One of the more critical votes in the last few weeks was council backtracking on the issue of paid parking. Without the paid parking component, it is difficult to see how the rest of the 19 recommendations are going to work to produce a greater supply of parking in the downtown.
As we argued this week, one of the things we have heard from the start is that the recommendations will not work in isolation. And the paid parking component is critical to at least three parts of the other recommendations.
First, if you believe part of the parking problem is that employees of downtown businesses are using street side parking and moving their cars every two hours, there is no effective way to get them away from that practice without paid parking.
Second, if you believe that the parking problem is a distribution rather than a supply problem, then you end up needing paid parking to encourage long-term parkers to move their cars to the garages rather than the street.
Finally, even if you believe that the problem is one of supply, without paid parking there is no funding mechanism for a new parking garage.
It was clear from the start of the discussion that there were three council votes that were not comfortable going forward with paid parking at this point in time.
Brett Lee pushed as hard as he possibly could. He noted numerous studies that actually show the hidden costs of unpaid parking. But he was unable to sway a third vote on this issue, despite his repeated urgings to support the 19 recommendations as a package.
Again, one of the things we have heard from the start is that the recommendations will not work in isolation, and that the paid parking component is critical to at least three parts of the other recommendations.
Brett Lee was willing to be cautious. He argued that this item was quite different from the POU issue where the council did not have a study of the impacts. Here he cited numerous studies and even offered a block-by-block roll out in which the city would be able to study the impacts along the way, and that would create a validation program that would allow money to be generated for businesses.
So you have Lucas Frerichs arguing that paid parking would have adverse impacts, Dan Wolk who believed that the parking problem is the result of something positive, and Rochelle Swanson stating that she needed more information.
Given all of that, perhaps the council should have delayed the vote to look at this more because, while Councilmember Frerichs would argue that a lot of the recommendations could be done in short order, it is not clear how helpful any would be without the stick approach to compel people to change their parking behavior.
Once it was clear that paid parking lacked the votes, Mayor Joe Krovoza stated that, in the interest of time, he would be willing to support the rest of the proposals and, indeed, ultimately Councilmember Lee went there as well.
For reasons that still baffle observers, the council is rarely willing to take a 3-2 vote. What would be wrong with Major Krovoza and Councilmember Brett Lee dissenting here and voting no?
From our vantage point this consensus process creates the illusion of consensus but buries important policy differences. Early in the council, as the council wanted to establish rapport and signal changes from their previous councils, okay, we get it. But now when two council members are duking it out for an Assembly seat?
The truth is that this council has shown a strange willingness to buck both the expertise of city staff as well as the hard work done by citizen groups, and it is unclear why they have chosen to do so.
From our standpoint, if the council majority were unsure about paid parking, then they needed to wait here. What they have put forward, without an incentive mechanism to push people to off-street parking and without a funding mechanism to build new parking, does little to solve the parking problem.
The Chamber PAC forum pushed Rochelle Swanson to explain her vote. She stated, “The reason why I called for a pause for a return of those items in phasing in, is because nobody at the staff table nor from the parking task force could identify the actually funding stream for $1.45 million, I just think that’s too large of an expenditure without some direct funding source.”
The $1.45 million was the cost of implementing the parking meter infrastructure.
She said they were moved aside, “They weren’t dismissed out of hand.” She said that while she respected the process, they came together in the end, she also felt it was important “that we further clarify and truly support the positions in how we were going forward. I think it was important to make sure that we can have success.”
Candidate John Munn, in a rebuttal, argued, “I oppose parking meters because parking is a service to customers that’s provided by the businesses that they support. In return the businesses provide financial support to the city in the form of tax revenues, rate payments and fees. I’m also not convinced that having meters is not going to drive shoppers elsewhere.”
He added, “Shoppers have many options to go places other than downtown Davis to do their shopping. Make them pay for parking after they drive all of those stoplights to get there, they are liable to take their business elsewhere.”
But what we have not seen so far is anyone explaining how the other recommendations work without the stick of paid parking.
Rich Rifkin reached a similar conclusion.
He writes, “City staff and the Downtown Parking Task Force put together a tour de force presentation in favor of a package of 19 recommendations. Their ideas rested on a plan to install ‘smart’ parking meters in the section of our core area where demand often exceeds supply.”
He continues, “They clearly made the case that, if the council wanted to solve the problem, it needed to understand that the task force’s ideas all worked as one. Their logic was not impromptu. They had been working on this for months.”
“The anti-meter side,” he writes, “showed up at the City Council last week. All of their arguments against paid parking fell short on logic and originality. They failed to offer any realistic solution.”
He adds, “Importantly, they did not comprehend how smart meters offer the chance to help downtown merchants by freeing up prime spots near their businesses for paying customers.”
“The best suggestion they accepted is to try to get some downtown workers to park in underutilized off-street garages. That won’t solve the problem. But it might help a wee bit,” he writes. “What anyone who understands introductory economics can tell you is that if you have a scarce resource and you don’t allow the price to rise when demand exceeds supply, you will have a shortage.”
And that is the primary problem we face with parking. The solutions to that are to produce enough supply so that the demand no longer exceeds supply. Absent redevelopment, that is not going to happen any time soon.
The paid parking is a temporary solution that re-organizes the distribution of parking so that people are incentivized to park further away and walk.
Those who believe that paid parking will deter customers are thinking uni-dimensionally. They are not considering that the current lack of parking is presently acting as a deterrent to would-be customers. Being able to readily find parking in the downtown or predictably locate that parking will actually help business.
That’s why the Chamber and Davis Downtown both supported paid parking.
—David M. Greenwald