The comments by the Davis City Council regarding the proposed Davis Ace Project were instructive. They were clearly willing to grant the project – three of the four councilmembers at the meeting in the absence of Rochelle Swanson – but they were also critical of the inability to follow best practices.
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee in particular hit back at what he clearly saw as a double standard in Davis whereby residents claim to support science, ridicule those who deny the science of climate change, but do not support the scientifically proven process for parking management.
“Paid parking is a very important if not essential tool in the management of demand,” he said. We don’t have a supply issue, we have a parking management issue.”
One of the centerpieces of the downtown parking plan was a paid parking provision. However, politics has blocked its imposition.
It is instructive to read the column from April of 2014 by Rich Rifkin, published in the Davis Enterprise.
He noted, “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.”
The case, he said, was clearly made that “if the council wanted to solve the problem, it needed to understand that the task force’s ideas all worked as one.”
However, that unity was shattered when the “anti-meter side,” as he called it, showed up at the city council meeting. He commented, “All of their arguments against paid parking fell short on logic and originality. They failed to offer any realistic solution.”
He wrote that “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.”
It was Brett Lee with support from then-Mayor Joe Krovoza who pushed for the paid parking, but they were outvoted at the time. “The council severed the task force’s package. They rejected smart meters.”
Mr. Rifkin also made the micro-economics case, saying “if you have a scarce resource and you don’t allow the price to rise when demand exceeds supply, you will have a shortage.
“Street parking in some parts of downtown Davis at certain hours on certain days is a scarce resource. Because we don’t price premium parking places properly, demand exceeds supply and we have a shortage,” he argued.
Mr. Rifkin also countered a common argument that paid parking would force people to go online, to Target or to Woodland. This point has recently been made on the Vanguard and elsewhere.
Mr. Rifkin countered, “What she does not get is that, because there are no spaces open near some downtown businesses now, many who would like to shop or dine downtown are already going elsewhere.”
But there is another critical point here – if smart meters or paid parking mean that one person goes to Woodland instead of the Davis Downtown, that opens up a space in the downtown that is otherwise occupied.
Rich Rifkin wrote, “With smart meters, we also could let everyone know in real time where spaces are available and how much they cost. Just as urban malls do, we could allow merchants to validate customers’ parking, so those who bought lunch or merchandise would still park free.
“Unfortunately, Davis is not about to get smart.
“Every day on certain blocks there will be a shortage. Those who would like to dine and shop will be forced out by strict time limits. Drivers will keep circling around, looking for a space. Customers who would rather be spending money will be stuck,” he concluded. “Bad judgment brings bad outcomes.”
Now three years later, those roosters are coming home to roost.
As we noted yesterday, Mayor Robb Davis was in the end the lone dissenter.
He put much of it on himself, noting, “I take this decision as an indictment of the work I’ve tried to do on parking in the downtown.” He said, “It’s a finger pointing at a failure to move forward a comprehensive plan that I helped to formulate before I was on council.
“This is a discussion about parking,” he said. “We have options to expand our parking by several hundred spots, we haven’t done it.
“We have absolutely tied one hand behind our back by not instituting paid parking on block faces on the street,” he said. “As Brett said, the evidence is clear on that.”
He noted this was the “accepted wisdom among all urban planners about the way parking should be handled today and going forward.” He views this proposal as an indictment on what the council has not been able to do. “This is an inevitable outcome – people see that they’re not having their needs met, so they take it upon themselves,” he said.
“I can’t vote with the planning commission on this, because I believe it goes against everything we should be doing on parking,” he said. “But I do believe that we can achieve the ends that you want to achieve. It takes the grand bargain. It makes us take a step back and use the management tools that really do work in the real world.”
But there was no grand bargain to be had. Davis Ace had the votes and they knew it.
But, at the same time, the writing was on the wall.
Brett Lee said, “Even though on this one little piece of downtown we are probably not moving in a congruent way for what our vision is with the downtown, that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s important that we try to implement those recommendations because we know that in the long run that is going to be beneficial to the downtown.
“Regardless of what the vote is right now, we need to push forward on those recommendations,” he said.
“I don’t think the terms of the grand bargain are mutually exclusive to this project happening,” Will Arnold added.
We agree, but unfortunately this should have been done three years ago and maybe we could have avoided suboptimal process and handwringing. Maybe.
—David M. Greenwald reporting