a parking space, that frustration begins with the drive to the store location. I live in West Davis. It generally takes me as long to drive into the downtown as it does to drive to Woodland. But the drive in Davis is generally significantly more frustrating… multiple non-times stop lights, bikes, pedestrians, more cars… all of them having to head downtown since there are no other options for their shopping.

          This last point is the one I keep making… that concentrating our retail into a small and dense downtown causes near gridlock. Parking is only part of the bigger challenge of getting in and out in a reasonable amount of time. And this would be expected if we lacked peripheral land to develop on, but we don’t.

          1. Don Shor

            This last point is the one I keep making… that concentrating our retail into a small and dense downtown causes near gridlock.

            Which is why we also have neighborhood shopping centers. And the parking in those centers is usually sufficient or abundant.

  7. Tia Will

    “move to change the downtown to an entertainment and boutique retail location (where we reduce the need for a car to transport large products) were we can block off some streets and make it more pedestrian and bike centric, we can reduce the number of cars unable to find a parking space within a reasonable distance from the target shopping location.”

    This would already appear to be happening without any kind of intervention from the city. Since you have a preference for things happening within the private sector without government intervention, it seems to me that this is already trending in your preferred direction, so why would you want any government action at all on any level ?

    1. Frankly

      so why would you want any government action at all on any level ?

      The lack of zoning and the lack of commercial real estate for alternative retail location is all government action… and it prevents a more rational ordering for the types of retail that stays downtown or moves elsewhere.

  8. Day Man

    Sometimes I drive from my house to downtown. Sometimes I bike. The parking difficulty is real, and that pushes me to bike more and drive less. So that incentive is working exactly as it should. I make this decision every day (depending on weather, my time, etc.): the concern about parking leads me to bike more, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In other words, creating more parking spaces would partially “induce demand” that isn’t really necessary, like my extra car trips.

    In response to Frankly: Yes, I could save a few minutes if there was a ton of parking and I drove every day. And no, Frankly, I’m neither a public sector employee nor retired. I’m a private sector employee and I value my time very highly. But I don’t value my few minutes more than I value the tax dollars necessary to create more parking or the environmental/public health consequences of increased vehicle use. My time is important to me, but I care about more in this world than JUST my time. I’m sure you do to, it’s just about how we weigh those values.

    1. Frankly

      Fair enough Day Man. There is much with your post that I agree with. But I think maybe I am more time constrained that you, or else maybe just less willing to give up my time due to the fear of change that tends to afflict a percentage of Davis voters.

  9. TrueBlueDevil

    I haven’t read the report / 19 ideas, but a few quickies:

    If the Nishi property is developed, might it not take some pressure off of downtown?

    Has there been any talk of an expanded tram / free downtown bus, with emphasis on tying it to frequent trips to the garage?

    Parking meters could even be low cost … so as not to be a big detriment to business, but enough to free up a certain percentage of spaces.

    1. Michelle Millet

      Parking meters could even be low cost … so as not to be a big detriment to business, but enough to free up a certain percentage of spaces.

      It’s currently a dollar an hour to park in the E Street Garage.

  10. Dave Hart

    I would like to echo Day Man. In addition, I think many Davis residents are spoiled when it comes to parking, me included. I will bitch out loud how I had to circle the downtown area several times to get a parking spot within a block or two of where I’m headed if the we decided not to ride our bikes. But I have never abandoned a trip downtown because I couldn’t find a place to park. Then, I realize that when I go to Sacramento or San Francisco or NYC, I will think nothing of walking twice the distance, even five times the distance and also paying to park and not be half as indignant. I have never driven to downtown Davis and not found a space close enough for me to do what I needed to do there.

    I am very sympathetic to Jennifer Anderson on this issue and recognize the potential damage to our downtown merchants if we require people to pay for parking. However, for the millions of dollars that would be spent on building a parking structure to add spaces (ultimately coming out of all of our pockets) I wonder what would happen if downtown merchants were to offer their employees $1 every day they rode their bike to work? That seems more likely to achieve the objective of freeing up plenty of spaces if only 10% of the employees (200-300) rode a bike on any given day. Not only that, it puts money into employees pockets by not having to drive at $.55/mile and will improve overall employee health (a legitimate bargaining chip when negotiating plan rates with a health insurer).

    Just thinking out loud over here in Far East Davis.

    1. Michelle Millet

      I am very sympathetic to Jennifer Anderson on this issue and recognize the potential damage to our downtown merchants if we require people to pay for parking.

      I haven’t looked at the report since it first came out in Dec. but believe paid parking is limited to certain sections of downtown.

      1. Michelle Millet

        2nd try with quotes:

        I am very sympathetic to Jennifer Anderson on this issue and recognize the potential damage to our downtown merchants if we require people to pay for parking.

        I haven’t looked at the report since it first came out in Dec. but believe paid parking is limited to certain sections of downtown.

  11. Michelle Millet

    Here are all 19:

    1. Establish paid parking in Southeast Quadrant.
    2. Increase employee parking location options.
    3. Increase employee permit fees and streamline employee parking to single “X” permit.
    4. Convert Amtrak Lot to paid parking.
    5. Restrict delivery vehicle double-parking between 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. for the area bounded by Second Street, Fourth Street, D Street and G Street (data could be used to refine limitations over time).
    6. Eliminate on-street green waste in downtown for the area bounded by First Street, Fifth Street, B Street, and the railroad tracks.
    7. Shift parking enforcement hours to 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Monday – Saturday.
    8. Establish tiered-fine citation system.
    9. Upgrade parking enforcement technology.
    10. Invest in electronic information systems.
    11. Develop transportation and parking alternatives campaign.
    12. Collect quarterly parking occupancy and turnover data.
    13. Explore voluntary private shared-parking district.
    14. Provide van-accessible parking upon street resurfacing.
    15. Streetscape Improvements.
    16. Expand Parking Supply.
    17. Provide administrative resources necessary for successful implementation of the Downtown Parking Management Plan.
    18. Improve transit options into downtown.
    19. Re-examine in-lieu parking fee policies and procedures.

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