Commentary: What We Have Learned from the Parking Discussion

The appeal of the Davis Ace parking project led to one of the more unique occurrences on the Vanguard, with an organic multi-day discussion of the Davis Downtown and parking issues that occurred through multiple submissions from a variety of community members.

In the end, while the council voted 3-1 to approve the project and deny the appeal, the opposition to the project ended up generating an important community conversation, using the Vanguard as their prime vehicle, that will resonate for months and even years to come.

First, the effort generated a community conversation around the project itself – a conversation that really was not happening previously.

Second, it generated a discussion of parking and pushed the council back to the Downtown Parking Management Plan, which in some ways was flagging previously.

Third, it set the stage for what may end up being the most important conversation we have had regarding the General Plan Update and the Core Area Specific Plan.

On the project itself, as I pointed out in my commentary on Tuesday morning, I largely came down where the council came down.  Recognizing the challenges in the downtown, I didn’t oppose the project.  But as I pointed out in the commentary, I was troubled by what the city did procedurally in allowing staff and the planning commission to basically ignore design guidelines.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs noted design guidelines “are not absolute requirements.

“This project is consistent with the zoning, therefore approvable.  It doesn’t need to demonstrate consistency with every design guideline,” he said.  “I think this proposal is an approval over what exists now.

However, while two of his colleagues were supportive of the project, they were more troubled by the inconsistencies.

The council was also grateful to Mark West for filing the appeal, as they believed he raised important issues even though they ended up approving the project.

In my view, however, the actual project is probably the least important factor in this discussion.

More important is the renewed focus on parking and the Parking Management Plan, which I would argue have fallen by the wayside in some respect.

Mayor Robb Davis was willing to accept blame for that, but in some respects the shortcomings of the plan happened before he was on the council, as exemplified by the 2014 column by Rich Rifkin that we quoted from yesterday.

From Councilmember Brett Lee’s perspective, we don’t have a supply issue, “we have a parking management issue.”  He added, “Paid parking is a very important if not essential tool in the management of demand.”

But there are two views on the issue of paid parking.

As one business interest told the Vanguard, the opposition to paid parking is “not based upon its efficacy.”  Rather they see that the city has failed to address the shifting landscape of the downtown with the conversion of office space and retail to bars and restaurants – which have in turn generated far more demand for parking in certain locations.

They see in-lieu fees as a means to generate the funds needed for a parking structure, bus service and surface lots to provide parking.

They also take issue with the fact that the city has failed to increase the number of X permit users and are also so far unwilling to increase the supply of X permit spaces East of the tracks and North of 5th Street.

The view here is that the city has failed to identify and pick off low hanging fruit that would help the parking supply and management issue and, second, that there has been no example of a town similar to Davis that has implemented paid parking with street meters with success.

Clearly, this is a discussion that needs to happen in order for the city to fix its parking issue.

But finally, parking is, as Michael Bisch put it, a means rather than an ends.

He said, “My ‘concern’ is that we have not been achieving the agreed upon ends, which in this case is downtown redevelopment. Instead, all the focus is on the means (parking) with no regard for the ends (redevelopment).

“Parking is a tool (a means). It is not an ends in and of itself,” he argued.  “Yet you have a number of commenters whose singular focus is on parking as if parking was the ends.”

This brings us to the Core Area Specific Plan and General Plan Update process.  Back in January, the council passed a resolution, moving forward with a resolution that adopted preliminary directions for Core Area Policy and Code Amendments.

In it, they noted that “current City Council goals include the identification of opportunities for Core Area and other key area(s) in the city for ‘formed based’ visioning and planning, in conjunction with the General Plan Update, and that opportunities include the consolidation and clarification of development policies and codes in the Core Area.”

The Vanguard has often identified student housing and the need for economic development as priorities 1 and 1a for the city.  But the Core Area Specific Plan could rightly be seen as 1c.

Discussions about planning concepts like form based codes and debates over parking management are really secondary to a much broader question – what is our vision for the Davis Downtown?

For some, such as Mark West, they view the downtown as in decline.  He wrote on the Vanguard, “We can choose to stand pat and see continued decay.”

On the other hand, Colin Walsh responded, “As someone who has both shopped in the Davis downtown for many years, and seen other downtowns all across the country, I can objectively tell you that our downtown is not in decay. It has changed over time, but there are more visitors than ever visiting more stores and restaurants. Yes there are things that can improve, but lets start from a position of being thankful for what we have.”

I think there is merit in both views.  As someone who has worked in the downtown every day for five and a half years, I have a keen appreciation for the strengths and the weaknesses of downtown.  I think there are areas of concern, but I don’t know that I would suggest decay.

There are a number of vacant buildings, we have under-utilized space, we have seen a drop in retail and seen more restaurants and bars come in.

But what we need is a vision for what the downtown should look like.  Do we see it as an entertainment center focused around bars and restaurants and maybe looking to bring in some other entertainment-based items?

Do we see it as a space for renewed commerce and retail?

Do we see it as potentially becoming a place for startups and other small companies to move?

Also, as I said, I view a lot of the space in the downtown as under-utilized.  We have single-story buildings where we could go up to three stories and potentially have underground parking with a mix of retails, office space and even residential.

That requires in the post-Redevelopment Agency world not only a vision, but also investment and capital to make it happen.

But all of that starts with a community discussion, and this discussion that we have had needs to be a starting point for a broader discussion on what the downtown should look like and how to maximize the great resources that we have.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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